The great acorn dream
When I was a kid, I was inspired by an article on edible wild foods from that excellent (though American and therefore not always relevant to me) kids’ magazine put out by National Geographic: “World”. I made many batches of thin, sweet, wild-tasting violet syrup (annoying my mother, who would have preferred the violets in the garden), but never managed any of the more adventurous recipes.
I did, however, spend several days in autumn collecting acorns, with the fond hope that I could make acorn flour and hence acorn muffins. But the acorns I gathered from under the nearest oak tree were rock hard, shriveled things, and after a few tastes, and attempts to follow the instructions (press the acorns under cold, running water), I gave up the quest for acorn cuisine.
Around twenty years have passed since that last acorn fad. I, too, now prefer my violets in the garden, rather than on my crepes. But I just bought a house with a flourishing oak tree in the backyard, and all my childhood yearning to see if you could really eat those bitter, astringent little pebbles returned. The results of my experiment are as follows:
Choose your acorns
I have (I think) a white oak tree. These apparently bear the sweetest of the acorns, and the acorns take one season to mature, not two. I can tell it’s a white oak tree because the lobes of the leaves aren’t pointed, and it has rough bark on the whole tree. The acorns are long, and have smooth inner shells. The acorns from other oaks apparently take more treating to make them taste OK (meaning, as far as I can tell: don’t bother). Some sources say you can eat the white oak acorns raw. You can (I tried) but only if you want your mouth to feel like a particularly vicious dentist has been at you with that little mouth-drying-out machine. Yecth. They are bitter, and drying, and have an unpleasant spongy sort of feel.
Collecting acorns was the next problem. All the websites said to collect fallen acorns, taking more than you’d need because of the problem with insect attack and fungus and whatnot. One suggested spreading plastic under the tree and collecting that day’s fall.
I decided to go one better, and collect acorns off the tree. Any that came away with a brief nudge were probably going to fall pretty soon anyway. I guess.
Long boring process for making them edible.
The acorns then needed to be leached, to remove the majority of the tannic acid which gives them such an awful taste. I compromised between several of the methods I found.
Cut the acorn in half. Using the point of the knife if necessary, extract the acorn halves from the shell. Try not to get the soft inner membrane, but just the nut meat. Don’t stress if the brown membrane comes with it, however. Your acorns should be slightly soft, and (depending on the type of oak) either a cream or yellow coloured flesh. Don’t use the hard, yukky black ones. If there’s spots on the acorn that look dodgy – I suggest chucking it out. Heck with it – it’s an acorn. Like, there aren’t a gazillion of them cluttering up the lawn anyway.
Once you’ve got sufficient acorns for your humble needs, bring a saucepan of water to the boil (enough water to cover your acorns). Pop the acorns in, and boil the bejeezus out of them. Boil the kettle while you’re waiting.
After about 10 minutes, the water should be looking something like the stuff left in the bottom of a watering can outside under a tree (eg: brown). Pour as much of the water as you can down the sink without losing all your acorns. Top up from the kettle, and repeat. And…repeat again. And again. Basically, keep going till you’re really, really sick of it. I would’ve boiled mine for at least an hour. The tannic acid was still going strong, and I decided that heck with it – I was just going to use them. By this stage they were practically falling apart.
Cooking them to reap acorny rewards:
The acorns can allegedly now be used as tasty snacks. I didn’t see that happening, so I drained them as best I could and popped them in the food processor till I had a smooth acorn mush.
From here, you can dry the paste out (so I’m told) and store the acorn flour, or use it immediately.
I did the latter, and modified a recipe I found here to make sweet acorn bread in muffin sizes. Here’s my shot at it:
- 1 cup (packed) acorn mush
- 1 cup plain white flour
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/6 cup maple syrup (real stuff, not the flavoured crap)
- ½ an egg (whisked gently, so you *can* halve it)
- ¼ cup milk
- 1.5 tsp vegetable oil
Combine the acorn mush, flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine – crumb if necessary to get a homogenous mixture.
Create a well in the mixture, and add the maple syrup, egg, milk and vegetable oil. Combine gently.
Spoon into lightly greased muffin trays and cook for 15 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. Test by inserting a wooden skewer – if it comes out clean: they’re done.
Throughout the whole lengthy process I couldn’t believe that the end result would be worth all the hassle. In fact, it is. The bread is slightly sweet with bitter hints, and the odd sweet aftertaste is natural to the acorns. It’s dark and textured, but very light, and has serious snob value for dinner parties. Despite its subtle sweetness, I hope to serve it with a meat dish someday, or perhaps a warming autumn soup.
momomom suggests using the acorn mush *in* soup. DejaMorgana would use a more exotic flour such as tapioca instead of white flour. All excellent suggestions.