Sunday, February 7, 2010

nuts- more specifically acorns

One of our past times here on the homestead is foraging wild edibles and one of our favorites  is the lowly acorn. In the fall when we begin hearing them hit the tin roof we know it is time to dig the bags out  and go  to scooping them up.

Way back when, the Native Americans used acorns as a main staple food in their diet ( upwards of 50% of the food) and during the great depression they  had a resurgence in popularity, unfortunately in modern times we have again left them by the wayside.   A good stand of oaks can  produce upwards of 6000 pounds of nuts per acre. Rivaling any modern day  farming crop per acreage they can also  be used as fodder for domesticated animals as well as wild life and as a viable food crop  for us humans.

All Acorns are edible, but some are larger than others and contain less tannic acid so are much easier to process.  Oaks are divided into two main families; red oaks and white oaks.  Red oaks have pointed tips and white oaks have more rounded lobes on their leaves.  It’s the white oaks that have the biggest and the best Acorns with the least amount of tannin.

Acorns have  a high content of fats and carbohydrates, undesirable traits in today’s culture, but of paramount importance in primitive societies for sustenance.  100 grams of acorn flour (roughly one cup) contains  500 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 54 grams of carbohydrate.  They also rate pretty high for vitamins and minerals in a nutritional profile, truly a survival food of high degree. Acorns make a fine flour  for breads and other dishes or  they can be used as whole nuts. They can also be used in place of any nut in  recipes.  

The gathering of acorns here usually begins in  mid to late September. We normally will go out and pick  up the fresh fallen ones each day over the course of a week or so. Once collected I  throw them all in  a bucket of water and floaters are tossed to  the critters. If the acorns float  it means the shell has been  drilled into  by moth larva and are no longer good. I then drain them  and set  them out in trays in the sun to dry for several days and then store them until I need to use them. 

One processes acorns depending on the end use. If cold processed the starch is not cooked (why the recommendation to keep all temps under 150F) and the resulting meal or flour will bind, can be used for making bread and as a thickener in soups and stews. If they are heat processed, boiling for example, they then make a poor flour because the starch is precooked so it will make crumbly bread that will not stick together, and one has also boiled off the fat, which is an important nutrition and flavor element. However, after leach boiling, while acorns roast well and candy well.
Sun Drying: Place the tray of acorns in direct sunlight for two to five consecutive days, depending on how "green" your acorns are when you collect them. Bring all your acorns inside each night. Drying in the sun is the traditional method. If the sky is partly cloudy or overcast, then you may need to dry your acorns for more than five days in the sun. (Note: If your acorns are not completely dry, they will soon be covered with mold and you will have to throw them away. Any acorns that are still partially green after a few days of drying should be separated from the rest of the acorns. Continue drying any partially green acorns until they turn completely brown.)
The advantages of sun drying are:
1. It helps to kill insect larva, and
2. It helps to reduce future mold problems.

The disadvantages of sun drying are:
1. Flying insects will lay eggs in some of the acorns and they will have to be thrown away.
2. The inner nutmeat looses some of its moisture and flavor.
3. The shelf life of the nutmeat is between four to six months.

If you have windows facing the sun, then you can place your tray of acorns in the sun inside your house and eliminate the flying insect problem above.

Oven Drying: Place the tray of acorns in a warm oven (150ºF) for about 30 minutes with the oven door slightly cracked to let the moisture escape.
If acorns  are heated above 165F by any means before leaching, the tannin binds to now-cooked starch and cannot be leached out.

The advantages of oven drying are:
1. Drying can be done very quickly.
2. It effectively kills all insect larva.
3. It eliminates future mold problems.

The disadvantages of oven drying are:
1. The inner nutmeat looses most of its moisture and flavor and it becomes very hard to chew.
2. The shelf life of the nutmeat is only two or three months.

House Drying at Normal Room Temperatures: Allow the acorns to dry gradually inside your home at normal room temperatures. The acorns should only be one layer thick on the drying trays. If the acorns are relatively green, this drying method normally takes between two to four weeks.

The advantages of room temperature drying are:
1. The inner acorn nutmeat retains most of its original moisture which adds to its flavor and chewability.
2. If your home is free of flying insects, then you will not loose any more acorns to insect larva.

The disadvantages of room temperature drying are:
1. It can take as long as four weeks to properly dry the acorns.
2. Each day you will need MORE house space to dry additional acorns.
3. Periodically you will have to inspect your acorns for tiny worms.
4. Future acorn nutmeat mold problems are more likely to occur. 

Do NOT remove your acorn nutmeats from their protective outer shell until you are ready to process and eat them.

About a week before  I want to use the acorns I begin shelling them. The best way to do this is with a plain old nut cracker or if they are larger nuts a lobster cracker will work. Then I break the nut meats up into smaller bits so that leaching does not take as long They will next need to be leached of the tannins. There are several ways of doing this and depending on the type of acorn the length of time for leaching varies. Some of the white varieties need little or even no leaching while red may require several  hours or even days.

The manner in which you leach  your nuts is entirely up to you and dependent upon  how  soon you need them..  The Native Americans would put them in a sacks tie it closed and toss the sack into a flowing stream or river  and allow the water flow to leach them  over the course of several days. I tried this at our spring head and after two weeks the nuts were still bitter. I have read some folks tie them in a bag and stick them in a toilet tank and let the water in there leach them. Since we use an out house that  is impossible for us.

I have also  tried the crock or pail method and changing the water out a couple times a day until the water runs clear. If you do not need your acorns for quite some time this is  a good method to use as you can save the tannic water from the acorns and use it in many different ways. The tannins can be used to tan  hides, as a hair rinse, as an additive to your laundry water (non whites), or even as an astringent as well as a few other medicinal uses.

The method I have found that works best is by using hot water after  doing  the  crock or bucket method. I  put my acorns in  a bowl or pot and heat water to steaming hot, but  not boiling. Then I pour the  water over the acorns, stir and sit for 5 -10minutes and then drain.  I  repeat this process until the nuts are no longer bitter  and the water runs clear.

Once this is done you    again let the nuts air dry, sun dry or oven dry  for storage. I generally store mine in the  larger pieces of nuts in a container in the freezer and then   use as needed from there. They will stay fine in the freezer for a couple of years with no trouble. I grind  the nuts into a flour as needed for recipes. For a decent coffee like substitute you can roast the  nuts or parch them  and  brew a coffee.

My favorite acorn dishes are any of those made with  winter squash. Acorn  acorn patties  are one of my favorite dishes. Breads and muffins using either nut meats or flour are very yummy.  Here are a few more that  I have found  over the last few years. Some I have tried and some I  have not.

Here are a few more recipes

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this helpful info! I'm surrounded by oaks (I'm pretty sure we've got mostly reds, though), so I should be able to put this to good use!