Acorns: the nuts from oak trees. When you read this post and watch the live video we add, you’ll realize that this seems like a lot of work, even with modern technology. That might be why very few, if any, societies use acorns nowadays, whereas acorns were a staple that built civilizations in the past. So how were acorns traditionally harvested and processed efficiently? For the best natural history we have found, read It Will Live Forever. Many of the greatest world societies before mass cultivation of grain were based around the oak tree.
You do need to remember that your other food sources: deer, squirrels, acorn woodpeckers and many other animals depend on acorns, especially those from white oak trees which grow in the north where few (if any) other nuts are available. We like to collect our own acorns from local native Oregon “Garry” White Oaks in the Pacific Northwest, but you never know whether it will be a good year for acorns since they randomly produce a bumper crop about 1 in 3 years. So, don’t collect them in 2/3 of the years, because the animals need them to survive winter. And make sure to always leave plenty when collecting regardless of the year.
It may be okay to gather red oak acorns every year where they grow in abundance, but besides not gathering white oak during “off acorn years” don’t bother climbing trees or knocking them off branches. Just wait for the squirrels, birds and wind to drop them naturally to the ground in the fall: that way you know they are ripe – and it’s much less work – something that is very important to remember in the acorn harvesting process.
White Oaks vs. Red & Live Oaks
The Genus Quercus is a member of the Beech Family Fagaceae. The repetitively-named sub-genus Quercus include the white oaks of northern climates and are the most prized for their acorns because they are less bitter (less tannins) than other sub-species of oak. Leaves have rounded lobes.
The sub-genus Lobatae include the red oaks of the Americas with acorn nuts encased in a papery skin. Leaves typically have sharp lobe tips, with spiny bristles at the lobe. Their acorns are edible with at least twice as much processing as white oaks to remove the bitterness of higher tannin levels.
The sub-genus Protobalanus include the canyon live oak from the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. The acorns are bitter like red oaks, typically also have sharp lobe tips, with bristles at the lobe tip. The sub-genus Ponticae including just two species, and the sub-genus Virentes are southern live oaks of the Americas, with evergreen leaves.
As mentioned above, acorns from live and red oaks have more tannins than those from white oaks. So, it’s important to know which oak your acorns came from. Generally, a way to process acorns is as follows:
- Crack and shell nutmeats, discard any nuts that are discolored (more than a few oxidized cracks/lines), moldy, inhabited by a larva or otherwise look like something not good to eat.
- Increase surface area by grinding or crushing nuts.
- Choose between cold and hot leaching methods (there are several ways to do either and here are two examples):
- Cold – Blend nutmeats with cold water (1:3 ratio) in a blender until it forms a slurry. Pour into a jar and place in refrigerator. Allow acorn bits to settle and pour off water. Refill water and shake. Repeat daily. Acorns are ready for use when the leach water stays clear and the nuts taste bland (not bitter/drying in the mouth). This method preserves the starches and makes for better flour.
- Hot – Place nutmeats into a clean jar and fill with just boiled water. Steep until water turns brownish and begins to cool (about 30 minutes). Strain off water and repeat until the leach water stays clear and the nuts taste bland (not bitter/drying in the mouth).
- Grind to your preferred size. I use a heavy mortar & pestle until nuts are of a size that I can easily use my “coffee” grinder.
- Preserve or use immediately. I prefer to freeze for later use but you can also dry your acorn meal (low oven temp until dried, stirring often) and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Here is the link to the original recipe for the acorn muffins we use: Easy Acorn Flour Muffins. They were gluten free and dairy free. What other kinds of foods can I make with acorn flour? Check out the live stream video on this page as we make the most delicious pancakes we have ever tasted.