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Acorns as a Food Source

Acorns as a Food Source

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Published by: MoreMoseySpeed on May 25, 2012
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AcornsQuercus alba (white oak)Quercas rubra (red oak)Processing Acorns: Step by StepAcorns are one of the signatures of autumn, all the essence of the mighty oak is distilled into thehumble acorn.Acorns have largely fallen into disuse by humans as a food, much less as a staple food. Acornsused to be such an important crop that whole cultures were centered around them, especially themany Native American tribes of the Atlantic coast. Today few people have ever even tasted anAcorn, much less eaten a hot, buttered Acorn muffin, though many are dimly aware that they aresupposed to be edible. Perhaps this is because they are intensely bitter when eaten fresh out ofthe shell, unlike the wild Black Walnuts and Hickory Nuts which still have faithful people willing togo to great pains to extract their sweet, flavorful nutmeats. Acorns require an extra processingstep to leach out the bitter tannins that make them unpalatable in the raw. Or perhaps it isbecause acorns have such a high content of fats and carbohydrates, undesirable traits in today’sculture, but of paramount importance in primitive societies for sustenance. 100 grams of acornflour (roughly one cup) contains a whopping 500 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 54 grams ofcarbohydrate. They also rate pretty high for vitamins and minerals in a nutritional profile, truly asurvival food of high degree.Step One: Harvesting the AcornsHarvest Acorns every year, usually in mid-late September. The best places to harvest them are ingrassy parks, mowed lawns or waysides as it is very difficult to gather them in the undergrowth ofthe woods or tall grass meadows. Oak trees seems to have a cycle of production, so that the oakthat yielded heavily one year might be dry for the next few years. This can make it tricky to find agood spot as Acorn harvest tends to move around and be somewhat hit or miss from year to year.Harvesting is as simple as picking up the acorns off the ground and putting them into a bucket. Itry to get the fresh fallen Acorns early in the season, before they have started to get weathered orburied in leaf fall. Sometimes they are green when they fall, sometimes brown, either way is finefor collecting. Acorn flour yield is roughly 2:1, so two gallon buckets of whole acorns will yieldclose to 1 gallon of acorn flour.All Acorns are edible, but some varieties are larger than others and some contain less tannic acidso are much easier to process. Oaks are divided into two main families—red oaks and whiteoaks. Red oak leaves have pointed tips and white oaks have more rounded lobes on their leaves.Step Two: Baking the Whole Acorns on Cookie SheetsWhen I bring the Acorns home, I don’t always have time to shell them right away so I might needto store them. The problem with this is that there is a certain little moth that lays its eggs inside theAcorns and if I wait too long, the larva will have hatched and eaten some of the nutmeats. In orderto kill these eggs, spread the acorns (whole, in the shell) on cookie sheets and roast them in theoven at 250° for 20-30 minutes. This will allow for a few days before further processing, but forlongkeeping, it is necessary to dehydrate them to avoid mold (I learned this the hard way!). Thisstep should be done within 24 hours of harvesting the acorns.Step Three: Shelling the AcornsShelling the acorns is the most difficult step. I used to crack each acorn by hand with a nutcrackerand it was a very time-consuming with low yields. I have since developed my own technique forcracking large quantities of acorns in relatively short order. Dehydrating the acorns thoroughlyhelps to make their shells more brittle and makes the nuts come loose from the shells easier. Ihave learned that dehydrating them is essential in efficient shelling techniques.
 
Cracking the shells: Using a heavy-bottomed stock pot or 5-gallon bucket or other large vessel,put about a 3” layer of acorns in the bottom and pound them to break open as many shells as youcan. I use a rock. Don’t pound so hard that you crush all the nutmeats.Have another large vessel ready to sift the cracked acorns into. Place a piece of 1/2” meshhardware cloth over the vessel and pour the acorns on top of it. Run your hands over the acornsto help them fall through the mesh. Don’t worry about pieces of shell falling into the vessel--thesewill be winnowed out later. You may need to push some of the larger nutmeats through thescreen. There will probably be several uncracked acorns in the mix. Return them to the crushingoperation. I always have some that I end up cracking by hand, but otherwise this is a prettyefficient process.Winnowing: You should now have a bowl or bucket full of nutmeats mixed in with lots of shell bitsand debris. Set up a fan on a chair outdoors (or wait for a very windy day). Place an empty vesselbelow the fan and slowly pour the acorns into the vessel. The shells should blow away, while thenutmeats fall into the empty vessel. This may need to be repeated several times to get them reallyclean. Some larger shells may need to be picked out by hand.Step Four: Leaching the AcornsOnce they are shelled, you need to leach the bitter tannins out. There are two techniques forleaching—a hot water leaching or a cold water leaching. Each method yields a different product. Iprefer the hot water leaching. This is accomplished by simply boiling the acorns.Put the acorns in a cooking pot and cover with about twice as much water. Bring them to a fullboil, and boil them for about 5-10 minutes. Then pour off the dark, muddy, bitter water and addmore water. Repeat this process up to 5 or 6 times until the Acorns taste mild and palatable.Step Five: Dehydrating the Leached AcornsRinse the acorns and then spread them out on clean bath towels to absorb as much water aspossible to aid in the drying process. You must get the acorns perfectly dry to store them or togrind them into flour. I have a dehydrator that I use for this step, but it only holds a half gallon orso at a time, so I spread them out on a clean tarp or sheet in a dry place while they are waitingtheir turn in the dehydrator and I do them in batches. You could also spread them on cookiesheets in a lowest setting oven, being careful not to burn them. At this point the acorns are readyfor long storage or to grind into flour.Step Six: Grinding the FlourThe next step is to grind the shelled, leached, dehydrated acorns into acorn flour. Use a handcrank corn mill. Once the acorns are ground, sift them through a mesh strainer to sift out anylarger crunchy particles. Then use a small electric coffee mill to get the flour really fine, and also togrind those larger particles.This flour can be stored in glass jars until ready to use. Acorn flour is very much like cornmeal intexture, rather than a fine flour. Therefore, when I bake with it I like to use my favorite cornmealrecipes and substitute 50%acorn flour when I have it. It makes wonderful Acorn "corn pone",muffins, and pancakes.Acorn Yeast Bread2 cups warm water1 TBL dry yeast1/4 cup honey or sugar1/4 cup oil2 eggs

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