Guest Post By Adam Haritan
Before the actual recipe, some background on acorns…
Within forests and fields, woodlands and ridges, a secret lies hidden among the oak trees. It wasn’t always a secret, however, as individuals millennia ago figured out how to crack the mystery that would eventually nourish and sustain populations on four continents. As time marched forward, industrial progress overpowered ancestral ingenuity, and today the knowledge that was once cherished by past cultures has been neatly tucked away into its former shell.
The secret of the oak tree lies in its acorn. Once considered the “staff of life” by Natives, the acorn is generally considered inedible in its raw form, though with proper processing, its gifts are made manifest. This typically involves some variation of drying, shelling, grinding, leaching, and cooking, and can take anywhere from a single day to a few weeks or more.
Acorns, at around 14% fat, 42% carbohydrate, 9% fiber, 32% water, and 3.5% protein, are replete with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In addition to their nutrient density, acorns provide sufficient calories. Some cultures, for example, derived more than 50% of their yearly total caloric intake from acorns alone. Wherever there were oak trees, acorn eaters could be found. And for good reason: having access to a food that required comparatively little work in exchange for its superb value was a strong imperative to include this food in one’s diet.
But things changed. The food that was once genuinely cherished by the individuals who understood its exceptional worth has been, over only the past few centuries, relegated to the history books in North America. Sure, a small percentage of the population still practices the art of harvesting, processing, and eating acorns, and because of this small group, the acorn’s legacy carries forward. Essentially, however, the acorn is the most overlooked food in America today.
When we analyze the acorn-less diet of modern Americans, we notice an overemphasis on extremely hybridized crops, most of them non-native to the United States (we could also say the same for the animals eaten in America, but we’ll stick with plants for this discussion). Wheat and soy, for instance, are among the top four crops grown in the United States, yet neither is native, though both require substantial resources for their production. Additionally, wheat and soy have been greatly altered from their original states through the process of domestication, resulting in organisms that hardly resemble their wild counterparts (a reason, perhaps, to explain in part the rise in allergies involving these foods).
Compare this picture to the idealistic portrait acorns paint. Over 50 species of oak are native to the United States. This means less of a reliance on non-native species.
Oak trees are wild organisms that require comparatively little management. This means less annual planting, waiting, and tending (you know, all the tasks domesticated crops require).
Acorns only ask for a small investment in time. This means less money, and more quality time, spent on food. Remind me again why Americans aren’t acorn eaters …
As I see it, this food fits well into most diets. Gluten free? Check. Vegetarian? Check. Vegan? Check. Paleo? It’s one of the most Paleo food that hardly a Paleo adherent is eating. And the best part is, it’s free. Yes, the acorn requires a little time. Yes, it requires some preparation, and yes, your neighbors may think you’ve been conversing with too many squirrels. But when this seemingly methodical preparation is compared to the labor-intensive, months-long process of planting and harvesting our beloved domesticates – wheat and soy – acorns begin to look a bit more appealing.
The acorn truly is America’s original superfood. Its popularity may have declined in the past few hundred years or so, but the gifts it beholds remain dormant only up to the point of awareness, appreciation, and action. I encourage you to learn the art of harvesting and processing acorns, for if this ancient nut has the power to provide nourishment, sustain populations, and essentially create an entire forest, imagine what benefits it may bestow upon you.
The simple guide to processing acorns:
Harvest quality acorns. Look for fallen acorns that are not attached to their caps. Additionally, gather those that do not have a tiny hole (from the exit of an acorn weevil larva) and are not severely discolored.
Dry your acorns. This can be achieved by spreading acorns one layer thick on a surface exposed to the sun during the day (brought in at night), though this method may take a few weeks. Members of the red oak group generally dry more quickly. A dehydrator, set at the lowest setting, can also be used. Drying serves two main purposes: dried acorns can be stored away and processed at a later date. Additionally, dried acorns are easier to shell.
Shell your acorns. I like to use a stone for this purpose, and I simply crack the shell with one strike on a piece of stone or wood. Discard the shells.
Grind your acorns. Tannins will be leached from acorns more effectively, as grinding increases surface area. This can be done with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor.
Leach your acorns. Leaching is necessary to remove the tannins present within the nut. These polyphenolic compounds are astringent substances of plant origin that can act as antioxidants in small amounts. When consumed in sufficient amounts, however, they can interfere with and block mineral and protein absorption. The Natives understood this, and took proper care in processing their acorns into food. A variety of methods can be employed during this stage. Acorns can be placed in a basin while running water is dripped through them. A faucet, for example, will work. The “hot method” involves boiling acorns in several changes of water to sufficiently remove the tannins. While this process is quicker than others, key nutrients are damaged and lost. The “cold method,” which is my go-to method, involves filling a one-gallon glass jar half-way with ground acorn meal, and topping it off with water. Stir the acorn-water mixture, and let it sit. I change the water twice a day by decanting the liquid (pouring off the top layer of water without losing the acorn bits). This process can take anywhere from seven days to two weeks. To know when the leaching process is complete, taste your acorn meal to detect any bitter flavors. If the meal is still bitter, continue leaching. If the taste is mild, leaching is most likely complete. Place the acorn meal in a strainer, cheese cloth, nut milk bag, bandana, etc. to remove the remaining liquid (this liquid can be turned into acorn milk … check out the recipe here).
Dry your acorn meal. If you are planning on using your leached acorn meal within a few days, refrigeration is all that is necessary. I like to use mine throughout the season, therefore I dry the meal in a dehydrator on its lowest setting. If the sun is still strong, sun-drying will work as well.
- ½ cup dried acorn meal
- 1 cup spring water
- 2 T maple syrup
- ¼ cup serviceberries (or any berries, the wilder the better)
- ¼ cup crab apples, sliced
- 1 T sunflower seed butter
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- Bring water to a boil, and stir in acorn meal. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep covered for another 10 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in remaining ingredients, and enjoy with someone special!
To learn more about Adam, visit his blog at Wildfoodism.com