How To Turn Bitter Acorns Into Delicious Nuts, Butter And Flour

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How To Turn Bitter Acorns Into Delicious Nuts, Butter And Flour

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A variety of oak trees across North America produce acorns that usually mature in early to late fall. The size and shapes vary — and so does the flavor. There are basically two types of acorns: bitter and sweet. What makes an acorn bitter is a chemical referred to as tannins, or tannic acid. Certain oaks, like red oaks, have the highest amounts of tannins, while burr oaks and white oaks have less.

Any acorn should be processed to leach out tannins, regardless of whether they are bitter or sweet. The fundamental process involves either a boiling water bath or cold-water bath to remove the tannic acid. This process can take a couple of days up to a week or more, depending on the amount of tannins in the acorns.

The Hot-Water Bath

To leach the tannins out of acorns quickly, the acorns are immersed in gently boiling water. Only brown mature acorns should be used. Green acorns won’t work, and have on off-taste. The mature acorns are typically found on the ground, while those still on the tree tend to be green. The caps are removed from the acorn and a slit is cut in the side of the acorn. Sometimes you can peel the skin off the acorn after cutting this slit, but usually they need to be boiled for a while before the skin can be easily removed.

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To determine when the acorns have been sufficiently soaked, a simple taste will do. If it tastes bitter, then continue the slow boil and change the water every couple of hours. You’re trying to get rid of the tannins and without this water change you’ll simply reintroduce the tannins into the acorns.

The Cold-Water Bath

Some people feel that the hot-water leaching process removes much of the flavor from the acorn. The alternative is a cold-water soak, but this will take much longer. The acorns are again prepared by removing the caps from the mature acorns and cutting the slits. The acorns are then soaked for days at a time with water changes occurring at least daily if not twice a day. Here again, a quick taste of the acorn will tell you when they have been sufficiently soaked.

Drying the Acorns

How To Turn Bitter Acorns Into Delicious Nuts, Butter And Flour

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After any type of soaking, the acorns need to be dried. This can be done by putting them on a tray in the sun or gently roasting them in the oven at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Once again, a taste test will tell you when the acorns are sufficiently dry.

Storing Acorns

The best way to store acorns after they are dried is in a canning jar in the refrigerator or a root cellar. The shelf life will vary from a week to months, depending on how well they have been dried and the variety. Keep an eye on them if you have stored them and if you see any sign of mold or notice a mildew smell, discard them.

Roasting Acorns

To roast acorns, I’ll usually give them a quick rinse in cold water and then roll them around in some salt. Place them on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for one hour. Taste them after an hour until they suit your taste and have the texture you want.

Chopped Acorns

Chopped acorns can be used as a topping on desserts, incorporated into baked goods or tossed onto a salad for some added crunch. They can either be chopped on a cutting board with a knife or in a food processor. The size of the chop is up to you.

Acorn Butter

To make acorn butter, continue to chop until the acorns begin to develop a smooth consistency. This can take a while depending on the acorn variety and the amount of oil in the acorns. You can easily combine different varieties to make an acorn butter blend.

Acorn Flour

The best way to make acorn flour is to chop them fine and then run them through a flour mill. You could also try to use a food processor, but the acorns will need to be very dry or you’ll end up with another batch of acorn butter. If you want to make sure the acorns are extra dry, take the chopped acorns and roast them on a baking sheet in the oven at 225 degrees for a couple of hours. Toss them from time to time on the baking sheet to expose as much of the surface area to the heat. You could also put them on a paper towel in a food dehydrator to dry them out for flour making.

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To bake with acorn flour, use it the same way you would use conventional flour but the addition of some regular flours like all-purpose flour or bread flour will help with the consistency and rise.

Competing With the Squirrels

When harvesting acorns, look for the acorns that have no split in the outer shell or any sign of insect damage. It’s okay if the caps have fallen off, but avoid the ones with splits in the shell or green ones. You’ll also have some competition from squirrels when it comes to finding acorns on the ground. Squirrels love acorns, but they also prefer the relative safety of a nearby tree. If you see an oak standing out in a field un-surrounded by other trees, your odds of beating the squirrels will improve. Typically, a squirrel won’t travel farther then 30 yards from the nearest tree. An isolated tree is less likely to have any visits from squirrels and the acorns will be plentiful.

How do you prepare and eat acorns? Share your tips in the section below:

Oak Bark

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The Oak has a long history of being a sacred tree, especially to the Druids.
The bark was not only used medicinally but also to tan leather and to add flavoring to smoked fish.
Oak lumber was formerly used to build naval fleets of European nations. Whole forests were cleared to meet the demands of shipbuilders.
Oak bark has been used since the time of the Aztec empire as an effective remedy for diarrhea.
Acorns were a staple food for Native Americans, and also sustained many wild animals during the winter.
Many cultures have used decoctions from the bark to treat sore throats, coughs, and other respiratory problems.

How can it help us?
antidiarrheal
astringent
antiviral
antiparasitic
heals wounds
stops bleeding

What makes the bark so good?
tannins (15-20% including quercitannic acid, phlobatammin, ellagitannins, and gallic acid).

The outer bark, leaves, inner bark, seeds (acorn) and seed cups are also sometimes used.

NOTE: Over 600 species world wide.

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The Mighty Oak: Survival Food and More

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mighty_oak_treeOak is a favorite tree of survivalists.  It’s strong, dense wood is favored for utility and for firewood.  Acorns, though most species need to be prepared by leaching, are an important survival food.  Plus the acorns, bark, roots, and leaves provide important herbal medicines. Native Americans used many species of Oak for medicine and food.  Mainly the part used for medicine is the inner bark. With this being said, the acorns have been considered medicinal food as well as staple food.

By Nathaniel Whitmore, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache

Oak is a far more versatile survival example than many realize. The uses of Oak are not limited to simple acorn consumption. For example, in The Way of Herbs Michael Tierra discusses acorn porridge as a common food for the treatment of tuberculosis and other wasting diseases.

Oak & Mankind

Acorns were a principal staple of our ancestors.  Talk of the Paleolithic diet has persisted long enough for real Paleolithic snacks to emerge among the over-priced, plastic-wrapped Paleo bars.  Yet in spite of the increase in grain-free snacks, cookbooks, and diet practices, I have not seen any increase in acorn use.  Though, a quick google search did turn up a few sites selling acorn flour.

The acorn was quite possibly one of the major foods that allowed our Paleolithic ancestors to start building agricultural society from hunting and gathering.  Largely, acorns are edible, though most species need to be leached and some are so astringent and bitter that they are considered inedible.  

food_acornsGenerally, acorns are leached of their tannic acid with cold water soaks or through slow cooking (while changing the water).  Some are sweet enough to be eaten raw or with relatively little cooking.  Early man learned to bury astringent acorns in bodies of water or to anchor in streams so that they could return later to the leached acorns and prepare food from them.  Enough acorns and our distant ancestors managed to hunker down for a winter… and the rest is history… until current times.  I don’t know how long it has been the case, but I just checked online and found a few companies selling acorn flour.  For years I had been saying that I hadn’t seen any for sale or in commercial products.  Until just the other day nobody ever responded saying they knew of acorns in mainstream commercial foods.

Acorns are one of my favorite foods, though I often don’t get around to them.  You have to find them at the right time (others are looking too and some of them, like the squirrels, take it more serious than me).  Once found they still need to be processed and leached.  Then cooked.  They can be eaten just like that, cooked into rice, mashed into pancakes, or dried and ground into flour.  The mash or flour can be used in just about anything.  It is very tasty.

Acorns as Survival Food

Although many animals eat acorns as they find them, a good number of the Oaks produce acorns too bitter and astringent for humans to eat without leaching.  The most efficient way to leach acorns if you are home or at a long-term camp is with cold water.  You’ll want to cook them (if possible) eventually, but you can save on fuel by doing the bulk of the leaching with cold water.

Related: Tree Bark as an Emergency Food

If you want to or need to speed up the leaching of acorns, you can do so by applying heat.  Just as with cold water leaching, when the water turns dark you should dump it and add clean water.  You might find it best to heat up a large vessel of water so that after you dump the tannin-rich water you can add hot water.  This will be quicker and will avoid any fixing of the bitterness from alternating between hot and cold.

Mushrooms that Grow with Oak

mushroom_Maitake_oakBesides the acorns as a potential staple food or nutritional side dish, Oak forests prove hospitable because of the large selection of edible mushrooms that grow with Oaks.  (Of course, the warning stands that there are non-edible and fatally poisonous mushrooms that grow with them as well.)  There are basically three different kinds of mushrooms: decomposers, parasites, and symbionts.  The subject is complicated by the various forms within these three categories and in that many mushrooms belong to more than one of the three.  Nonetheless, these basic groups are important to learning mushroom identification.  Decomposers break down dead material, such as a downed Oak or one that was killed by a parasite, so they are found on such material.  Parasites attack their host.  In the case of Oaks, they can take a while to succumb to the parasite and in many cases can grow for years before dying from the attack.  Parasites are therefore found on live, dying, and recently dead hosts.  Symbiotic species grow in association with their host.  In the case of mushrooms and Oaks, the fungus is attached to the tree roots underground so the mushrooms grow from the ground near the tree.

Edible species of mushrooms associated with Oak include all three of these types of mushrooms.  Two of the most abundant and well-known edible species are common in the autumn on Oaks – Maitake (Grifola frondosa, Hen-of-the-Woods, Sheep’s Head, etc.) and Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria spp.).  Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus spp.) is another abundant and delicious Oak parasite.  These three mushrooms (two of them are identified only by genus above because there are groups of closely related species known by the same name) are prolific enough to provide surprisingly large amounts of food.  Indeed, many mushroom hunters content themselves with only one of the three as a foraged ingredient for the table.  But they also miss out on many of the other fungal offerings under Oak.

Mycorrhizal (symbiotic) species include delicious edibles like Boletes, Chantarelles, and Milk Mushrooms (Lactarius spp.).  Chantarelles (Cantharellus spp.) are pretty well known and pretty easy to identify.  Also, closely related is the Black Trumpet (Craterellus spp.).  Boletes (Boletus spp. and other related genera) are perhaps more difficult to identify than Chanterelles.  Although there are many species of Chanterelle, there are a few obvious species that stand out.  The Boletes, however, are a very large group.  Although it is not really true, some people consider all Boletes to be edible (at least those without a strong bitter or spicy flavor).  Certainly, some are very prized.  Lactarius is a group with many non-edible and poisonous species, and many people avoid them.  However, there are some delicious species that grow with Oak, like the Voluminous Milky (L. volemus).

You might want to check out Macrofungi Associated with Oaks by Binion, Burdsall, Stephenson, Miller, Roody, and Vasilyeva.  It is over 400 pages on mushrooms associated with Oaks and includes information on edibility.  

Chicken-of-the-Woods

mushroom_chicken_of_the_woodsChicken-of-the-Woods (not to be confused with Hen-of-the-Woods, Grifola frondosa) is also known as Sulphur Shelf and Chicken Mushroom.  I avoid the name Chicken Mushroom because it also refers to another, and Sulphur Shelf is really only good for certain varieties.  It is called Chicken-of-the-Woods because it tastes like chicken and has a similar texture.  I have served it to folks who thought it was chicken, though I wouldn’t have done so intentionally – as some people do react to even the thoroughly cooked mushroom (she helped herself to the pan of leftovers).  As with most mushrooms, Chicken-of-the-Woods should be cooked, and with this one in particular it should be done thoroughly and with plenty of oil.  It has mixed reviews, but I think it is mostly due to it being harvested past its prime (which is common) or cooked improperly (it really does suck up the oil – be libral).  Many people love this mushroom, even if they generally don’t like mushrooms.  Plus, it often grows in abundance.  This is a very significant survival food.

Hen-of-the-Woods

mushroom_maitake_hen_of_the_woodsHen-of-the-Woods is another mushroom that can grow very large and in abundance.  It is also known as Maitake, Sheep’s Head, Ram’s Head, and more.  In this case “Hen” refers to the appearance more than the taste and texture.  When found young (they can still be young and be quite large) they are quite delicious.  Hen-of-the-Woods should be cooked thoroughly to avoid digestive troubles.  It is revered as a medicinal as well as an edible, being used for the immune system to help with infections and cancer.

Mighty Materials

Although the modern world has largely forgot Oak as a source of food, its wood is still commonly recognized as a superior building material.  Used for hardwood flooring, furniture, and more.

Read More: The Survival Staff

Oak is also still used as an ideal material for martial arts weapons like the bo staff and for the handles of nunchaku.  It is very strong and makes a good choice when a superior and strong material is desired, such as for tool handles and sturdy furnature.

Oak as Fuel

fire_flame_facts_top_tenThough there is significant variety among the many species of Oak, it is generally a superior firewood.  It is dense and hard and has a high heating rating.  It does burn a little slow, which is one of its benefits, but it also doesn’t put out light as well as some other choices of wood (Hickory, for example, is also very hard but burns bright.  Lighter woods that burn quick will often put out more light.).  It can easily become smoky when not dried well or not tended to in the fireplace.  Of course, being dense means that it dries slow.  In my mind the classic “all-nighter” is a nice, large, dry Oak log placed on a hot bed of coals.

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3 Edible Wild Nuts You’ll Find Everywhere — Except At The Store

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3 Edible Wild Nuts You'll Find Everywhere -- But Not At The Store

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It’s fairly easy to find a variety of wild plants that are edible — but they have a downside. Most leafy, green wild plants are very low in calories, and especially calories from fat.

On average, an active adult needs at least 2,000 calories a day to sustain his or her weight. Just as important, calories from fat do the best job of generating body heat in the cold temperatures of winter. That’s where wild nuts come into play. Of course, you could always supplement your diet with meat, but when nothing shows up on four legs, you might need to think seriously about nuts such as acorns, walnuts and chestnuts.

1. Acorns

Acorns appear on oak trees in late summer and fall. You can pick them off the tree or off the ground, but you might have some competition from local squirrels.

You’ll also need to do some prep work, which essentially involves shelling the nuts and soaking them in water to leach out the bitter tannins. The bitterness varies depending on the oak variety, but most require a good soak in warm water for a few hours. You may also have to do a second and third round of soaking if the acorns are particularly bitter. A taste test between soakings is the only way to assess when they’re ready.

You could also put the acorns into a fine-mesh net and soak them in a stream for a few days. The running water will do a great job of rinsing out the tannins.

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Some people will then dry the acorns and crush them into a flour. They can be used as a substitute for flour in any recipe, although cookies seem to be the best bet. (Learn how to make acorn flour here.)

You also could roast them in a dry frying pan over an open fire for 15 to 20 minutes.  Toss them from time to time, or put them on a baking sheet in a 375-degree (Fahrenheit) oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I usually salt them lightly before roasting and eat them like peanuts.

2. Black walnuts

Black walnuts are easy to find. Their large, green husks will often litter the ground beneath the tree. You can try to shake a few down or do what my brothers and I used to do — throw some walnuts up into the tree and try to knock a few more down.

The outer husk of a black walnut is bright green, but wear gloves when you collect them. They will actually stain your hands black, which is the genesis of the name “black” walnut. You’ll need to remove the outer husk. This can be done by rolling a nut underfoot on a hard surface or using a hammer to crack and loosen the outer husk.

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Once you have shelled the walnuts, rinse them in a few changes of cold water. The water will turn black and you should continue to soak and rinse them until the water runs clear. Putting a hose into a five-gallon plastic bucket filled with walnuts works pretty well, but make sure the dark water runs off into an area where the stain will not affect a deck, sidewalk or patio.

Black walnuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and proteins, and have been shown to lower cholesterol and to act as an anti-inflammatory. The nuts in the shell are also difficult to crack open. Traditional nutcrackers often won’t work, so you may be back to the hammer or a vise. Wear goggles when you’re cracking them open because they can splinter. Separate the nutmeat from the shells and you’re ready to eat.

3. Chestnuts

Yes, you can roast them on an open fire but make sure you have the right variety of chestnut. Horse chestnuts are toxic, while the sweet (English0 chestnut is not. If you’re not sure of the variety of chestnut you may have found, bring one home and check the Internet to identify the variety.

Chestnuts are surrounded by a hard, spiky shell. Wear gloves when you gather them and try to remove the outer shell as soon as possible. The chestnuts can be eaten raw, but I prefer to roast them. This can be done either in an oven or over a fire.

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If roasting in an oven, preheat the oven to 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) and cut an “x” into each one of the chestnuts. Place them on a sheet of foil and roast for 30 minutes. The inner shells will crack open at the incisions you made and are easier to peel when still warm.

If you’re going to roast over a fire, use a cast iron frying pan. Cut the shells in the same way and toss the nuts from time to time in the pan. Thirty minutes should do the trick, or you can try one from time to time to see how they’re doing.

Fall is the best time to harvest wild nuts, but regardless of when you pick them, discard any nuts that look damaged by insects or have nutmeat that appears to be off-color compared to the rest of the nuts you’ve gathered. Happy hunting!

What is your favorite wild nut? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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How To Make Flour, Bread And Even Coffee With Acorns

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How To Make Bread, Flour And Even Coffee With Acorns

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Did you know that there is a nutritious food source literally dropping from your trees each fall? In fact, unless you are a squirrel, you may even see this food as a nuisance.

Alas, the lowly acorn was not always seen this way. Historical sources suggest that some of the world’s earliest civilizations ate acorns. In fact, the word for “oak” in Tunisian translates to “meal-bearing tree.”

Although acorns, which contain healthy fats, protein and minerals, found their way into many Native American foods and are the main ingredient of a traditional Korean jelly recipe, most people today shy away from eating them. Why? Anyone who has ever sampled a raw acorn can tell you. They taste bitter.

The secret to eating – and enjoying acorns – lies in removing the tannins. When you complete this process, you can produce a subtly flavored flour that works well in all kinds of baking recipes and even as a coffee-like beverage.

The first step to removing the tannins is to select only ripe, brown acorns. Avoid green, blackened or mildewed acorns. Then remove the caps and boil the acorns for about 10 minutes. You will need to strain out the brown water and boil the acorns again in fresh water. Repeat this process three to four times until the water looks clear and the acorns can be easily shelled.

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Another way to remove the tannins is to remove the caps and then place the acorns inside a mesh or cheese cloth bag. After securing the opening, place the bag under running water (say, a stream) for several hours. Native American used this flushing method by placing bags of acorns in running streams, rivers and even waterfalls.

Now that the tannins are removed, it is time to dry the acorns. Spread the acorns on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 200-degree Fahrenheit oven. Leave the door slightly ajar so moisture can escape.

How To Make Bread, Flour And Even Coffee With Acorns

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Another option is to place the baking sheet outside in direct sunlight for several hours. Be sure to protect the nuts from wildlife while they are drying.

Acorns add a nutty, slightly sweet taste to recipes. You can use them as a substitute for chickpeas, peanuts or macadamia nuts. (Put them in banana nut bread or zucchini bread!) You also can use them to make acorn butter, which you can use instead of peanut butter or almond butter. You also can add them to salads, soups and stews for flavor and nutrition.

To make acorn flour, grind slightly moist leached acorns in a blender or food processor. Dry the resulting meal in a low temperature oven for a few minutes, or let the meal air dry for a few hours. Then grind the dry meal in the blender or food processor again.

You can substitute this acorn flour in any recipe that uses wheat flour, but keep in mind that acorn flour products will have a crumbly texture. If you prefer a spongy texture to your cookies or bread, you will need to mix in some wheat flour with your acorn flour.

Another option is make acorn coffee. Now, this drink will not perk you up in the morning since acorns do not contain caffeine, but it is a pleasant beverage, especially in cold weather.

Place pieces of leached acorns on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. When the pieces are dark brown in color and have a pleasant roasted (not burned) aroma, they are ready.

Add one tablespoon of roasted acorn pieces per eight ounces of boiling water. Let the mixture steep for five to 10 minutes. Reheat if needed. Then you can add your regular coffee condiments or drink the acorn coffee black.

Acorns are a rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, essential amino acids, trace minerals and Vitamins A and C. This nutritional value compares favorably with barley or wheat flour.  Although producing acorn flour does take some time, it is satisfying to put to use a food source that is free and readily available.

Just leave a few acorns for those squirrels.

Have you ever eaten acorns? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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How To Easily Make Flour From Acorns (And Why You Should Learn)

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How To Easily Make Flour From Acorns (And Why You Should Learn)

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Prior to the development of agriculture and hunter-gatherer societies all around the world, acorns were a staple of the human diet. Ancient Romans and early Chinese peoples used them, as did Celts, early Africans and Native-Americans. A single oak tree in a good year can produce 500 to 1,000 pounds of acorns, which are high in protein, carbohydrates and fats.

If you are fortunate enough to have acorn-producing oak trees on your property, you may be sitting on a valuable alternative food source. Oak trees might not produce every year, but acorns can be dried and stored for two to three years. Acorn production can be promoted by reducing competition from nearby trees and insect predation by using fire management techniques to produce larger crops. It is possible to transform one or two oak trees into a sustainable, predictable, nutritious food source.

Harvesting and Storing Acorns

Identify your acorns before gathering, or at least make some observations. There are more than 50 species and hybrids of oaks growing in North America, and they can be difficult to identify. If you’re serious about acorn production and use, you will want a guide, such as the free one offered by the USDA Forest Service. While all acorns are edible, some will require more processing to remove tannins, which are a bitter, astringent chemical found in some plant foods. The amount of tannins in most acorns makes them indigestible and dangerous to humans without processing. One tip for determining the amount of tannins in an acorn is to look at the acorn’s cap size in relation to the seed. The deeper the cap, the more tannins will be in the acorn. Even if they require more preparation time, if the tree is producing a large quantity of acorns it is probably worth the work.

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Gather your acorns in late fall, after the first have dropped. Oak trees will drop the damaged acorns first, retaining better ones on the tree. If you can gather the acorns while still on the tree, do so. Mature acorns will be brownish and will remove easily from their cap. Pick a few and attempt to remove the caps to ensure they are ready before you gather a lot. You also can collect acorns from the ground, but inspect these ones for holes as acorns are prone to weevils. Expect your processed yield to be about half of your acorn harvest after shelling, leaching and grinding.

Acorns should be tested to eliminate the bad ones before drying. Pour acorns into a bucket of water and discard any that float; these acorns are rotten or contain bugs. Dry the remaining acorns in the sun or in a low-temperature oven. When they are dry, they should crack easily. Store acorns in boxes or cloth bags in a dry room protected from pests. Acorns can be stored for a very long time, but they should be monitored to ensure that they are not becoming moldy and that pests have not found them.

Processing and Eating Acorns

How To Easily Make Flour From Acorns (And Why You Should Learn)

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Keep in mind you are using a wild food and there will be a lot of variability in your product. You will probably have to experiment with the best time to harvest, processing methods and recipes. Different varieties of acorns vary in fat and carbohydrate content, meaning their behavior in recipes will vary.  These are some of the popular eating acorns: East Coast White Oaks and Valley Oaks for their size and sweetness, and Eastern Red Oak, Live Oaks and Black Oaks for their fat content. The fattier acorns will work almost as nut butters, while sweeter acorns will work more like chickpea flour.

Plan ahead when you want to use acorns, as processing takes several days. You can remove acorns from storage for processing as needed. Crack acorns using a mortar and pestle or a nutcracker if you prefer, and separate the nut from the shell.

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Grind the nuts in a food processor or with your mortar and pestle, and place in a clean, glass jar. Fill the jar with fresh cold water. Two to three times daily, pour out tannic water (or reserve for natural dyeing) and replace with fresh, cold water, using a cloth or fine strainer to prevent losing acorns. After three to six days, taste the acorn flour to test for sweetness. If it is done leaching it should not be bitter. The prepared ground acorn can be used as flour immediately or stored, wet or dry, in the freezer.

Acorn flour is versatile in cooking and should be thought of as another ground nut. It can be used on its own to make a crumbly pancake by mixing 2 cups of the flour with 1 egg – or another binder – and you can add honey and other spices to taste. Acorn flour also can be used with wheat or oat flours in a 1:1 ratio to create more versatile nut breads, or eaten as porridge by mixing with broth or honey and water.

Although gathering your acorn crop and familiarizing yourself with its virtues will be work, it will reap tremendous rewards as an additional food source for you and your family. This traditional food could very well help you survive through a lean period, as it has for many people before you. Storing and using a food that is so readily available just makes sense – even the squirrels know that!

Have you ever made acorn flour? Share your tips in the section below:

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