This is the story of how I came to make flour out of acorns. Not that adventures in wild food foraging are anything new around here, but acorns are a new frontier for me.
Two things happened in a space of a couple of days: first, coming home from my favorite coffee shop, I noticed plentiful acorns literally covering the ground in a small park under four oak trees. And second, I listened to the episode of the Permaculture Podcast with Mark Shepard, the author of Restoration Agriculture, where the podcast’s host, Scott Mann, took on a 31-day “perennial foods only” eating challenge inspired by Shepard’s work.
I’d read Restoration Agriculture before, and am completely sold on Shepard’s proposal of large-scale agriculture centered around perennial food crops, specifically trees. Not only do perennial plants yield more over time, with less labor input; but many of the cultivation practices that are destroying soil and ecosystem health and contributing to climate change are characteristic of large-scale annual cultivation: tilling and plowing, the resulting depletion of soil life and nutrients, the need for heavy amendments and machinery, and so on. I had to face the fact of a huge disconnect: I’m the first to extol the benefits of perennials versus annuals, yet my diet – like that of most people around the globe – absolutely relies on staples from annual plants, such as rice, wheat, and corn.
So I decided that the next step for me is starting to incorporate more staple foods derived from perennial crops. Restoration Agriculture makes a pretty convincing case for the nutritional benefits of the foods you can grow, for example, in an oak savanna system (as opposed to monoculture fields) – most notably, chestnuts, hazelnuts, berries, and animal meat. But Shepard also mentions the food potential of acorns:
“Acorns are large, high-calorie nuts. They are rich in protein and minerals and 50-70 percent oil, which can be pressed and used as an industrial food processing ingredient, cooking oil, or as a fuel. Spain or Italy have an entire industry and culinary tradition in place where pigs are fattened on acorns.”
Acorns are also freely available for the forager. They were a staple in the diet of many Native American communities, who called acorns the “grain from the trees.” Here, then, we have a nutritious “grain” that can be locally harvested, even in urban areas.
So I set my goal: acorn bread and acorn pancakes this weekend! I collected a bagful of acorns and got to work.
There are a few variations to the process — see some links at the bottom of this post for resources — but the basic steps seem essentially the same:
- Harvest acorns, taking care to leave out any that have holes in them or appear moldy.
- Shell the acorns using a nutcracker. This is easy to do, since the shells are thin and pliable.
- Crush or pound the acorn meats into smaller pieces or a coarse meal in a blender, food mill, or the equivalent.
- The acorns must then be leached to get rid of the excess tannin, which gives them a bitter taste. Immerse the crushed acorns in boiling water, boil until the water becomes muddy in color, strain and move to another pot of already boiling water. Repeat until the acorns no longer taste bitter. For me, this took about a couple of hours of boiling.
- Dry the acorn in the sun, a dehydrator, or an oven with the pilot light on until they are light and completely dry.
- Grind into flour.
I promise to come back to report on the acorn bread/acorn pancake experiment soon! In the meantime, here are some resources: