A couple of weeks ago I took a little walk in a local park and couldn't help noticing the tons of huge beautiful acorns littering the ground. Not only were they big and beautiful, but I also realized that they were from a white oak. Our naturalist friend, Bob, has said that white oak acorns are the best for making acorn flour, because they have the least tannins, the dark stuff that turns swampy backwaters brown. Tannins are also bitter and bad for humans (they can actually damage your kidneys if you consume too much of the stuff), even though they don't seem to bother squirrels, mice and pigs in the least. I decided on the spur of the moment to collect a bunch and see if I could make some of my own acorn flour, just like the Native Americans used to do. Before the "white man" came to North America, eastern indian tribes (and others) used acorns as a significant protein source, and it occurred to me that it was just a bit odd how little of the natural abundance of the eastern forests our current society uses these days. Here were hundreds of acorns, just lying around on the ground, and nobody ever does anything with them, except curse at them when they land on their decks and driveways and scream when they step on their sharp caps.
I collected all I could hold, but then realized I probably didn't have enough, so my daughter helped me to collect some more on another trail. Unfortunately, I think that these may have been acorns from a red oak, because, as I found out later, they were very bitter.
When collecting your acorns you have to be very careful, get them when they are brown, and discard any that have ANY sort of hole or crack in them. Usually a hole means rot or a worm. The worm comes from a kind of weevil that feeds on acorns, and who can blame them for also laying their eggs in the acorn as well? Seems like a pretty good strategy to me.
Anyway, the kids and I spent about an hour shelling them. There are a couple of websites out there with some great suggestions about processing acorns. They had suggested that we dry the acorn first (either by air drying or in a warm oven) and then they would be easy to shell. Unfortunately, my impatience got the best of me and we didn't take their advice. Still, in the end, we had a nice bowl of nut meat ready for processing, and the kids had had some fun cracking nuts.
Also suggested, was to grind them into a fine powder before soaking, but I just stuck them into my food processor and managed to get a coarse grind. I then took them and put them into what I had handy, a large french press.
This was great, except that I then had to soak and drain, soak and drain, several times day for about a week before I could get all the bitter taste out of the nut meat. I even drained and dried it once before realizing they were still bitter and had to put them back in for more soaking. It is possible that if I had used a fine powder grind and a cheesecloth, like some sites suggested, it would have been faster, but what's the fun if you don't make some mistakes to learn from?
This, by the way, is probably the main reason people don't do this much. The soaking is a big PITA. It takes forever. Apparently, the Native Americans would set them in a fast flowing stream to wash away the tannins, but I don't have a stream, and I really don't want to waste too much water.
Anyway, once you can't taste any bitter on them anymore, you need to set them out to dry. I used a combination of a warm oven and air-drying. After a couple of days, I gave them one more spin in the food processor and stowed them away until I had some time to do some cooking.
Many people suggest a simple acorn pancake, but I'm a little bit nervous about this. This was a lot of work and I wasn't sure acorn meal straight up would be all that tasty, so I opted for an acorn bread from this website. There are actually several websites out there with recipes using acorn meal or flour. If you do a search for "acorn recipe" several will come up.
This recipe used equal parts acorn meal and whole wheat flour (not good for my gluten free friends I know), but the result was a tasty, nutty bread I could happily eat again. I actually didn't have quite enough acorn meal for the recipe, but it turned out well anyway.
In short, having (hopefully) learned from my mistakes, I think I would do it again. Maybe for Thanksgiving dinner as a special treat, and as a bonus, I get to feel like a real honest-to-goodness pioneer, able to live off the land. Ok, well, maybe not, but one can dream can't they?