This all started as a combination of two events occurring simultaneously for me in October. The first was my complete inability to look at the world without Outlander goggles, and the second was a food drive for our local wildlife rehabilitation hospital, conducted by my daughter’s elementary school.
My daughter’s school was participating in a food drive for critters recovering at the Center, and one of the items the wildlife hospital asked for was acorns. They provided me with a handy how-to guide for selecting ‘good’ nuts, and on a beautiful autumn day, my 5-yr old and I set out to see what we could collect. I also recalled reading about the various times acorns had been used at the Ridge and thought I’d give this a go. Yes, I’d heard all of the disclaimers of “Acorns are poisonous, aren’t they?” “Don’t they taste bad?” but thought I’d decide for myself. After all, I trusted in the research done by DG herself, and a few other bloggers/preppers from around the web gave me some insight on how to prepare the acorns.
Here’s how it went. We’d been hearing the sound of acorns plunking to the ground for at least a week, and knew we were in prime acorn season. Our home in Virginia is surrounded by a mixed deciduous forest, and we have several white, red, and black oaks available. And the pickings were good. Or at least, there were plenty of acorns on the ground, I should say. So, the boy and I started our gathering mission.
At first, were a bit disgruntled. Every little nut we found seemed already to have sprouted. I was shocked at how quickly these little buggers not only germinated but started growing. And of the acorns that hadn’t sprouted, a quick look at the little holes on the shells proved to be the entryway for a lovely little larva. Ewwwww. Totally not eating that one.
Remember that scene from Forrest Gump after his first attempt at shrimping? He came back to tell the ole shrimper about his failed attempt, “I only caught fiiiiiiive.” That’s how I was feeling. But I was not to be deterred!!
After a quick regroup and a mental forehead smack accompanied by the internal dialogue of “Well, duh!!”, we simply moved to a new spot. Realizing that this particular patch of acorns must be older than the rest, we moved to a tree from which we could actually SEE the acorns falling. Seems rather intuitive now, but my point: get the freshest acorns available. These wee buggers grow and/or get inmates quickly.
Here comes the fun part.
How can you tell if your acorn is good? It’s actually quite simple: the bad ones float; the good ones sink. Bad acorns most likely have either rot, bugs, or germinated growth – all things that will float. The good nuts will be solid, have shells that are intact, and will sink immediately. If there are any acorns that seem to be in limbo, use caution and chuck them. Stick with the clear sinkers.
So, as you can see from this photo, the ratio of bad to good was quite high here. This collection of acorns was from the Gump tree = mostly bad. But as we got better, our picking skills improved and so did our collection of good nuts. (Side note: my kids were totally into this. Even if you don’t plan on ever eating acorns, it’s a great way to enjoy an autumn day with the kids. And if you DO plan on collecting acorns, those little fingers and scavenging eyes are great at finding acorns!)
The collecting turns out to have actually been the easy part. Now on to the tough part. What the heck to do now? First, I’d need to shell the nuts. And in my experience, roasting nuts prior to shelling makes the work a bit easier. So, that’s what I did. I’m not sure if this helped the flavor with regard to the tannin-tang or made things worse, but heck… why not give it a shot? Off they went into a 250 degree oven for about an hour. Again, totally winging it.
It was at this point in the process when I learned that creating any significant amount of acorn flour would take a very looooonnnnnnnggggggg time. Although I did get a bit better at shelling the
little bastards acorns, the shells don’t simply want to pop right off. I used a nutcracker, and found that cracking them long-ways (cap end on top, pointy tip at the bottom) worked best. And get ready to be impressed: after about 30 minutes of cracking, I had about ONE WHOLE CUP of acorns. Tedious work, but hey… it’s all part of learning, right? Either way, I figured I had invested enough time into this and one cup seemed a good place to stop.
Moving on to leaching. This is where I suppose we should get a bit serious. The main problem with eating raw acorns is the amount of tannic acid they contain. Tannic acid and human kidneys apparently don’t like each other after a while, so that’s why it’s important to remove as much of it as possible. From what I’ve read, eastern oaks like the ones growing here in Virginia have a higher tannin content than some western oaks, so for me, leaching was definitely in order. I simply placed the shelled acorns in a glass jar with cold water, and let them soak for a day. Change the water, and repeat. I did so for seven days (figuring more is better, I guess?) and while the water was discolored every day, the water was most discolored on the first day, less towards the end of the week of leaching.
Now, I was getting somewhere! Next step, mortar and pestle. Scratch that… food processor! A quick whirl and this was actually starting to look promising. It was at this point where I was a little confused over the leaching process. Some bloggers suggested leaching the whole acorn, some the acorn meal. I decided to do both. I just didn’t do the second leaching for as long. Back into the Mason jar the acorn meal went for one more day of soaking (again, “more is better” logic prevailed here).
(I mentioned this was a long process, right? I mean, if the choice were between acorn flour and five pounds of bleached & fluffy white stuff, then off to the store I’d go. But if it were a matter of surviving a long tedious winter stuck in a cabin, then perhaps a bit of dedication to food prep would be in order.)
Next step: strain the acorn meal through sack cloth or cheese cloth and rinse with more cold water. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible and let dry.
It really only took a few minutes for the acorn meal dry enough to be sifted. Because the texture of the acorn flour was still a bit coarse, I ran it one last time through the food processor, which meant one more round of sifting, and I was done.
So, in the end…… It only took me a few hours of scavenging, several tedious moments of fingernail-splitting acorn shelling, 8 days of leaching, some straining, processing, sifting, processing again, more sifting, and then I was done. Easy right? TOTALLY doable. (But totally worth the effort if Jamie, Roger, and Ian were to walk in for dinner, right?!)
But I must say that I was very excited about my finished product. Remember that initial one cup of acorns that I shelled? Well, after all the sifting/straining/processing was finished, I ended up with ¾ of a cup of acorn flour. Not too much loss, and a pretty good indicator of what to expect for a finished volume.
Now, what to make with this stuff????