I don't know why I have been ignoring acorns all this time. But this year, out of no-where, it suddenly struck me that I should give them a try. Oaks are quite plentiful in my region and acorns are not in short supply. This is how I unexpectedly found myself filling my pockets with acorns earlier this fall. Acorns actually make for easy foraging - their size (at least that of the more common species) is such that bags can be filled rapidly without too much effort.
But before you start picking, it may be worth your while to familiarize yourself with the different species that grow in your area. Usually, where there is one type of oak there are several. Oaks and acorns come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes and not all are equally good for eating, despite the fact that all of them are edible.
Acorns are rich in tannins, a bitter, acrid substance which has been used for tanning animal hides. Tannins are very astringent and in large doses they are toxic to the kidneys, liver and digestive tract. They also interfere with the absorption of iron. This is why foragers prefer to search out species of oak that are naturally sweeter and lack the high levels of tannins. Fortunately, in most parts of Europe the species that has the lowest tannin concentration is also one of the most widespread. In the United States there is a greater range of species and all of them, even the bitterest have been used for food by Native people.
In the eastern United States, Quercus alba, or common white oak, was generally considered the preferred species to gather, since it is naturally quite sweet. In the Southwest, gamble oak was used, although the acorns are not big. But, just about every kind of acorn has been utilized for food - bitter or not. To make the bitter varieties more palatable, the tannins must be removed. Native people have been very innovative in finding ways to accomplish this task. They used many different methods to render acorns more palatable and to preserve them for later use.
Some tribes stored the nuts in underground storage vaults dug near a river. Stored in such vaults the nuts will turn completely black, but can keep fresh for years (as long as the squirrels don' find them). But a more common method is to thoroughly dry or roast the acorns and to store them in jars for later use.
When needed, the dried nuts can be ground into flour. This flour is then placed into a finely woven cloth and carefully rinsed to remove the tannins until the water runs clear. Any flour that is not used immediately must be carefully dried (e.g. low temperature in the oven) to avoid it getting moldy. The flour will 'cake up' and must be reground before use.
Alternatively, you can boil the acorns in several changes of water until the tannin is removed and then dry them. Gentle roasting will dry them completely. Once thoroughly dry, they can be ground into fine flour. Only grind enough for what you need at the time.
Acorns are very nutritious. They contain not only fat and carbohydrates, but are also rich in proteins and B vitamins.
There are numerous recipes for acorn grits, cakes, breads and soups. Coarsely ground acorns (grits) can be used to replace nuts in any recipe, though they may give rather a lot of crunch. Acorn flour can be used to replace a proportion of regular flour in just about any recipe. Mix flours in a ration of 1:1 or 2/3 of regular flour to 1/3 of acorn flour, depending on how nutty a flavor you want to achieve. Experiment to create your own favorite recipes.
My experiment was based on a savoury biscuit recipe that normally calls for cashews. The crackers came out great, except that I should have ground the flour much finer. I used grits, but they turned quite crunchy in the oven. Still, on the whole they were quite tasty and not at all to be scoffed at.
Place the flours in a bowl. Add the butter, cut up in small pieces, and add the curry powder and the salt. Add 1 egg yolk and the creme fraiche. Blend all ingredients to create a smooth shortcrust dough. Cover the dough and place in the fridge for 1 hour.
Line a cookie sheet with baking paper and pre-heat the oven to 200°C (392°F).
Divide dough into two portions and roll out thinly (to approx 3 millimeters) between two layers of cling film.
Cut 4cm cookies and place on cookie sheet.
Mix second egg yolk with 2 sp of water and glaze each cookie
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese
Bake for 15 min on the middle rack until golden brown.
Here are some more recipes you might like to try or adapt to your own taste buds.
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