‘When it rains, it pours’ could not hold any truer than with acorns. Without apparent reason other than fall, they just seem to be all over the ground and then they slowly disappear again. It’s one of those magical cycles that come and go with little fanfare and mostly annoyance by the human race. It hasn’t always been that way. Throughout the entirety of man’s evolution oak trees, which dominate most temperate regions around the world, have supported us. Rich in carbohydrates, rich in oils, rich in protein, the deep rooted perennial acorn mining trace nutrients from deep in the Earth could be the original manna from heaven. Oak trees have been known to individually produce up to 1000 lbs of acorns in a year given ideal circumstances.
White oaks have evolved to sprout in the fall as soon as they hit the ground if it is moist. The red oak family, more patient, waits until spring to wake up and send its deep taproot into the soft spring ground. Appropriately, the impetuous white oak is made up of fast burning carbohydrates and the red is much more rich in oil and protein. Both are loaded with tannic acid that makes them undesirable for eating out of hand like a chestnut, hickory, walnut, or peanut butter sandwich.
I began seriously fooling around with acorns this fall by gathering whatever I could with my son Gabe. I knew enough to keep the reds and the whites in separate buckets as they are very different foods with very different properties. Just as the commodity brokers keep their corn separate from their soybeans. We harvested with a “Nut Wizard” which is an ingenious device that magically picks up small nuts by rolling a basket type cylinder on the ground and the nuts get forced in under the pressure exerted but don’t come out. This keeps your knees clean, if you know what I mean, and you can pick up an enormous amount of nuts in a very short amount of time. “Clean Knees” means a healthy back. It wasn’t hard for my son Gabe and me to fill a couple of five gallon buckets in an hour under a particularly prolific white oak denuded of grass underneath. There were so many acorns you didn’t need roller blades to glide along. Mind you, Gabe is 4 years old and had to have the wizard at least half the time. It is imperative that the whites get cured out as soon as possible because carbs are relished by the microorganism world even more than the macroorganism world. Some screen doors off the ground, under roof and protected from rodents made perfect drying racks. The oils in the reds which helps carry the germ through the winter makes them more resilient to possible storage issues.
After about a month I was able to get to processing the whites. The shells were brittle and nut meats were very hard and that made for gratifying shelling. As Gabe worked the ‘DaveBilt’ table top nut sheller, processing a 5 gallon bucket in about 15 minutes, I prepared the water bath in which we would pour all the shells and meats. From that 99% of the shells float while all the meats sink, making separation a slice of acorn flour fruit cake. Leaching is the next step and entails further softening of the halves, blending into small pieces and pouring many changes of water over. After drying again, a very nice dark flour product is the result that adds a rich nutty texture to any baked goods you make, or thickener for soup, addition to granola, etc. I was impressed on how easy it really was. All the whites got treated that way and were put away on the pantry shelf in mason jars to protect against grain moths. They will store several years like that.
Then came time to play with the red oaks and little did I suspect how significantly they were going to change my life! To be continued….