Acorns aren’t just for squirrels. Or jays. Or bears. They take some work, but we too can chow down on them too. And they are very interesting, sweetly nutty. Just don’t feed too much to cattle, horses, or dogs (bad for them, same as leaves too actually). Has anyone had a dog try to eat acorns? Chewing on their wood can give tannin toxicity, so keep an eye on the stick-chewing, but I have trouble imagining a pooch gnawing on acorns. Yet, they eat many random things. Anyway…
Oaks are the trees of plenty, they just give and give in so many ways we often don’t notice, or can’t even see. They are the tree embodying patience, according to PNW Native people's historic insight.
After you gather some acorns, you know for sure are acorns (pretty easy to ID), you first crack open the hard shell- I like the hulk-smash method and pry the nut out by hand, but I haven’t done buckets-worth. Yet.
Acorns start out a cream-colored meaty looking nut inside the shell. There’s a skin around them too, and often some spongey tissue, no trouble to remove. But after that bit of work, the wait really begins. If you dare to take a nibble of a fresh acorn seed, you will pucker with the high bitterness of it. It’s like a lemon & extreme arugula made a gross baby. Astringent! And yet so many animals thrive off & love them. What can we say… different taste buds. Very different digestion.
The bitter compounds in acorns are tannins. And that’s also what ‘tans’ animal hides to preserve them as leather. They bind proteins, handy chemistry. Not good as food.
Fascinating fact- many oak’s acorns have highest tannin concentration closest to the embryo in the seed/nut, much like the spiciness of a pepper being highest near the seeds. That means a hungry hungry fluffy squirrel can take a few bites but won’t want to finish the whole acorn as it starts to get too bitter for even them, stopping short of damaging that embryo. Hence acorn tannins can leave their seed-babies un-chomped and able to grow, while also feeding the wildlife. Cool right?!
So you probably don’t want to preserve your tummy insides. The tannins are water soluble though. You just have to soak, rinse, and soak and soak and soak and rinse and soak and rinse some more. Or go old-school hands-off like Native people’s have done in the past: soak them in a running stream in a sturdy basket for a few months and let the water wash away the tannins, or bury in saturated mud all winter and let the rains do the work. But if you’re like me and really want to nibble on these close to… well now - you can do multiple hot water soaks, letting cool then redoing, many times. It’s a whole week of casual effort really but man there are a lot of tannins in some acorns! Sample a nibble now & then to see if they are ready. The higher ratio of water to acorns you use, the better.
Fun fact: white oaks (round-tip leaves and longer acorns) have lower tannin concentration (some 2-4 times less) than red oaks (pointy leaves & squat acorns). And squirrels tend to eat the white more-palatable acorns first in fall, and 'squirrel' the red acorns away for winter eats.
Once the nuts taste palatable, you can treat them like any nut. Roast, chop, grind, mill into a flour, etc. I had a few on a salad I ate in a giant bowl on my lap on the best road-trip ever. Tasty and fun, sorta messy but the bowl catches what my fork can’t quite get into my face. That’s living!
Or I thought so until… the pancakes.
Oooohhh! The PANCAKES.
I already love my recipe for carrot-caked waffles that use chopped pecans and lots of carrot for a ginger-spiced tasty, more healthy, waffle. And then I subbed roasted acorns, coarsely ground, plus grated carrots, a dash of pea protein powder, a plop of pumpkin, and other tasty flavors.
You can NOT imagine how amazing my kitchen smelled. Eventually the aromas drifted into the rest of the house and I slept deliciously that night in a bed swaddled in healthy fall scents. Acorns smell like sweet chestnuts as they roast, and grind up. Okay, I’m drooling again.
I sampled a mere 1 that evening for dessert because you know I mixed a double batch and that took a while to fry up. I like my pancake batter like I like my women- thick. 😊 That’s a pancake party I was happy to take my time with. Still drooling, sorry.
Next morning, well… I have blurred memories of happy times.
But I do remember giggling to myself a few times thinking, “These have acorns in them, that I collected down the road from street trees, for free”. Same thoughts as I was mixing the batter. “Teehee, there’s acorns in there!” Just a fun thought.
Acorns can be high in beneficial phenols (more than pecans have), potassium, calcium, plus fats and protein. They have a very rich history of use all over the world, including as medicinal properties. Wild foraged foods feel a little more special to eat, and now I can save my pecans for a chocolate-laced bourbon pecan pie.
WAIT! Acorn pie?!?! Lemme get a bucket and see what I can find… Oh but maybe first, a short 'lie down'. I ate that whole stack. No regrets!
Enjoy the fall bounties out there,
and some new ways to spice up your cooking!
Tannin & Lipid Content of Acorns in Scatterhoards & Larderhoards: article by M. Wood. 2005. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3858334
The Nature of Oaks, by Douglas Tallamy