As you realize the importance of a natural and simple way of life, you’re probably looking to the land and water around you. If you’re like me, you’re asking, “How can I get back to the basics? How can I grow to be more resourceful using nature’s bounty in my own yard?”
Autumn is upon us. The cool winds are pushing through brilliant leaves, and I’ve noticed quite a supply of acorns at my cabin. In childhood, I was told not to eat them, but I’m now wondering again: Can you eat acorns? Are these overlooked nuts under my trees really harmful?
So, Can You Eat Them?
The short answer is yes, you can indeed eat acorns. I went out yesterday and harvested a small sackful beneath large oaks near the pond. Our oaks actually stand by troughs outside the horse pen. The soil is rich with manure, and I thought about the circle of life unfolding as I gathered nuts for my kitchen.
After a bit of work, I discovered that acorns are delicious, and they’re only detrimental to your body if you’re not taking the necessary steps to prepare them correctly. Acorns are a source of nourishment—tiny punches of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. Best of all, they’re free!
Survival Food or Long-lost Treat?
I’ve walked many forest paths, acorn gravel crunching underfoot; I’ve told my younger siblings witches roamed the woods nightly, scooping these tough nuts up for poisonous, bubbling brews. Admittedly, I didn’t even consider acorns to be survival foods and certainly never a snack.
Too often, acorns are categorized as simply wild. Many, if they notice acorns at all, regard the nuts as a squirrel’s sustenance alone. But with proper cooking techniques, you’ll see these brown tokens anew. I made cookies with acorn bits, but flour for muffins and more is possible!
How to Prepare Acorns: Hot Water Leaching
If you’re interested in the faster track, you’ll want to go with hot water leaching. I think it’s probably best for beginners. Hank Shaw, former restaurant cook and forager extraordinaire, has been harvesting and cooking acorns for well over a decade: I go to him for practical advice.
For acorn flour, you’ll need to take a different, the cold approach. However, Mia Wasilevich and Pascal Baudar of Transitional Gastronomy suggest that hot water leaching brings out a delicious nutty flavor, perfect for savory sauces and a great recipe alternative for hazelnuts.
In short, hot water leaching requires you to harvest acorns, test them, shell them with a nutcracker (or a hammer), and boil them to remove the nasty, bitter tannins. When gathering acorns, avoid any with holes in their shells; insects have more than likely ruined the meat.
Next, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says to administer the float test: toss the floaters. Acorns that sink are keepers. Let them dry. After all this, I chose to smash the acorns with a hammer from the tool shed because they had some stubborn shells. Finally, I started boiling two pots of water.
You’ll boil the raw acorns for 15-20 minutes until the water is dark. Then strain the nuts before emptying them into your second boiling pot. Repeat the process, and keep both pots boiling for seamless transitions. Ultimately, the water should be clear, signifying a removal of tannins.
You’re ready to salt and roast them, or like me, you’re set to add acorn bits to cookies. You may also stir the nuts into soups. You can make a gravy or trail mix. The aforementioned Hank Shaw recommends Acorns and Eat ‘em: A How-To Vegetarian Acorn Cookbook by Suellen Ocean.
How to Prepare Acorns: Cold Water Leaching
This process takes some time, energy, and materials, but if you want good acorn flour, it’s the better way of leaching. With this system, acorns retain much of their starch, and that sticky attribute is obviously great for producing an acorn meal you’ll need if making pasta or bread.
Once again, Shaw has great practice and tips for nearly all things acorn. He, along with others, suggests pouring the shucked acorns into a blender or food processor with some water. After you grind the acorns, you’ll remove the lid to find what looks both light brown and milky.
This is where the road diverges for people. Shaw chooses to spend 4-7 days refrigerating the mix, pouring off and changing the water, sometimes straining the acorn mush with cheesecloth. However, this helpful video offers another (shorter) method, using a stocking!
You’re prepared for the next step when the meal tastes bland and tannin-free. The mixture will be wet. You’ll have to dry it to make acorn flour. Whether using cheesecloth or stockings, you need to strain and then spread the damp acorn remnant across a cookie sheet or dehydrator tray.
Use a low setting on the oven or dehydrator to slowly air out the acorns. When they’re completely dry, grind once more. You might use your food processor again, or you could use a spice or coffee grinder. Store the flour in the fridge or freezer. You’re ready for acorn cake!
Health Benefits of Acorns
Acorns not only possess the warm, savory, nutty flavor after they’ve been leached of all their tannins but also are gluten-free. Further, packed with B vitamins, these tiny superfoods encourage healthy hearts, consistent energy and sugar levels, and better metabolic activity.
Their bitter tannin water can even be used on your skin to soothe and promote the healing of burns, cuts, aches, pains, etc. Acorns’ nutritious grain made its way into early civilizations’ diets, so if you’re looking to get back to the basics, the acorn is certainly a stepping stone.
Hunting and gathering acorns was also a workout for my family. This is a great activity for kids and adults alike. I pulled cousins along for the foraging, and we joked about doing “standing crunches” as we bent down to search. Those cookies tasted amazing; we had worked for them.
Get to Cracking—Carefully
Please know that according to the resources below, you should look for a few things when it comes to acorns. When gathering, beware of holes in shells, as those probably indicate weevils. On another note, if you’re storing acorns, keep areas dry to avoid mold.
Also, you may find it helpful to understand the variety of oak with which you’re dealing. Some acorns contain a greater amount of tannic acid, depending on the tree, but you must leach no matter what. Observing trees via their leaves (not acorns) is the best way to identify the plants.
The Acorn Way
Perhaps most of us have been missing out on the timeless and nourishing acorn, though literally, billions lie around us, right under our noses (and shoes)! Hopefully, you’ve come to see that with proper treatment, acorns are beyond edible, and they’re promising superfoods.
In fact, recipes are more than likely on your mind. Maybe you’re wondering, “What delicious dessert or morning breakfast can I whip up with my newfound grain?” Don’t forget to check out Ocean’s cookbook, Acorns and Eat ‘em, for baking ideas and specific guides.
We’ve come a long way—the acorn way—from deeming these nuts as only wild and poisonous. I’ll still tell my witch stories to the kids, though, but with a wink.
Comment below if you have questions. Happy acorn gathering, floating, shelling, leaching, and baking to you and yours!