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

Silver creek south falls and lower south falls

Silver creek has a total of 10 falls inside the state park.  The trail of 10 falls is a mild 8.7 mile loop with only 600 ft elevation change.  Next time I go I would like to do the entire loop.  For this trip we only hiked the first two falls.  It would have been a bit difficult once we got to the stair to take the strollers down to the base of lower south falls.  The first 2 falls are an easy two-mile hike down and back that is very easy for children.

South falls as you hit the first fork in the path
South falls as you hit the first fork in the path

Getting There: From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls.

The short hike: From the South Falls Picnic Area C parking lot, follow a broad path downstream a few hundred yards to historic Silver Falls Lodge, built by Civilian Conservation Corps crews in 1940. After inspecting this rustic stone-and-log building, continue a few hundred yards to an overlook of 177-foot South Falls. From here take a paved trail to the right. Then switch back down into the canyon and behind South Falls.

A few hundred yards beyond South Falls is a junction at a scenic footbridge. Don’t cross the bridge unless you’re truly tired, because that route merely returns to the car. Instead take the unpaved path along the creek. This path eventually switchbacks down and behind Lower South Falls’ broad, 93-foot cascade.

The creek in between the two falls
The creek in between the two falls
My sister on a log that crosses the creek
My sister on a log that crosses the creek
The lower south falls near the base of the staircase
The lower south falls near the base of the staircase
Both of the first two falls have a path that goes behind the waterfalls
Both of the first two falls have a path that goes behind the waterfalls

 

 

 

Spring tomato planting

One of the favorites of most backyard gardeners is the wonderful tomato.  There are so many things that you can make with tomatoes.  Tomato sauce, salsa, tomato juice, dehydrated tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, and many more.  And we can’t forget my favorite use!  As an ingredient in my tomato-basil feta.  Or as someone at work call’s it “pizza cheese goodness”

two of my tomato starts at the base of wire cages that i made into a fence instead of a square.
two of my tomato starts at the base of wire cages that i made into a fence instead of a square.

This year for growing my tomatoes I am trying a method that I have seen my father use year after year.  He never uses cages or fancy holders to stake up his plants.  All he does is stake up a 15 foot piece of old wire fencing and plant his tomatoes every 18 inches or so along the bottom edge.  He then ties them up to the fence as they grow.  This keeps them off the ground and allows for the tomatoes to grow sideways along the fence.  As lower shoots on the plant grow they are cut off so that all the plant energy goes to putting on fruit instead of growing lots of leaves.

As an added boost to my plants I also added one teaspoon of epsom salt to the soil at planting time.  Every time I have added it I get a huge boost to the total output of the plant.  This years planting is less than I have planted some years.  Four San Marzano tomatoes (paste tomatoes for sauce), two Brandywine tomatoes,  one early girl tomato, and a multi colored cherry tomato that my sister bought me seeds for at Christmas.  The cherry tomato is an heirloom variety so if it tastes good I will save some seeds for it for next year.  For those of you on a budget it is really a saver to grow veggies from seeds.  A couple of dollors for a pack of seeds instead of the same price for a single plant.

tips for growing tomatoes:

  1.  Bury tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to a few top leaves. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. You can either dig a deeper hole or simply dig a shallow tunnel and lay the plant sideways. It will straighten up and grow toward the sun. Be careful not to drive your pole or cage into the stem.
  2. Mulch after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Mulching does conserve water and prevents the soil and soil borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, but if you put it down too early it will also shade and therefore cool the soil.
  3. Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. But go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes.
  4. Water deeply and regularly while the plants are developing. Irregular watering, (missing a week and trying to make up for it), leads to blossom end rot and cracking. This is very important if you have Roma type tomatoes!!!! Once the fruit begins to ripen, lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.
  5. Determinate type tomatoes tend to set and ripen their fruit all at one time, (Roma types) making a large quantity available when you’re ready to make sauce. You can get indeterminate type tomatoes (early girl, Willamette, cherry tomatoes) to set fruit earlier by pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer.
  6. Plant tomatoes where they will receive at least 10 hours of direct sunlight.  The more they get the better they will produce.
  7. Do not fertilize with a high nitrogen type fertilizer.  It will cause lots of leaf growth but very few tomatoes.  A good compost will provide most of what the plant needs for the growing season.