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Monday, October 12, 2009

Acorns part 2

This is part 2 of "Gathering and processing acorns for food.

The bag contains 20 pounds of acorns from the valley oak. It took me 1 1/4 hour to
gather these. Thats a lot of acorns! The tree was a young one and maybe 50 feet high. This is a very good year for valley oaks. I don't know how the other oaks are doing. When there is a crop of acorns its called "masting". In one small area I could probably gather 200-300 pounds of acorns. Its a shame this good food is considered trash and go's to waste. When will we ever learn? Some folks consider the Indians ignorant for eating such stuff. I beg to differ.

In the photos you may notice that some of the acorns are an olive drab color. I find these to be at the peak of ripeness. The brown and black ones have been ripe for a while and are nearly dry. Some actually rattle when you shake them. Most of these acorns are 2" long and weigh about an ounce.

I did a test that the Miwok Indians did. I threw some in the water and most of them sank. The ones that floated I put in one pile and the sinkers in another. Sure enough, the floaters were bad (worms, fungus) and all the sinkers were good.

Why do you have to leach them?
Most acorns contain tannin in various degrees. Red oak are the strongest and valley oaks are about midway in tannin content. White oaks and a few others have very little or no tannin and usually need no leaching and can be eaten as found, cooked or raw. The tannin gives the acorns a bitter taste and is not edible. It will cause digestion and kidney problems. There are a few different methods of processing the ground acorns to leach out the tannin. The California and other Indians would dig a shallow pit in the sand near a stream and pour boiling water over the meal until leached. Others used baskets and still others buried the acorns in the creek mud and dug them up about 8 months later. The dug acorns were black but tannin free and edible.
The biggest mistake is to put the acorns in water and bring to a boil. This will set the bitterness ruining the acorns. Always pour boiling hot water over them or add them to already boiling water.

These next two photos show the leaching can I made from a 42 oz. juice can. You can use any kind of medium or large size can but this size works best for me. I punched a bunch of holes in the bottom and punched two holes on each side near the top for a wire bail.

How it works:
I put a regular paper coffee filter in the bottom of the can and then I add about 2-3 cups of coarse ground acorn meal. I then pour boiling hot water over the grinds and let it hang over the sink. Depending on bitterness, you will use a lot of water. I keep a tea kettle and a large pot going all the time. Keep adding water as soon as it drains from the leach can. You may go through a gallon or more per leaching.

When are they done?
Take a pinch of the fresh ground meal and taste it. It will be bitter/astringent. This is the tannic acid. After the first two or three leaching's, take a pinch of the acorn meal and taste it. It should be a lot less bitter. Keep doing this after every leaching until there is no more bitterness. Its done and ready to dry out or use.

In the next installment I'll show and discuss getting the acorns ground and made into meal for leaching and a few recipes for using the finished product.


Fred Theilig said...

Ignored acorns are not really wasted. The ones that don't take root are food for animals or enrich the soil.

Acorns, I am told, were eaten by europeans during WWII when there were food shortages. If there ever is a foot shortage here, I'm sure additudes would change.

Ron Layton said...

Hi Fred True, they are not wasted when they return to the earth or are food for critters. I see a lot of people who can barely afford to buy food and if they were made aware of wild food which can be sustainably harvested without risk to the land, it would help their situation. Also, the Chinese have built a plant for processing several thousand tons of acorns. Food is a scarce commodity over there and now that they have money they are experimenting with different food stuffs.

Flowerpot said...

This is fascinating , looking forward to seeing your recipes ! I,m always surprised that more folk dont collect the sweet chestnuts .... they are so delicious !

Ron Layton said...

Thanks for your comment Flowerpot. Yes, it is surprising how a lot of really good wild food is overlooked. I'll be updating the acorn article as soon as time allows.