“You can eat acorns?!
Many people have been asking me this question these past few weeks as we have been processing up some squrriel loving food from our back woods. But like any wild edible food one must do their research. From multiple sources. The knowledge is out there. A knowledge that has been almost lost and forgotten. Today, chain food stores and corporate farming give us instant ways of accessing food. Why would you harvest a small nut and take on a process that can take hours, even days to do?
Nothing feels more liberating and satisfying than harvesting a sustainable food source from your own backyard, local park or woodland. Acorns are high in carbohydrates, and a good source of fiber and protein. Give me free, nutritional, sustainable food and ancestral knowledge any day.
There are many different species of oaks that produce acorns. A mature oak will start producing around 20 years of age. We are blessed enough to have a handful of white oaks in our back woods. Try to be in tuned to when the tree begins to drop it acorns. A breezy day helps. The kids find it so exciting as the acorns drop into the leaf debris around us. As they yell ”thank you oak tree!” And giggle as they inspect each one they find for weevial holes. If there is a hole, no good. If it still has a cap, probably no good. Most of the acorns we found had started to spout. Those worked out just fine.
There are so many methods out there. Every person does it a little different. This is what worked for us. I suggest as you learn and do what works well for you. I’m sure we will adapt our process as we learn more.
First let your acorns dry up. Anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks or more. I just dump our gathered acorns into a wooden wine box in my dinning room. But be warned those lovely wormy weevils may come out of their food bearing homes onto your dinning room floor. (Hey chicken food I guess!) If you’re not into the occasional escaped weevil, opt for the garage or basement. Cool and dry. Stir them around daily. Watch for mold.
Next, float test a bowl full of acorns. The ones that float to the surface of the water usual have or had a weevil. (We compost those and the shells or save for canvas or deer-hide tanning). Remove acorns from water and pat dry. Use a sharp knife. Towel underneath and cut them into quarters. Depending on how dry they are, sometimes I cut the “crown” off then the sprout and make a slit down the middle. Then peel. If they are still sticking to the shell try putting them into a very low temp oven to help them separate. You don’t want to cook them so a very low temperture is the key. Throw some into a bowl or Tupperware container with a cover and shake. Some come free themselves. Others you pick from the shell making sure the papery dark brown sheath is removed. It can make your batch very bitter. Put the quartered acorns through a grinder or chop them up. Just note that during this process the meat can oxidize outside of the shell. It turns brown like a cut apple would sitting out. I didn’t mind, but if you’re looking in making a light colored acorn flour place the acorn meat in water to help out with this.
Some oaks are more bitter than others. Here in New England, white oaks produce acorns that are less bitter than red oaks. What causes their bitterness is a naturally occurring polyphenal called tannins. Tannins are naturally found in plant leaves, seeds, bark, wood and fruit skins. It is important to remove a bulk of the tannins (not good for the kidneys in high amounts).
The funny thing people don’t realize is squrriels do this naturally by burying their acorns over the winter snow and melt. There are two types of leaching. Cold leaching and hot leaching. Tannins are water soluble. Deciding on what you will use your acorns for dictates what leaching method you use. If you’re making acorn flour, cold leaching is needed because you don’t want to cook out the starch (binding agent).
Cold leaching can be more time consuming but worth it for making acorn flour. There are so many ways to do it. It can be done by soaking the shelled chopped acorn meat in cold water changing the water many times until the color of the soaking water becomes almost clear. I use a old t shirt and colander. Letting it soak and strain itself. Some people use a large bucket, strain and repeat. The most import thing is the color of the water. Taste test will tell you when they are no longer bitter but nutty.
Hot leaching is used if you are using the “meal” as nut add in. Boil shelled acorns for 30 minutes, strain, fill pot with hot water (not cold this will lock the bitterness into the acorn.) Boil for 30 minutes again, repeat process until you’re acorns are nutty and buttery in flavor and the bitterness is gone. You can use right away or dehydrate it, even grind it up more to a consistancy to your liking. Add it into burgers, meatloaf, mash potatoes, salad toppings, even use in pemmican.
I know it seems like a lot of work. IT IS! But it’s a sustainable food that can be appreciated. Next time you step on an acorn, remember that this small nut helped the ancestors that lived before us get through winters. And maybe one day, it will become a sustainable food that all can enjoy.
Now go thank an oak tree.