Secret Recipe: Acorn Pot Pies: Mast Years and Golden Brambles — The Wondersmith (2024)

Secret Recipe: Acorn Pot Pies: Mast Years and Golden Brambles — The Wondersmith (1)

The brambles this time of year are busy, busy, busy. If you ever want to get swept up in the industrious energy of harvest season, just go sit somewhere comfy on the edge of the woods, where the hazelnut trees tangle with blackberry tendrils, the wild currants are swallowed by the wild roses. I remember a particularly gorgeous morning sitting in a little hideaway in the hedge, curled up in dried grass and watching the sunlight kiss everything with gold. At first, I felt alone out there, with the eerie sense of being watched. I held still and silent, a guest in this world.

Soon enough, little noses with lots of whiskers started peeping out of holes in trees. Twitching tails glowed, backlit by the sun low in the sky. And then, as if someone had blown an invisible starters’ whistle, the business of the day began. Squirrels and other critters jumped about, gathering up almost-dry hazelnuts and fallen acorns and the last of the sundried currants on the vine. Back into crevices and holes they disappeared with their bounty, some burying them surprisingly close to my own still leg. As I watch the frantic back-and-forth of one particular squirrel, I watch him bury his gatherings in ten different locations. How can he possibly remember all of those hordes, come winter? The short answer is: he doesn’t.

Many trees rely on squirrels’ forgetful natures to encourage a new generation of life. In fact, millions of trees are planted every year by squirrels that forget about where they buried their hoards. The trees have used this to their evolutionary advantage, by developing what are known as “mast years.”

Secret Recipe: Acorn Pot Pies: Mast Years and Golden Brambles — The Wondersmith (2)

Every few years, all of the oak trees in a specific area will produce a plethora of acorns. (It must be squirrel heaven for the critters in the area!) They produce so many that the many animals that eat their nuts cannot possibly eat all of them, and yet they still feel the compulsion to gather, to store, to safekeep. This ensures that plenty of extra hordes will be forgotten, often a good distance away from the parent trees. Their young will sprout and grow in their squirrel-planted new homes, far enough away to not compete with their parents for resources. But if the trees were to produce so prolifically every year, the populations of squirrels would skyrocket, and suddenly all of those precious acorns - little packages of potential new life - would be gobbled up to support the growing squirrel numbers. So the trees collectively decide to wait a few years in-between their bountiful mast years, probably in part to build up more of the resources it takes to produce so many babies, but also to keep the populations of squirrels in check, so that when another mast year comes, the cycle of burying-forgetting-planting can begin anew. It’s a hilarious but serious dance to observe each year, and as a forager it explains why some trees produce loads of acorns one year and then very few the next. There is so much we have yet to learn about Nature and her clever cycles; this is but one of many autumnal games where we are sometimes the pawn.

We are part of nature, whether we accept that or not. Last fall, I planted a bunch of saffron bulbs in containers on my patio, determined to try growing and harvesting this exotic spice myself. When I saw a squirrel industriously digging in the pot just after I’d planted them, my heart sank - surely those stinkers had discovered the succulent new snack of a tasty bulb in their outdoor domain. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep them away, so I resigned myself to a saffron-less fall as I brainstormed ways to make a squirrel-proof planter to try again next year. But then to my delighted surprise, the thin crocus leaves began to sprout - they’d left me some precious bulbs after all! It was only the following spring that I discovered what they’d really been up to as I pulled black walnut seedling after black walnut seedling out of my pots. That soft potting soil must have seemed like the perfect stashing spot. Now my saffron is proliferating, albeit with a few holes where a bulb was either removed, eaten, or pushed down to accommodate yet another large nut. Seeing those marks of squirrelish industry on my garden never fails to elicit a chuckle.

Acorn Pot Pies

These delicious and cozy pot pies are an ode to the brilliance of trees and the bounty of the brambles. The creative use of a doll dress cake mold and a half-dome mold allow me to create surprisingly-realistic edible acorns, baked with buttery water crust pastry full of both homemade acorn flour and curly dock seed flour. Inside, you’ll find a richly golden hearty filling of chicken with apricots, dried currants, toasted hazelnuts, and plenty of spices - including this year’s crop of precious saffron, accompanied by a cap-full of turmeric-thyme mashed potatoes. As you dive into your own human-sized acorns, I hope you raise a toast to the industry of squirrels and the cleverness of oaks.

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Secret Recipe: Acorn Pot Pies: Mast Years and Golden Brambles — The Wondersmith (5)

Secret Recipes

The Wondersmith

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Secret Recipe: Acorn Pot Pies: Mast Years and Golden Brambles — The Wondersmith (2024)


How do you make a banquet pot pie? ›

Banquet Chicken Pot Pie
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut slit in top crust.
  3. Place pie on cookie sheet or toaster oven baking tray.
  4. Bake in center of conventional oven 30 to 33 minutes or toaster oven 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

What was the first pot pie? ›

Would it surprise you to know that the pot pie has been around since Ancient Greek and Roman times? Around 500 BC the Ancient Greeks made meat pies called artocreas. These pies had a bottom crust but no top crust. Once the Romans started making artocreas they added a top crust made from oil and flour.

How to make banquet pot pie taste better? ›

The chicken pot pie can also be deconstructed. Dump the crust, it's crappy tasting and pretty soggy anyway. Make a new crust if you have a mind to and put the innards into that fresh crust, it will taste so much better. Or add a few more veg and toss with egg noodles or other wide flat pasta.

How do you thicken a pot pie filling? ›

Stir 1 to 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into cold water and gradually whisk it into the filling. Be sure to stir the mixture well to avoid lumps. If you're planning to freeze the potpie, arrowroot is the best thickener.


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