Monday, August 1, 2011
Eating Acorns--How to gather and make acorn meal
Once you find this year's acorns, you'll want to look at what stage they are in now. Are they still green? Are they starting to drop brown acorns with no caps? If you are finding these under the tree, you don't want to collect them, since they are going to be buggy. You want to wait for the nice, brown ones with the caps still on to fall, since those are going to be nice and ripe and not be as likely to have bugs. Once you notice these are starting to fall, if possible, you may wish to spread sheets out under these trees to catch the acorns as they fall. Then, rather than having to search for them amongst the earlier fallen acorns, grass, and random debris on the ground, you can just grab the corners of the sheet to make a makeshift bag and carry the whole lot home in seconds, laying down a second sheet to catch then next batch for harvesting. If you're lucky, you'll be able to do this for the next month or two and get a whole bunch of acorns easily. If the oak trees are on a property you can't do this on, the other easy way to harvest a bunch of acorns is to get kids to do it! Kids seem to love collecting acorns, even more so if you let them know it will result in treats being made from them later, so might as well put them to work!
Once you get your acorns home, whether it be by sheet or by child, or, as a last resort, hard work on your own part, inspect each one for holes or cracks that may indicate bugs. Discard the yucky ones and the rest can either be laid out to dry or can immediately be shelled. I find it very satisfying to use a hammer, since I don't have an actual nutcracker to use, but a nutcracker would actually work better, I'm sure.
Acorns from white oaks can generally be eaten without any further processing (I don't, but I've heard they could be), but other varieties will contain too much tannic acid so need to be processed further before consumption. There are a number of ways to do this, but I've always put my acorns in a blender (a food processor would probably work better, but I've never had one until this year) with a bit of water and blended them until they are a wet meal. Then, I've dumped the meal onto a clean cloth that I don't care about (since it is about to be stained forever), placed the cloth in a colander, and run water over it until the water runs clear.
Once the tannic acid has been removed, the meal needs to be dried. To do this, it can simply be spread out on a thin layer on a baking sheet and set in a warm, <200 degrees, oven until dried. It may cake during this process to the point you need to regrind it. If you wish, you can grind it finer at this stage to produce a flour rather than a meal, but I never have.
I always freeze the meal if I'm not going to use it right away to be safe, but if you do a good enough job drying it, you should be able to store your acorn meal at room temperature for a few weeks or refrigerated for a few months. If it develops a musty smell after storing it, be sure to discard it.
Once I have some usable acorns, I'll be sure to share my recipes to use them here, so be sure to check back often!