Oh, little acorn. So ubiquitous and wee, the stuff squirrel dreams are made of.
They’re also what my fall foraging dreams are made of.
A mature tree can produce hundreds of pounds of acorns with ideal weather, and if dried properly can last up to six months. You can use acorns to make anything from bread, to substituting their nutmeat for traditional nuts in cookies and other tasty goodies, to pasta. PASTA.
To gather up all the nutty goodness you need to start with oak trees. All forms of acorns are edible, some more bitter than others and might need to be leeched *more on that later*
So how the hell do you know if you’re under an oak? Here’s a quick video to help:
Now that you know what trees to look for, you can begin harvesting freshly fallen acorns. Once you have all you care to harvest, you can bring them back home and begin processing them. They need to be dried if you’re planning on storing them, as well as leached to ensure none of them are bitter shortly before they’re going to be used. Before you do anything though, dump them all in a bucket of water. The ones that float have gone bad or have grubs in them -if you’re in it to win it this is just extra protein- and they can either be discarded or you can go Timon and Pumbaa on those wormy little bitches.
If you want to dry your acorns, you can do it several ways: room drying, sun drying, or oven drying.
Room drying is probably one of the easiest, but also the most problematic ways to dry acorns. While this ensures the moistest nut meats, it also has the highest percentage of pests and mold. (It also takes up to four weeks.) Basically, you spread the acorns out on a tray or screen and let them dry at room temperature.
Sun drying is better, you set your acorns out in the sun every day for 2-5 days, depending on how green they are. Bring them in at night so you don’t offer a buffet to the local wildlife. This way preserves moisture and flavor more than oven drying, but less so than room drying. The shelf life of this method can be 4-6 months.
The way I plan on doing it this fall is oven drying. This way kills all pests and mold, but it does destroy much of the moisture and flavor. You place the tray of acorns in the oven at 175° F for around 20 minutes with the oven door cracked to let moisture out. The shelf life of this method can be 2-3 months.
Once you have acorns, either fresh or from your pantry, they need to be leeched to get rid of the bitterness. Tannins in the acorns cause the bitter taste, but with soaking and rinsing, they can be washed away. Now you can use two methods, cold or hot. I’m going to discuss hot here for brevity. Literally, it takes hours vs. the days of cold washing.
Before you leech the nuts, you need to crack them open and harvest the nut meat. It’s much easier to leach them when they’re roughly chopped instead of whole, so it also helps if they’re cut up or have a quick spin in a food processor. You can leech them whole, but you’ll want to leech them longer so you don’t run the risk of puckering your face into the back of your head.
You’re going to want to put on two pots of boiling water. Put the roughly chopped acorns into cheesecloth and place them in boiling water. Wait until the water turns dark, drain and place it in the other pot and repeat. You’re going to want to do this several times – until the water no longer turns dark. I recommend you do this during a TV marathon, catching up on back seasons of your new favorite show. At least this way, you can end it with acorn pancakes!
After you’ve leeched the acorns, spread the meal out onto a pan or in a food dehydrator and dry at a low temp. It’s now ready to be used for whatever you want! You can grind it down further and use it with flour to make pancakes or pasta, you can toss it into some brownie batter and whip up some foraged chocolaty goodness, or you can make a hot cereal mash from it. Any left over acorn flour needs to be stored in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid.
Here’s the recipe for acorn pasta dough from honest-food.net:
Note that in the cook time below, most of that time is how long it takes for water to boil. The pasta itself should only need about 2-3 minutes to cook.
Makes enough to serve 6.
Prep Time: 90 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup semolina flour
- 1/2 cup acorn flour or chestnut flour
- 1 ½ cups cool water
- Pinch of salt
- Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
- Pour the water into the well and combine it by swirling your fingers around. When the dough becomes a shaggy mass, bring it together with your hands, then knead on a floured counter for 5-8 minutes.
- Lightly coat the dough in olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit out for at least an hour, but this dough will keep in the fridge for a day. Acorn flour and semolina need a little longer to hydrate because they are coarser.
- Roll out depending on how you want to make the pasta. Tagliatelle would be the next-to-last setting on your pasta maker and about ¼ inch wide.
- Dust them in all-purpose flour as you lay the tagliatelle down on a floured board or counter. Allow to dry while you make the rest. After each portion of the dough is rolled out, gently pick up the center of the tagliatelle from the previous portion and twirl into a loose pile. Set aside.
- This pasta is not good frozen, but it will hold in the fridge for a few days. It gets terribly brittle the longer it dries out.
And here’s the recipe for acorn pancakes from greenphonebooth.com:
- 2½ cups whole wheat flour
- ¾ cup acorn
- 1 rounded TB baking powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup oil (olive oil or coconut oil or whatever)
- A small glug of maple syrup
- Enough milk or water to make a batter the consistency of your favorite pancake batter (maybe 2 cups of liquid?)
Then, prepare them how you would any pancake.
Finally, a short video from a man who knows his acorns:
There are a ton of uses for this wee dynamo, we’ve only scratched the surface here; but I hope to see a lot more acorn pancakes in my future!