Rons Primitive Skills

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Gathering and processing acorns for food part 1

Its that time of the year when the acorn crop starts to fall. This is looking to be a very good year for valley oak, Quercus lobata, acorns. My wife and I were sitting at a local park yesterday and the acorns were falling all around us. These are big acorns on the average of two inches long. The first photo shows the first ones that started to fall about a week or so ago. Notice they are mostly still green. This is okay. They are still good. The ones falling now are brown and fully ripe.

My only competition is the ground squirrel's Spermophilus beecheyi, western scrub jay's Aphelocoma californica and acorn woodpeckers Melanerpes formicivorus. The squirrels store their acorns in their underground nests, the jay buries his in loose soil(this is why oak trees are found growing in the oddest places out here) and the acorn woodpecker beats them all for technique. He hammers a hole in tree's, phone and power poles and even the sides of wooden buildings and stuffs the acorns into the hole. He usually only puts one acorn per hole. The local tribes such as the Miwok would use a tool made of deer antler to pry the stored acorns from trees during a poor acorn harvest year (Miwok Material Culture, Barrett & Gifford).

To tell the difference from a good and bad acorn is simple. The good ones will be heavy and solid. The bad ones will be a bit lighter and spongy feeling. These spongy ones are usually black and moldy inside. It takes a bit of experience to get good at this but you will learn quick. As for grubs in the acorns, the best way is to look for holes in the hull. I have found a few where there was no sign of a hole at all but Mr. grub was home eating away. There are tiny grubs and there are large grubs. These would make great fish bait! I have cut out the areas where the grub has done minor damage, especially if its a big acorn.

This next photo shows how I make a cut along the side of the acorn to hull it. I make a shallow cut from tip to bottom.

Note how easily it comes off.

This is the left over hull. These are good for a very hot fire per the Miwok (see Miwok Material Culture, Barrett & Gifford). The hull on the valley oak is somewhat soft and flexible where as some other species are very hard and need to be cracked to hull them. The Miwok had difficulty with the valley oak acorn because they usually opened their acorns with an anvil stone and hammer stone. The flexible hull would crush along with the meat and add work to cleaning out the resulting meal. They overcame this problem by biting through the hull with their teeth. In modern times they used steel blades such as pen knives and small fixed blades.

This is a nice little batch of hulled acorns. These will be ground and leached. I'll cover this in the next installment.


Steve Cross OKC,OK said...

Hello Ron,
Not really a comment about acorns as food but a question about how you like your Smidgeon. I've had one about 4 months now and am still finding new ways to use it. It may turn out to be one of the handiest knives I've ever owned. I thought about getting the Hartsook because I liked the oxidized finish but didn't. I started out carring it on my belt with the included carabinier but went to a chain around my neck and couldn't be happier. Back to acorns. When I was a scout master we did a whole season of wild foods. The winner hands down was a young man that made cookies using acorn flour. They were really good. He really had the patience to leach out enough acid in order to get enough flour to feed a bunch of Boy Scouts. Good Post.

Ron Layton said...

Hi Steve Cross
Thanks for your comments. Actually mine is the Hartsook. Its a bit worn from use. The knife is still black but a shiny black from continuous duty. I love this blade and use it more than any other knife for everything from bushcraft to opening mail to the kitchen. It sharpens up to a razor edge with a few strokes on my Lansky ceramic sticks sharpener. That S30V steel is amazing. I may end up buying a Buck Mayo since its also S30V. I would like to buy a Smidgeon for my wife. It looks like a fine blade also. Kudos to the scout master for having the patience to do those acorns for the kiddies! Its a lot of work, but, worth it.

Monkeyface News said...

This is great stuff. Tried acorns once... kinda starchy. Makes me want to do it again. thanks