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The Acorn and Some Other Wild Nuts

The Acorn and Some Other Wild Nuts

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Published by: api-3747641 on Oct 15, 2008
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CHAPTER IV THE ACORN AS HUMAN FOOD ANDSOME OTHER WILD NUTS
Happy age to which the ancients gave the name of golden.
. .
None found it needful, in order to obtain
sustenance,
 to
re-
sort to other labor than to stretch out his hand and take it from
the sturdy live-oak, which liberally invited him.
l
 Don
 Quixote.
C
ERTAIN nuts growing wild in the UnitedStates, such as the chestnut, the hickories, thepecan, the beech-nut and the walnuts, have securedso firm a place in our civilized dietary that every
one knows them, and they need not be discussed here.
Perhaps, though, we have not exhausted all theirculinary possibilities.For instance, William Bar-tram tells us that the Creek Indians in his daypounded the shellbark nuts, cast, them into boiling water and then passed the mass through a very fine
strainer.
The thicker, oily part of the liquid thuspreserved was rich like fresh cream, and was calledby a name signifying “hickory milk.” It formedan ingredient in much of their cookery, especially in
67
 
USEFUL WILD PLANTS
hominy and corn cakes. Peter
Kalm
speaks of
a
similar practice observed by him with hickory nuts
and black walnuts.
 A cooking oil is also said to havebeen obtained from acorns by some Eastern tribes,the nuts being pounded, boiled in water containing maple-wood ashes, and the oil skimmed off.Of the nuts of our country unregarded by thewhite population from the standpoint of human foodvalue, the noble genus of oaks supplies the most im-
portant.
Every farmer realizes the worth of acornsfor fattening hogs, but in America only the Indians,I believe, have taken seriously to utilizing them forhuman consumption; and it is significant that among the fattest of all Indians are those—the Californians—whose staple diet from prehistoric times has beenacorn meal.There is, to be sure, a difference in
acorns.
 All are not bitter.Several species of oakproduce nuts whose sweetness and edibility in the
l
raw state make it easy to believe the acorn’s
cousin-
ship to the chestnut and beechnut.
In this class arethe different sorts of Chestnut Oaks, easily recog-
nized by the resemblance of their leaves to the foliage
of the chestnut tree; and of these perhaps the best,in respect of acorns, is
Quercus Michauxii,
Nutt.—commonly known as Basket Oak or Cow Oak. Itis a large tree, indigenous to the Southern
 Atlantic
68
 
THE ACORN AS HUMAN FOOD
States in situations near streams and swamps, andripening in September or October plump, sweet nutsan inch and a half long.Oddly enough it is not the sweet
acorns
 but thebitter that have
played
 the really noteworthy part inaboriginal history.The Indians of the Pacific Coastdid not become maize growers until after the whiteoccupation of
their
country, preferring to acceptfrom the hand of indulgent Nature such nutrients ascame ready made, among which the abounding
fruit-
age of extensive oak forests formed, and still formsa conspicuous part.The acorns of all species ooaks indigenous to that coast are more or less stored
withtannin,
which
imparts to the taste an
unwhole-
some bitterness and astringency as disagreeable tored men as to white. Some inventive Indian—anddoubtless it was a woman, the aboriginal harvesteras well as cook—long ago hit upon a simple buteffective way of extracting the deleterious principle;that is, washing the finely ground acorns in water.The process of preparing the acorn for human use,as still practicedin some parts of California, is asfollows
:
In autumn
when
 the nuts are ripe but not yet
fallen, they are gathered in baskets and barley sacks,
brought home and laid in the sun to dry.
Some are
69

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