What is a deciduous tree? It’s a tree that loses its leaves in the fall. In the autumn, it loses all its leaves and becomes a wintry looking thing, one of the skeletons of winter along the landscape. It isn’t the frost that kills the leaves, it’s a natural process that the tree goes through while it makes chemical conversions through the winter, to return in the spring with a blast of bright green shoots that turn into the fresh greenery of the new season. The oak is a perfect example of a deciduous tree. However, the California Live Oak is an exception, keeping most of its leaves all winter long, leaving nesting and hiding places for birds and squirrels. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
There are a lot of books about Native Americans and when I wanted to learn about eating acorns, I thought sure that I could go to the library and find a book that would tell me how to do it. That was not the case. I went through countless books and the only thing I could tell was that they were using water to leach them. I did not know how long the Indians leached them, nor did I know if they kept them cool in the process. I was just a girl who loved nature and wanted to live and sustain myself within the woodlands of Northern California.
So I gathered acorns. By the pillowcase full. I totted them up the hill to my house and with a large river rock, cracked them open. Then, I put the shelled acorns in a white plastic bucket and covered them with water. I had to guess how long to leach them. They don’t leach well if they aren’t ground up and without refrigeration, they get a scum on them. I lived without electricity so I couldn’t keep them cool. I just poured the scum off and rinsed them really well. I ensued a lot of stomach aces though. Not from the scum but from the tannic acid not removed well enough.
With a lot of trial and error, I finally figured out how to leach acorns. The answer is; long enough to get the tannic acid out. Each oak species has different tannic acid amounts. You have to experiment yourself. My guess is that you will need to leach them anywhere from one week to a month. The tan oak acorns I used in Mendocino County, California required only one week’s leaching. But the acorns I gather in the Sierra Foothills require three times as much leaching.
Don’t be discouraged. They’re worth the wait. Acorn dip with blue corn chips… the thought of it makes my mouth water. That’s probably the little bit of tannic acid that is retained that gives the acorns and any dishes you make with them, their distinctive flavor.
Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns, http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973 and Secret Genealogy IV – Native Americans Hidden in Our Family Trees. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Genealogy-IV-Native-Americans/dp/1500756105
Probably one of the most frequent questions I get asked about eating acorns is, “Which acorns taste the best?” Now mind you, almost all acorns (without leaching) are bitter-tasting unpalatable little things. I recommend against putting them in your mouth. But leached acorns, that’s a different story. What I mean by leaching is; grinding and rinsing in water. But the deal with acorns is, you have to rinse them in water for a long time. The best way to do that is to grind them in the blender (with water) and then keep them in the refrigerator in the water for however long it takes to get the bitter tannic acid out. I have not tried acorns from all over the world. However, I have tried them from all over California and there are some bitter and not so bitter acorns. The leaching time ranges from one to four weeks. Because they are acidic and you are rinsing them, they won’t go bad in the refrigerator during the leaching process. The best tasting acorns I’ve ever had are the Tanoak acorns that grow along California’s coastal ranges and a little bit inland. I found a week was plenty of time to remove the tannic acid.
Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
When I began gathering and preparing acorns for food, I lived in the Pacific Northwest in a vast forest of tanoak trees. Most years, acorns were so thick on the ground; they sprouted in the spring and created a thick undergrowth of baby oaks. Now I live in the Sierra Foothills and in some areas, there are barely enough acorns to sustain wildlife that depend on them. In that instance, I leave the acorns right where they are. There is no way I want to go to bed at night thinking I have robbed the squirrels of their winter food stash. Where do I feel comfortable collecting acorns? In parks and yards where the acorns are raked up and put into the trash. I understand why people do that but it pains me that they do. Yes, acorns in the yard can be a real mess. Next year, if acorns are abundant, you might mention it to your local elementary school teacher or the local cub scouts. Perhaps they would like to bag some of them up for their history studies or nature survival course. And don’t forget taking some into the house for yourself. They turn cakes and cookies into delicacies. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
Kids love to gather acorns. I know because I have heard close to a hundred of these acorn stories. “When I was six,” people always tell me. These are adults, reliving their experience gathering acorns, probably when they were studying the Native American history of their area. I have yet to hear one of these stories without a smile on the teller’s face. Fond memories. What their schoolteachers did not know was that with a little more effort, the children could process the acorns and make cookies, bringing even bigger smiles. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
I have asked this question myself, in the early days when I first wanted to eat wild foods. Are acorns safe to eat? The answer is yes. Acorns sustained Native Americans for thousands of years. Cultures throughout the world, living in temperate climates where oaks grow, also ate acorns. In Spain, they made spirits from acorns. In England, the peasants ate them. Pagan history shows a grand reverence for the oak and the acorn. Naturalist John Muir recorded his travels and left us with his belief that the acorn was “strengthening.” My biggest surprise is that the “civilized” world has overlooked them for so long. Sometimes I celebrate holidays with a bowl of acorn dip, made from the acorns of California Valley Oaks. It’s delicious and the next time I go to the store, I’m picking up the ingredients to make more. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
Acorn flour is one of the first things people think of when imagining they are cooking with acorns. Those who make and have dried acorn flour on hand, truly appreciate it but dried acorn flour is not my favorite method. My acorns are always wet. I run my shelled acorns through a blender with water and then leach them. After they are thoroughly leached I cook them in water, for just a few minutes. I let it cool then I freeze it. I suppose one could say that this is flour but it will remind you of cooked cornmeal or cream of wheat cereal. Once thawed and the water is squeezed out, you can make just about anything with it and the nice thing about it is, it’s already cooked. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
When leaching acorns, the ratio of water to acorns is important. Acorns are rather starchy and when they’re dry, they soak up a lot of water. I probably use more water than is necessary but I usually say 3 parts water to one part acorns. For example, if you have one cup of acorns, I recommend using at least three cups of water when you put them into the blender to leach them. That’s probably enough. It’s fine if you use more water than that. If you have several cups of acorns, only grind one cup at a time. And don’t forget to take the shells off first! Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
How long you leach acorns depends on the type of oak tree the acorns came from and where they came from. Tanoak acorns from along the California coast may only take a week to leach the tannic acid enough to be edible. Valley oaks in the Sierra Nevada may take two weeks or more while Valley Oak acorns closer to California’s coast may only take a week to remove the tannic acid. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the acorns you have access to. There’s so much tannic acid in acorns, it takes awhile for them to go bad, especially when you change the water regularly, so there’s no fear of leaving them leaching in the refrigerator for two weeks so that enough tannic acid is leached and they won’t give you digestive upset. Once you remove most of the tannic acid, they are great to cook with. You haven’t lived until you try acorn chocolate cake. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973
I gather acorns. After I gather them, I usually like to put them in a pretty basket and put them on the kitchen table for all to see. They are so beautiful! They aren’t nuts but the shells are hard to crack. It seems really obvious to me that like nuts, you remove the shells before you prepare to eat them. But a lot of people are not tuned into acorns (yet) and without thinking they will ask me if you have to remove the shells. They are wondering if they can just throw the whole acorn into the blender (I shell, then grind in a blender.) I always get a little smile on my face. Throwing unshelled acorns into a blender is like throwing unshelled walnuts in there. Clunk. Broken blender. So yes, you need to first remove the shells from acorns before you put them in the blender, with water, to begin the leaching process. Suellen Ocean is the author of Acorns and Eat’em, a how-to vegetarian cookbook and field guide for eating acorns. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Acorns-Eatem-How–Vegetarian-Cookbook/dp/1491288973