You may have seen Native Americans sitting out under oak trees recently collecting fallen acorns around town. At a recent celebratory event, the Mazatzal Casino chef put those acorns to good use.
Acorn stew, a traditional dish made for centuries, was the star at this year’s TriPoD leadership graduation.
Chef Rick DePhilippis is one of the few non-tribal members who can make the savory stew.
DePhilippis explained tribal elders passed the recipe on to him shortly after he started with the casino 17 years ago.
“They were making it for special occasions,” he said. “They asked me to try it and they loved it.”
Trained in classical French techniques, DePhilippis says he follows the recipe closely, but also puts his own spin on it.
“I call it tribal-Italian style.”
The recipe calls for yellow and green zucchini, corn on the cob, prime rib (the original recipe used squirrel), water, secret spices and the coveted acorn meal, which has the consistency of cornmeal and a sometimes-bitter taste.
In August when the acorns drop, Native Americans across the state collect the nuts and process them. A mound of acorns produces only a small amount of the meal.
This year’s acorn supply came from a local elder, DePhilippis said.
“It is pretty hard to get,” he said. “They hoard it like gold.”
The cost ranges from $30 to $100 a pound.
Added to the soup, it provides a sweet, buttery, bitter taste.
Some people don’t initially like the soup, but the taste grows on them.
DePhilippis said while other tribes have asked him for the recipe, he only makes the stew for the Tonto Apache Tribe.
One tribe member said DePhilippis is the only non-native she knows making the stew correctly.
DePhilippis said he has sent the stew to elders in the hospital and it seems to help them get better faster.