For many, the unassuming acorns that fall from an oak tree are the bane of those with driveways and front lawns that they’d like to keep clean underfoot. But in recent years, there has been a growing trend towards finding an alternative use for acorns, rather than just raking them together in a seemingly endless heap.
In many ways, acorns are the crystallization of the recent wild, foraged food trend; they are frequently considered an annoyance (like nettles) but are secretly a superfood– a gluten-free nut and grain alternative that’s high in amino acids.
Acorns can also be stored in their shells for years, and– when properly treated– can be used in a multitude of recipes, infusing nutrients and essential vitamins wherever they are added.
Eating acorns is, of course, not a recent trend; along with their progenitor, the oak tree, they have long been revered as a resource, with a rich history in mythologies around the world. In Sanskrit, the word for oak evokes the concept of thunder, life, soul, and spirit; for the Druids, the oak tree was the most sacred tree– so much so that historians believe the word “Druid” itself is from the Celtic word for “acorn”. Abundant as they are, it’s little surprise that acorns have long been consumed both as a delicacy and as an everyday meal.
Acorns are a token of nature’s alchemical magic: a tiny, hardened nut transforms into a tall, wizened tree.
In America, most people know that Native American tribes– particularly those in California– make use of acorns, cooking them into porridge, pancakes, cakes, breads, soups, and patties.
But internationally, different cultures across the world have found their own ways of adopting the nut and incorporating it into their cuisine: in Korea, acorns are transformed into a jelly known as dotorimuk while in Turkey acorns are buried in the dirt to remove tannins (which is the compound that gives acorns their bitter taste) before being washed, dried, and ground with spices into a drink known as raccahout.
Outside of direct human consumption, acorns also have had an important culinary role: jamon iberico, derived from pigs raised on acorns, is considered a Spanish specialty, and oak trees are being planted to help support truffle production. Historically, acorns have also enjoyed uses outside of the gustatory world, used as dye and prepared into a medicine taken by Native American elders to promote longevity.
Today, acorns are becoming more of a mainstream commodity as foraging increasingly becomes a popular activity, one that has spread beyond the realm of picking berries and gathering mushrooms.
Acorns are cropping up in classic recipes (acorn mousse anyone?), especially as acorn flour becomes more readily available and mechanization has cut out the long and arduous process of leaching tannins by oneself (which in days of yore could sometimes take months).
Do the dead remain among us? Paranormal investigators are determined to prove what science rejects, Christianity scorns — and half of Canadians believe.
The first thing they tell me when we meet, just before 2 p.m. on a crisp Saturday in March, is to watch out for the mean man named Henry on the third floor. “Hold on to the railing when you’re on the stairs. We think he might push someone.” As well as being mean, there’s something unusual about Henry: he’s dead.
I’m standing in the gravel parking lot of the Players’ Guild theatre in Hamilton, conferring around parked cars with a trio of paranormal investigators from a team called The Searcher Group. Peter Roe — wearing a fleece sweater from the historic witch-hunting city of Salem, Mass. — James McCulloch and the moustachioed Palmisano brothers, Richard and Paul, are here to collect evidence and learn the histories of the ghosts on the property. They tell me there are at least four, based on their visit the previous autumn.
Staff at the community theatre, North America’s oldest, reached out to Roe last year because they sometimes felt like they weren’t alone — especially on the third floor and in the basement where they often work late at night, finding costumes or organizing props. One member heard a whisper in her ear as she went to lock the front door one night: “Help me! Get me out of here!” She turned around, expecting to see a friend playing a trick on her. There was no one there.
Once strange stories started swirling around the theatre, the haunting became part of the space’s mythology. The front page of its website boasts of “rumours of a ghost in the costume room,” adding it to the list of thousands of houses, churches and other landmarks rumoured to be haunted worldwide. In his 2013 book, Paranormal Nation, Marc E. Fitch argues that the growth of the Internet and the after-effects of 9-11 have pushed people toward the paranormal; extraordinary explanations for unusual experiences can bring order to the chaos of an isolating, uncertain world. The pop culture world has certainly picked up on this yen for the paranormal. Ghost Hunters, a reality TV show where investigators run around haunted houses with expensive recording gear and night-vision goggles, is in its 11th season; single-episode viewership has reached as high as 3.1 million. Innumerable movies with occult and paranormal themes come to the big screen every year, and Stephen King dominates bestseller lists.
For many, ghosts are more than just spooky fiction. A 2007 Ipsos Reid poll found that 48 percent of Canadians believe that ghosts are real; American and British surveys have come up with similar results. Ten percent of Canadians think that they’re living with a spirit