It’s harvest time here in Dallas, and I’m excited!
It amazes me though, with Oak trees being so common, how few people eat acorns (or even know that they are edible)! Acorns are as widespread and abundant as they are nutritious and healing. I can (and soon will) write a whole post on WHY Acorns as well as other common edibles are not only not eaten, but basically looked down upon. There is so much info out there on the topic of Acorns it could easily be a whole chapter or even a book, but for this post, I will focus primarily on my first harvest of the season.
Acorns have been a dietary staple for indigenous people for thousands of years, and for good reason! First and foremost, properly prepared acorns are DELICIOUS! They have a hearty, earthy quality that works well in so many recipes! They are also a super-food – a highly nutritious food, long revered for its healing and strength giving properties. They contain healthy doses of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and minerals, and can fit into most any diet plan.
In general raw acorns are not edible to humans without first leaching out the tannins. Tannins are a bitter, astringent substance found in raw acorns, which makes it next to impossible to eat them. There is quite a variation in the quantity of tannins throughout different species of oak. White Oaks tend to have the least tannins which means they are generally faster and easier to process. Red Oaks tend to have more tannins, but are still well worth the effort as they are just as tasty and nutritious as white oak acorns once they have been prepared.
The most important thing is to find a clean, chemical free source for your acorns. The most ideal situation is to be able to gather in a wild, untouched natural area. If that is not an option for you, there are dozens of Oak trees in most neighborhoods; if they are in a yard, make sure that yard is not treated with toxins like pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Also, make sure you get permission before gathering, though I have found this part to be pretty easy, as it seems a good majority of people view Acorns as a nuisance rather than a valuable commodity.
There are tons of free or cheap resources out there for detailed processing instructions. One book that I found helpful is Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer. It has a very in depth section on Acorn harvest, processing and use. It (and lots of others like it) is available for free at the library, or it can be easily found for purchase online.
As you gather, you will learn to look for tell tale signs to gauge the quality of the harvest. Fresh acorns should be beautiful and healthy looking. Avoid dull, discolored, or cracked acorns as well as those with holes of any size.
Once you have a good portion of acorns, you have two choices. You can process them fresh, or dry them in shells to process at a later time. Acorns can stay fresh for months if stored in a dry place, in shell, and away from any potential pests.
To open the acorn, I generally use a large flat rock and another large rock to strike it with. You can also use a hand held nut cracker – I find it works well to make a couple of perpendicular cracks, especially with fresh acorns.
Once open, visually inspect for any signs of worms, and then set aside as you work through the pile. Shelling is probably the hardest part, but stay strong, put on some music, invite over a couple of friends, and enjoy yourself.
Once you have all of your acorns shelled, its time for leaching out the tannins. There are two main ways to go about this, both with their own strengths and drawbacks. I have yet to try the cold water leaching, since thus far I have been working with Red Oak, and so chose the faster boiling method. In traditional preparation, cold water leaching involved hanging acorns in a bag in a clean, flowing stream, and the water would gradually wash away the tannins. I will cover more cold water options at a later date, when I have the chance to try them out for myself. For now, I will focus on the boiling method.
Whole acorns take longer than those that are coarsely broken into smaller chunks. Cover your acorn meats with plenty of fresh water and bring to a boil. I usually shoot to have the pot about 1/2 to 2/3 full of acorn meat and then fill the rest of the pot with water. Boil until water becomes dark from tannins, roughly 30 minutes. At this point you can decide to save some of the tannin water from the first few boils – it makes a great laundry detergent and it is good for a host of skin issues like rashes and poison ivy. It is also great for tanning hides, but more on this at a later time.
Thoroughly drain the acorns, and then repeat the process over and over and over… until the water stops looking thick with tannins, and when tasted the acorns are no longer the least bit bitter or astringent. This may take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days depending on the type of acorn and how often you change the water (so don’t give up!). They will turn a rich shade of chocolate brown, and have an earthy and distinct taste. The consistency is a bit mealy when freshly cooked, but this wont be an issue once they are completely processed.
Once your Acorns are ready, the next step is to dry them. In clear warm weather, this can be done in the sun (cover with mesh or netting to deter bugs and animals), otherwise a warm oven on the lowest heat setting with door cracked, stirring occasionally, or in a food dehydrator works great. You will want to dry them until they are completely dry and brittle.
Once dry, they can be ground, with either a stone mortar and pestle, or a coffee or grain grinder, or stored as is. I have tried both ways, storing the Acorn pieces whole and grinding as needed, and storing the ground flour. Both ways work well for me, but having ready made flour is more convenient. I also generally store my acorn flour in the freezer in between uses, just to extend shelf life.
Acorn flour can then be used in a huge variety of recipes, from breakfast mush to acorn burgers; Acorn breads to Acorn cookies. I’ll be sure to post more recipes and suggestions over the coming months!
Do you eat acorns? What are some of your favorite Acorn recipes? Tips, comments and questions are gratefully received, talk to me!