Following on from our last blog where Joe looked at processing greater reed mace for its year round carbohydrate content this week I intend to work through a simple process that leaves acorns in a tasty and nutritional state.
As Adam stated in his blog at the beginning of autumn we often spend some time on our forages talking about the merits of processing acorns as a viable source of carbohydrate. The issue arises in removing the high levels of tannins so that we can eat the carbohydrates, fats, proteins and oils that are all held within. Having processed acorns for a number of years now and trying range of common leaching techniques, repeated boiling and cold leaching in water courses, I thought it would be worth trying a method that is very simple for people to do at home.
Although tannic acid is present in very high concertation in acorns likely for us they are water soluble meaning that we are able to remove them without too much trouble. One of the commonest methods sited for removing the tannins is repeated boiling in changes of water until it turns clear has always seems impractical to me when at home. Firstly it uses a lot of water to remove sufficient levels of tannins and it ramps up my water bills no end! Also I feel there’s an environmental cost to this method that seems unnecessary.
Since moving away from a local river where I used to leach acorn I have lacked a suitable place to cold leach my harvest. Some of you may be thinking well this is where boiling them comes into play as it’s easy to do at home for those lacking a river. One of the main issues with boiling acorns to hot lea
ch them it that what you are effectively doing is boiling out all of the starch and oils along with the tannins. This results in you ending up with a pan of something that resembles over cooked potatoes in their nutritional value. Cold leaching by alternative has none of this effect and preserves much more of the nutrition.
So while thinking about it this year I thought I’d try simply throwing the acorns into a bucket of water and regularly test them, to the discomfort of my taste buds, to see how long it took for the tannins to leach. Working on the basis of osmosis due to the body of fresh water in the bucket all of the tannins where drawn out. Depending on the size of container used or the amount of acorns collected work on the basis that once the water tacks on any ‘reasonable’ colour change it for fresh.
Below is an overview of the process I went through to obtain an acorn meal this year. I will say know that I’m not claiming for this t
o a special ‘unique’ way to process them, there are many different ways practiced by many people, just one I’ve come across and worked well for me.
Stage one is to gather yourself a stash of acorns. Picked either from the tree or off the ground is fine as long as they are ferm and free of small round holes. These signal the presence of acorn weevils and will want to be discarded. Adam has already talked through in an earlier blog how to go about finding which of the acorns have weevils in them.
Once you have your acorns the first stage is to shell them. I peel the shells with a knife otherwise I find that sharp bits of shell wedge themselves under your finger nails and make for a much less pleasant experience. Once the outer shell has been removed the brown inner papery casing can also be removed as there is evidence to suggest that this can impart significant bitterness to acorn meal. I fund that most of this inner casing came away with the shell but any that didn’t I wasn’t getting too hung up about and the end result was very good.
Following a week of leaching in around 7 liters of water my acorns had lost all traces of bitterness and were perfectly palatable raw. Having reached a state where the acorns were fit for eating I proceeded to dry and grind them prior to backing a 90% acorn bannock from them.
Leached acorn nuts ready for drying, grinding and eating!
Using a low setting on the grill to dry the acorns out.
In order to effectively grind your acorns you are going to want to ensure that they are completely free from moisture. What this will enable you to do is achieve a fine dry meal and can be stored effectively and will not spoil. This will be best achieved by using a low heat setting in your oven or any of the other drying methods covered in Adams previous blog. Unfortunately I was under some time constraints and didn’t have time to completely dry out my acorns. This meant that the resulting meal was claggy and bound together whilst being ground.
The manual and home industrial method of grinding
I was intending to make a 100% acorn bannock with this batch of meal with the intention of seeing how the texture of the bread would compare to wheat bannock. Accidentally a little too much water went into the bowl and I was forced to add the smallest of handfuls of Self raising four to get a correct dough. The reason for so little water being needed was due to the acorns being ‘wet’ when ground. I didn’t compensate for this when adding the water.
The dough that formed was very light and soft and nothing like I was expecting, assuming the resulting bread was going to turn out heavy as there was virtually no wheat flour present. As with any bannock or unleavened bread the key is to be as gentile as possible when binding the dough and to handle with care. Any ‘kneading’ of these styles of bread s and we will end up with a substitute for boot leather.
Once happy with the consistency of your bread heat the heaviest bottomed skillet you have on a medium heat, too higher temperature will result in the a burnt bannock which makes for one unhappy bushcrafter. Once the pan has reached temperature spread the dough out across its bottom ensuring an even thickness.
The cooking time for the bannock was comparable to wheat breads, with a large skillet bottom taking 20 minuets to cook. Once the bottom of the bread has taken on a lovely golden brown it can be flipped to cook the other. Following this you can test if the bread is done by giving it a tap with your knuckle. You should hear a hollow sound when knocking the bread which will indicate that it’s cooked through. If you are unsure then simply snap the bread in two to see if the center is still doughy. If this is the case them return the bannock to the heat for a few more minuets.
Breads cooked from acorn meal give a very rich nutty flavour which is extremely good. Although best eaten hot with butter they do store well for the day making them a great trail food for a day in the woods.
I hope that this short blog has been of interest and proves useful for your own future forays into acorn foraging. with such a large abundance of food just sitting on the ground out in the woods they are definitely something that is worth dedicating some time to.
Eat Weeds:- http://www.eattheweeds.com/acorns-the-inside-story/