Each season brings new woodland plants and creatures to the forefront of my attention. I always look forward to Fridays when I can share my explorations with the students of EWL. This fall and winter, oaks and acorns have held me in their thrall. In October, during a visit with Silent Wind Coyote, Silas, Kunsang and I came upon a massive windfall of acorns beneath two mature oaks. We collected 30 pounds of acorns in about 45 minutes. Over the winter we have been exploring how to process and make food from them.
Historically acorns were an important staple food for peoples of the Americas, Europe, Russia and Asia. A mature oak can produce 1,000 pounds or more of acorns per season, so you can imagine why the oak was valued as a source of nutrition. Like many wild foods, acorns require knowledge and skill to unlock their deliciousness. The northern red oak which predominates our woodlands produces acorns that are very high in tannins. If you taste one before the tannins have been removed through leaching, the bitterness is overwhelming. In the photo of the canning jars above, you can see the change in color as the tannins are released into the water.
I had been leaching acorn meal at home in daily changes of water and discovered that it takes a several weeks for the acorn to become sweet. The students and I decided to experiment with a Native American technique of leaching acorn in a stream. We put the acorn meal into Crayfish Gorge and a week later, took it out and cooked up a tasting sample (we needed to cook it to kill bacteria from the stream water). It was about 80% tannin free and almost sweet. This was by far the easier method and it was a lot more fun, too!.
Once the acorn meal is fully leached it can be used immediately, frozen, or dried into flour. The flour is a beautiful chocolate color that resembles cocoa powder. The young chefs have been enthusiastically employing their new ingredient to make various types of pancakes and a blackberry duff (a pudding steamed in a cloth bag).