I have had the pleasure of having some mighty oak trees in my life. The beautiful trees have provided shade to sit under, branches for my children to swing from, plenty of leaves to rake in the fall and quiet beauty and strength. They also have provided untold amounts of acorns!
As another fall arrives, I soon will hear the sound of acorns hitting my deck and of squirrels scampering around gathering the bounty under my trees. However, as I search to make better use of my resources, I began wondering if I am neglecting a treasure right there in my yard. Is there anything I can do with all those acorns?
After doing a little research, I discovered that Native American tribes used acorns as one of their primary staple foods. In much the same way they used corn, they used ground acorn nutmeat to make a meal, or flour, for baked goods. They even used them to make acorn coffee.
Acorns are rich in Vitamins B12, B6, folate riboflavin, thiamin and niacin. They also contain iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, copper manganese and zinc, and are good sources of protein and fiber. Naturalist John Muir called the acorn cakes he made the most “strength giving” food he had ever eaten. But before you start munching on your own baskets of acorns, there is some information you need to know.
First, green acorns are unsuitable for eating. You may harvest mature green acorns to ripen in a clean, dry place, however. Also, all raw acorns contain high amounts of tannic acid, which gives them a bitter taste and which can be toxic to humans and many animals if consumed in large quantities. White oak acorns generally contain fewer tannins than red oak acorns.
Tannic acid is water soluble, however, and can be removed by boiling or flushing. Native Americans accomplished this by placing a bag of acorns in a clean, flowing stream for a few days until no brown colored water was visible around the acorns.
Here’s how you can remove the tannins. To begin, use only ripe, brown acorns that look appealing to the eye. Leave any acorns that appear to be blackened or mildewed for the squirrels.
Next, remove the caps and boil the acorns for 10 minutes. Replace the water three more times, repeating the 10-minute boiling process each time. After the four boiling sessions, the water should no longer look brown and the acorns can be easily shelled.
Another way of removing the tannins is the flushing method. Remove the caps and place the acorns inside a cheese cloth bag. Secure the opening, and place the bag under running water for several hours. Drain the water out of the bag frequently and continue rinsing until the water is clear.
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Spread the damp acorns in a thin layer on a baking sheet and in a preheated 200 degree Fahrenheit oven, with the door slightly ajar to let moisture escape. Or if it’s a sunny day, you can place them on a baking sheet in direct sunlight for several hours or until they are dry.
Another method for leaching the acorns is to let them soak in baking soda and water (one tablespoon per quart of water) for 12 to 15 hours before rinsing well.
To make acorn “coffee,” first peel the ripe, blanched acorns. Divide the kernels and place them in a covered ovenproof dish. Roast in your oven on low heat, stirring them frequently. When they have roasted, grind them and use the grounds combined with your regular coffee or on their own. To make acorn flour, follow the same process but sift well to remove any fibers.
Acorns add a nutty, slightly sweet taste to foods. Some Korean noodles and jellies are made of acorn starch, and many Asian grocery markets sell acorn starch in packages.
Other ways to use blanched acorns in your cooking include:
- substituting them in recipes that call for chickpeas, peanuts or macadamia nuts.
- sprinkling chopped, roasted acorns on a garden salad.
- making acorn butter instead of peanut or almond butter.
- adding acorns to stews as you would add beans or potatoes to add more taste and depth.
Here is a recipe for acorn bread or muffins. You’ll need:
- 2 cups acorn flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/3 cup maple syrup or sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Bake in pan for 30 minutes or until done at 400 degrees
Raw acorns can be stored in a clean, cool and dry place for months without spoiling. They also can be used as feed for certain livestock. You will need to follow the same process of avoiding green, unripe acorns and of removing the tannins from the acorns for the health and safety of your animals, however.
What other ways have you used acorns? Share your tips in the comments section below: