Foraging for Acorns


I have always wondered what acorns tasted like.  It seems that everywhere you look in the Willamette valley you see oaks trees.  Which is a remanent of the oak savanna that used to exist across the valley years ago.  The most common one in the area is the Oregon white oak.  During my daily lunch walks at work I pass several oaks that are loaded this year with acorns.  On a good year a mature oak can have close to 2000 pounds of acorns on it.  I havent seen any with close to that many on them this year.  So with my handy bucket I picked up a couple of gallons of acorns to experiment with and see how they taste, and how long it takes to process them to eat.  Acorns are high in tannin and cannot be eaten in their raw form.  The tannin makes them very bitter and if you eat them it will bind with proteins and make you constipated.  Which is also why if you get diarrhea while out in the woods you can make a quick up of hot acorn tea and it will bind you back up.

The first you need to do while gathering acorns is to make sure you don’t pick up any with little holes in them.  The holes are caused by the acorn weevil grub.  This hole is not caused by it getting into the nut it is caused by them boring out from the inside.  By the time they get through the shell they have eaten almost the entire nut.  After you have gathered them fill up the bucket with water and remove any that float.  These are the ones that the grub has not broken through on yet.  It will save you from having to open them and then tossing them out. After you have sorted your acorns you can either dry them in the oven at as low a setting as it will do or put them in a dehydrator.  I put mine in the dehydrater at 120 F for 3 days.  This accomplishes two things, the first dry the nut, and the second kills any eggs or grubs that might be inside the nut.  Out of the gallon nuts I have cracked open I only saw three with grubs in them.

There are two main methods for leaching out the tannin that I found after doing a little research.  Well methods that are used today anyway.  There are many ways that have been used by cultures all over the world to leach out the tannin.  The first method is to leach out the tannin in cold water.  Grind up the nuts and put them in a jar with twice the amount of water as you have nuts.  Each day pour off the colored water and refill with clean water.  Depending on the type of acorn that you have will determine the level of tannin in the nut.  The white oak have low tannin levels so will only require 3-5 days to leach out the tannin.  take a pinch of ground nut and taste it to see if it is ready.  You will get a slight bitter taste at first then it will be a bit bland to sweet.  Pour the water and nuts into a cloth lined colander and drain off all the water. After you get all the water out you can dry it out in the oven or a dehydrator.  This method will give you a flour that will bind together and will work great in breads (I have yet to try this)

The second method is to boil the tannin out of the nuts.  This involves using two pots of boiling water to leach out the tannin.  If you put the acorns in cold water at any time after starting the boil it will lock in the tannin and you will never be able to get them out. Bring both pots of water to a boil and add your acorns to one of them.  Boil for 10-15 minutes and drain.  Then pour the acorns into the other pot of boiling water.  Then refill the first pot and bring it back to a boil.  Repeat until you can taste an acorn and don’t taste any more bitterness from the tannin.  For the white oak acorns I had pick it took 4 changes of water to get them to the point that they didn’t taste bitter. Kinda taste like boiled peanuts at this point.  Drain off the water from the last boil and then dry the nuts either in the oven on low or in a dehydrator.  After being dried my acorns were very hard and not really a nut you could just grab a handful and eat.

The first thing i made with my acorns was a batch of trail bars.  I replaced the hazelnuts I normally use for some coarsely ground acorns.  They gave it a different flavor and more of a crunch then the normal.  Once I run the course ground nuts through the coffee grinder I am going to try some in a batch bread and see how they taste.  Homemade bread sounds good anyway.

Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
First boil less then a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water.  The water was almost black.  I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
First boil less than a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water. The water was almost black. I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice course grind
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice coarse grind
ground acorns
Course grind of the acorns made them about the same size as corn grits. For a fine flour they just need to be ran through a coffee grinder

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