History-The native people of California enjoyed a bountiful land base filled with deer, fish, rabbits, fowl, roots, fruits, greens and many other things to sustain them. Even with such abundance Acorns from Oak trees were still the staple food for many of the indigenous peoples. Acorns are easy to gather, store well and make a delicious nourishing food filled with protein, fat and other vital nutrients.
The most common oaks found in the San Francisco Bay area are the Coast Live Oak, Tanbark Oak, Black Oak, and Valley Oak. All of them provide hearty Acorns but size and taste differences make certain species preferred over others (Black Oak and Valley Oak have much bigger acorns than Coast Live Oak). Many of these have been seriously threatened through the ridiculous practice of turning healthy pasture or farm land into housing developments and the ongoing threat of Sudden Oak Disease which is a fungal disease that is decimating Oak populations all over California. It is important to exercise extreme caution not to spread the disease further; this means bleaching or otherwise disinfecting ones shoes before and after hiking into Oak Woodlands.
Harvesting -Acorns are gathered in the fall after they are ripe. When the acorns are ripe, they fall from the tree with their little caps still attached; they can also be picked from the tree right before they are ready to fall. If you see any holes in them, throw them away, as this means some little critter beat you to the nut. They are sometimes dried and stored in the shell and other times shelled first, and then dried by placing them someplace safe, yet warm, to dry. Acorns dried in the shell can last years if properly stored in a cool, dry, insect and rodent free place.
Preparation- After cracking the shell open, with a rock or hammer, you’ll see what looks like a tasty nut inside the acorn shell, but actually the nut is bitterer than sucking on a bar of soap and more astringent than a tough cleaning solution. The tannins which are natural compounds in the acorn to prevent animals from eating them need to be leached out with water before they make the tasty nourishment we’re looking for. There are several methods of leaching. Traditional methods include crushing the acorns with hand picked grinding stones into a fine meal and leaching the mash in specially made baskets set in a river or stream, or placing the mash in a sand mound and then pouring water over them until the tannin taste disappears. More modern techniques include using a blender or grain mill to make the mash and leaching by either running water over a cloth filled with mash until the taste is suitable, filling glass jars with mash and water and changing daily for a week or two, and even a more high-tech steam leaching process using a pressure cooker. No matter which method works best for you the end result is a nutritious and delicious natural food that can be dried and turned into flour (which will keep well) for breads and cakes or cooked as is (mash needs to be refrigerated and used with in a few weeks) on the stovetop to make a hearty acorn porridge. Welcome to the world of wild foods!
Recipe for Acorn bread
1 cup acorn flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
½ cup or honey
¼ cup oil or butter
1 cup milk (buttermilk is best!)
- Mix dry ingredients together
- Add all the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
-Pour batter into a 9x9 baking pan, or 10-inch cast iron frying pan
-Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy!