Saturday, November 21, 2015

Acorn Bread For Thanksgiving

     Two years ago I made some acorn bread from the acorns I harvested from the large oak tree in my front yard. I made it so it could be a part of our family Thanksgiving dinner, and the bread was a great success. Making it was a tedious job since the acorns were so small that I could fit several of them into a single teaspoon. That year, I was able to supplement those with some slightly larger acorns from several large trees located at one of the local school's athletic grounds. Below is a comparison of the first size of acorns I used against what I used this time. You can imagine how happy I was to find my new source of large acorns!

     For my first acorn flour making experience, I used the boiling water method to leach out the tannin. I thought that turned out to be very labor intensive and I don’t plan to use that method again.

     Since that first acorn harvest, I have been searching for a better source of acorns for making the flour needed for breads and muffins. When I went back to that school for this year's acorns, I was surprised to find that none of those large trees bore acorns this year. As I was leaving empty handed, I rode through the school bus driveway in front of the school, and I saw what I thought were gumballs all over the lawn and in the driveway. When I got right up to them, I discovered that they were large acorns. There were probably thousands of them all over the lawn areas beneath the trees! I took a sample leaf and acorn to the local Co-operative Extension Office and they identified the sample for me. These oaks are actually called “saw tooth oaks”. The botanical name is “Quercus Acutissima”. There are eleven of these beautiful acorn trees planted along the entire driveway out in front of the school, and they are spaced apart in a way that seems to promote the growth of the size and quantity of the acorns. Here is what they look like with their caps on:

     At first, I picked up enough acorns to fill a five gallon bucket using a modified “Grabber” (as seen on TV) that I fitted with suction cups. I realized that if I wanted more acorns, I needed to obtain a device that would pick them up more productively. Doing it just one-by-one with the Grabber simply wasn't providing a sufficient enough quantity for what I needed to do. So I went to a nearby feed & seed store and bought a nut harvester for a little over $23 including tax.

     I wasn't sure if it would do the job for me, but boy did it ever! I ended up with well over one hundred pounds of acorns, but that included ones that needed to be culled out due to defects as well as some empty caps.

     Below is a picture of one tub of what the nut harvester collected in about 40 to 45 minutes or so.

     I saved all the empty caps and empty acorn shells for starting fires in our fire pit. The acorns that were split, blackened, or had worm exit holes in them were simply discarded after leaving them out for a week for the squirrels in our yard. They wouldn't have any part of them. Maybe the tannin was too strong for them, so into the trash can those culled acorns went.

     I used an inclined screen to help identify and remove the defective acorns and other debris. With the screen inclined, simply taking a flat hand and brushing them uphill would make them roll over and over back downhill so that the defective ones were very simple to see and pick out. That made it much easier to inspect each acorn and sort them for being used or discarded. I put the good ones in a bucket below the table and the defective ones in the flower pot that was on the table. That way, I didn't get the two groups mixed up. 

     Before processing these acorns, I searched You Tube thoroughly and came up with recommended guidelines for doing it from a You Tube channel by Arthur Haines. If you are serious about using acorns for a supplemental food source, I highly recommend watching this video. I studied what he was saying and I watched the video three different times before proceeding with my acorns. The part about not using a "recipe" was very accurate. As he stated in the video, "When it's done, it's done!", means just that. I tasted mine as he suggested and your taste buds really let you know when the tannin hasn’t been completely leached out. When the tannin isn’t gone, you will certainly pucker and spit it out!

Here is a link to his channel:

From Tree to Table: Gathering and Processing Acorns

    To make my acorn flour, I began with a colander filled with seven pounds of acorns in the shell. My plan was to crack them open using the small hammer and six pound tabletop anvil that I had available. As it turned out, that worked perfectly for the acorns that I had collected as they were already dried out sufficiently to cleanly shell them.

    Shelling the acorns was done by simply turning them cap side down on the anvil and giving a slight rap with the hammer on the very point that was sticking up. This produced a clean crack down the side of the shell, and then I just opened them up and the acorn meat fell out in a whole piece most of the time. Sometimes I was too eager and the gentle tap not only split the shell, but split the acorn meat down the center, but there was no harm to the acorn as they would be ground up anyway. After shelling the acorns, I put them back into the same colander to rinse them to get any debris off. You can hardly tell the difference between the volumes of a colander full of acorns in the shell, or a colander full of shelled acorns! That is a substantial amount of food from the wild.

     After shelling, I had to reduce them to a fine meal in order to efficiently process the tannin oil out of them. I had an old hand operated meat grinder that my mom used when I was a kid, but I decided against using that. Instead, I used a kitchen blender half filled with water set on grind for a period of three minutes for each load. That was troublesome due to the size of the acorn meats. It was like trying to grind a blender full of marbles. Look at the size of this shelled acorn! After removing an almost paper thin shell, it's all meat!

     Even when filled halfway with water, the blender had a very tough time grinding the acorns. I'm sure I have shortened the life of the blender. It would have been far better to run the acorns through the old meat grinder to chop them into a much more manageable size for the blender to grind up. When I make my next batch, I will use the hand cranked meat grinder first. It will make it so much easier!

     I wanted to share my acorn cold water processing experience, so I would take pictures of my jars of acorn slurry in various stages as it progressed. 

     I put the slurry into the half-gallon jars at 1:28 p.m. on October 22nd. As the picture below shows, there are different amounts of acorn meal in each jar. I should have made the amounts even, as the jars with less acorn meal would become ready sooner than the ones that were almost 3/4 full of acorn meal. I also didn't wait for a whole day to pour off the tannin. I did it every few hours, as many as three times a day.

     These are the jars during the water change at 9:25 p.m., still on October 22nd. Look at that tannin color that had leached out in only eight hours. 

     At 11:34 p.m. on the evening of October 22nd, I changed the water again. In just over two hours, look at that tannin color that has leached out. That was surprising! 

     The next morning, October 23rd at 7:44 a.m., you can see the benefit of not putting too much acorn meal into the jar to leach. The third jar from the left is progressing faster to be ready for use, because there's more water in it. I plan to only fill the containers half-full of ground acorn meal when I make my next batch.

     Now on October 23rd, at 2:48 p.m., you can readily see that with the more water you put in a container, the faster the tannin can leach out. 

     On October 23rd, at 11:31 p.m., the two outside jars are almost ready. The two inside still have quite a bit of tannin in them.

     After letting them sit overnight, there was a significant reduction in the dark color of the leachate in the two center jars. 

     On October 25th at 11:27 a.m., the jars look like they're all ready for making acorn flour. However, after pouring off the leachate and doing individual taste tests, the two jars on the right needed more soaking time.

     Finally, later that day at 4:47 p.m. all the acorn meal passed the taste test, and it was all ready for use as acorn flour.

     I took the acorn meal and poured it into a cloth-covered strainer to drain out the water. The cloth was simply a tee shirt that was doubled over. I decided to use that instead of cheesecloth, which I had on hand, because I felt that the cheesecloth is too porous and would allow too much of the acorn meal to be strained through. After letting it sit a few minutes, I took the corners of the cloth and brought them together and twisted the ball of acorn meal in my hands in order to get out all the water that I could.

     Then I used the following recipe and made Acorn Muffins and Acorn Bread, and I put the rest in the fridge for use in three or four days.

2 cups acorn flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup maple syrup or sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons olive oil

Bake in pan for 30 minutes or until done at 400 degrees
50% or less Acorn flour (if you use more than 50%, bread will be too crumbly)
50% or more wheat (preferably whole wheat) flour
a bit of fat (olive oil, bear grease, butter, or whatever you have)
1 teaspoon of baking powder for each cup of flour

Using the ingredients given above will produce a sweet, moist, nutty bread.

 If you don't grind the acorns well, it won’t be a problem because you will have nut bread. 

     Either the muffins or the bread are delicious warmed in the microwave for 10 seconds or so, then topped with homemade peach preserves, fig preserves. Crab-apple jelly, or even store-bought strawberry jam!


     I hope you have enjoyed this information I have shared with you about how to use this abundant and naturally available food resource. Give it a try and see how you like it. Pay attention to your area around where you live and see what wild food resources are available to you!

Have a wonderful prepping day!

Bob Hotaling

P.S. Please forgive the varying sizes of font. Blogger simply will not let it be uniform for ease of reading, even when using Google Chrome.

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