Wednesday, October 20

Friends with the squirrels

Until recently, I was under the impression that acorns were just for squirrels. Well, let me just say that I was quite wrong, indeed! My foraging adventures have led me to eat some pretty unexpected things (like dandelions and day lilies). And while summer blooms were quite the treat, I have been delighted to find that fall has treats of its own: wild nuts, including acorns!

Acorns are the fruiting bodies found on oak trees. However, not all acorns are tasty treats; this is because acorns contain tannins, some varieties more than others. Tannins are bitter-tasting compounds which, fortunately for us foragers, are removable. Acorns from White Oaks are lower in tannins, and require less processing for the removal of tannins. I harvested my acorns from several European White Oaks, right on my school's campus, and let me just say, there were enough acorns for me and all the squirrels in Milwaukee! 

To harvest acorns, pick only the fruits that are fresh and firm, with no visible signs of bugs or other wounds. Harvest as many as you are able to carry, but be sure to leave some for the squirrels (no need to be greedy...). I harvested enough to fill one medium sized bowl (though if I were to do this again next year, I might gather some more!). 

With my acorns, I decided to make acorn flour. If you are unable to process the acorns right away, just make sure they are dry, and place them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you are ready to process the little nuts into flour, just follow these simple steps:

1. Peel all of your acorns. This is easiest with a pair of sharp scissors. Just cut the acorn length and pop the inner flesh of the nut out. You can compost the shells and caps of the nuts. Also, discard any acorns if they are wounded or blackened on the inside. 

2. Once you have shelled all of the acorns, place them in a blender and cover the acorns with warm water. Blend until the acorns are the size of rice grains. Then, drain the water off of the acorns pieces.

3. Place the strained acorns in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring this to a boil, and then strain the acorn pieces again. Do this several more times, until the acorns are not bitter. If they are bitter, continue the process until they are sweeter and nuttier. I refreshed my water 3 times to achieve the desired taste! 

4. Once the acorn pieces are no longer bitter, strain the final pieces and distribute in a single layer onto a cookie sheet. Place in the oven on the lowest heat setting and leave the oven door open just a crack, to allow the steam to escape the oven. Heat until the acorns are thoroughly dried. 

5. Once the bits are dried, place them into a cleaned coffee grinder. Grind until relatively fine. Using a sifter, separate the fine powdered acorns from the larger pieces. Re-grind the larger pieces until all of the acorns are ground into a fine powder. And just like that, you have acorn flour.

Sure, it takes a little bit of time, but there is nothing too complicated about the process, and the acorns were as free as could be! The acorn flour can be used in just about any recipe. I plan to make some acorn biscuits some time soon! I will surely let you know how they turn out. 
Happy foraging and happy eating :)

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