Okay, so I didn’t do the actual foraging. But a friend sure did: 8 lbs. of Valley Oak acorns, collected at a California rest stop, brought to my apartment for preparation and the making of delectable delights. What follows is a brief and (I hope) entertaining description of the day’s culinary adventures.
Why acorns? Acorns are starchy and also contain B Vitamins, Fats, Manganese, and Potassium. Carb scarcity in foraging situations is apparently the “primary reason why humans settled down 10,000 years ago to grow grain.”
Even though I didn’t get to forage this time, I have in the past; I know how exciting it feels to find the sought-after edible, think about the end result, and get together with friends to make the magic happen. I also know how empowering it is to provide nutrient rich food for myself and others.
Traditionally, community and food are inextricably linked. The foodstuff must be collected, processed, cooked, and served and/or stored. In the case of acorns, they must be shelled, cut or ground up, and leached of tannins before cooking. These sometimes labor-intensive processes are traditionally, in cultures around the world, carried out in communal situations, and for good reason. It is a lot of work (especially if people are providing for an entire village). Aside from this practicality, it also has the benefit of bringing people together.
I have the luxury of choosing to participate in such activities, and I am most keenly aware of how much more fun it is to have a friend(s) with which I can share the experience. For me, it’s about friendship, experimentation, discovery, and sensual appeal…finding the right combination of actions that lead to the tastiest, most nutritious result. It’s an experience that also reminds me that we (and our communities) are indeed an integral part of life on earth, and as such, rely on its health and beauty.
Now to the particulars of my present day experience. I will give you the step-by-step breakdown of how we went nuts (pun absolutely intended):
1. We shelled the acorns.
The devices one can use to accomplish this task are numerous (pliers, stones, etc). We chose scissors because it is what we had on hand. I can attest that they worked just fine (on, for what it’s worth, our acorns that were not completely dried out).
We shelled until we had an unspecified amount that looked good to us (around 2-3 lbs.). I unfortunately forgot to get a shot of cutting them open, but I did get a shot of the freshly liberated nuts:
2. We cut the acorns (first in half, then in threes) and set them aside. You can use a stone, hand grinder, food processor, or a knife. We chose the latter.
3. We leached out the tannins.
lf you didn’t already know, acorns (some more than others) contain tannins, an astringent, bitter acid found in plants (nuts in particular). It obviously makes the acorns less palatable than most people like or can endure.
We happened to have acorns from a type of white oak, which are lower in tannic acid. Leaching the tannins out can also be accomplished in various ways, all involving water (all leading to buttery, sweet-tasting nut meat). You can soak them in cold water, but this takes much longer than boiling the acorns. We decided on something in between the two, with the intention of preserving more nutrients and yumminess. We poured boiling water over said acorns, let them sit for up to an hour, emptied the water, poured freshly boiled water over them, and repeated the process 4 times (sometimes it can take longer).
Tannins turn the water brown. You will notice, after several times of re-immersing the acorns, that the water becomes lighter.
Lighter water means that most of the tannins have been leached. Mission accomplished. You are now ready to make food and make merry!
(Now, at this point, my friend had to leave, which left me with the acorns [mwa-haha!])
4. I sauteed me up some acorns!
I threw about 1/2 Tbsp of butter, a handfull of spinach, a ladel-full of prepared acorns and a small (chopped) onion into a saute pan and went to town.
End result: a savory side-dish for my homemade Chicken Vindaloo (adapted from this recipe). Not entirely complimentary tastes, but I sure enjoyed them.
That marks the end of today’s foraging and culinary adventures. There are approximately 5 lbs of acorns still to be prepared, promising more community and culinary connections.There is a big, wide world of acorn-based food out there: pasta, bread, muffins, grits, honeycakes, flatbread, and SOUPS (oh my!) and I for one am excited to explore it!
Please note: In case you can’t tell, I am simply an amateur finding satisfaction with acorns and foraging. There are those who are more experienced at finding such satisfactions (of which there are SOOOOO many). I located a treasure trove of online articles by one such person: Hank Shaw. Just search his fabulous website: Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook for recipes, tips on gathering and preparation, and lots of things it’s important to know about traditional and current cultural relationships with acorns (and the mighty oak).