There are several Pathfinder honors with a requirement that can be met by rendering acorns edible. Edible Wild Plants would be the most obvious, but Pioneering, Wilderness Leadership, Wilderness Living, and Flowers – Advanced are a couple more. Since acorns are in season right now, I thought I might share some of what I have learned.
The first acorns to fall from the tree are usually infested with worms or moth larvae. I suppose that’s why they fall first – not from extra weight, but rather, from weakening the stem. Perhaps the oak tree can detect that it has a bad acorn and casts it to avoid investing any more of its energy into it.
I read that bad acorns float, and good acorns sink in water. If this is true, it means that wormy acorns are actually lighter than good ones, which is why I contend that the wormy ones are not heavier (which is another thing I’ve read). When the trees in my yard started dropping acorns, I gathered up about two gallons. It didn’t take long. Then I put them in a tub of water. To my dismay, 80% of them floated to the top. I wanted to see if the “bad ones float” rule was correct or not, so I cracked open ten of the ones that floated and ten of the ones that sank. There were two good ones that floated, and the only ones that sank and were not good, were cracked open already. So I think the float test is pretty accurate (and that was borne out later). Just be sure to toss any that are cracked open already.
I collected more acorns about two weeks later, and as the season progressed, I found the 80%-20% float-sink ratio had reversed. Now only 20% of them float, so I think we can also believe the idea that the first acorns to fall are the infested ones.
You can’t just eat acorns straight out of the shell. Not only are they EXCEEDINGLY bitter, but they are also mildly toxic. They contain tannin, which your tongue will do a good job of keeping out of your liver. Luckily, tannin is water soluble, so it can be removed with varying degrees of effort, depending on how lucky and/or adventurous you are.
The Native Americans would shell and crush the acorns and then put them in a bag which they would then submerge in a swift-moving stream. The water pouring over them would wash the tannin out after a week or so. Another approach – which is far more labor intensive – is to soak them in water for two weeks, changing the water twice per day. That is exactly what I did, and it seems to have worked. I tasted the acorns every day, spitting them out when I found them to be bitter. I only wish I had processed more than a half cup of crushed acorns. It would not have been any more work, but I’d have a lot more to show for my efforts. You can also boil them in several changes of water, but I haven’t tried that. That seems like even more work, and it would use a lot of energy. But it is supposed to be faster.
I thought of another way they could be processed which is a “modern” equivalent of submerging them in a stream. And that was to put them in a bag and submerge them in the back of the toilet tank. My wife didn’t think much of that idea however. Indeed, she was rather vehement in her objections! From my perspective, it made perfect sense. The tank never contacts soiled water, the water is flushed several times a day with no extra effort on the part of anyone, and it doesn’t use any water you weren’t going to use anyhow. After a week or two, voila – no more tannin. Total effort invested: put them in the tank. Take them out again.
I hate it when emotion trumps reason.
The only downside I could think of to this approach (other than the objections of unreasonable people) was that the tannins would tend to discolor the water and probably stain the toilet bowl. With this in mind, I figured it would not be possible to sneak them into the tank when the Mrs wasn’t looking (and get away with it). Suddenly “Total effort invested” expands to include “scrub toilet” and “buy flowers for wife.”
I crushed my acorns in a blender. A food processor would probably have worked better, but I do not have one. Then I put them in a disposable plastic container, filled it with water, and placed it in an out-of-the-way nook in the kitchen. I changed the water several times per day for 14 days, which ended this evening.
It is important to keep the leaching process going. My research on this topic says that if you stop leaching them, they will mold – quickly. Once you’re done leaching them, you have to dry them out. I did this tonight by spreading the acorn “flour” on a cookie sheet and popping it in the oven for 90 minutes at 250 degrees F. I opened the oven and stirred it around a bit for two reasons. First, opening the oven door allows the moisture to escape. Second stirring it around exposes buried surfaces for more even drying.
Now all I have to do, is make something with the flour. It does taste a million times better than the raw acorns, but since I only have half a cup, I have to be careful when choosing a recipe.
While the acorns were roasting in the oven, I shelled a bunch more. I have two cups of raw acorns now, and they are soaking in a large glass bowl. All of these sank, and none of them were bad, so that’s another point for the sink/float test.
This time I ground the acorns more finely and put them in the toe of a clean nylon stocking. On the first go-round the flour was just loose in the container of water. No telling how much I poured down the drain, and I was never able to completely drain out the water for fear of losing even more. Some people recommend using a pillow case, but I did not have one on hand (that my wife would let me use). She did allow me to have a pair of nylons though.
In two weeks, my club will go camping and we will work on the Pioneering honor. I will have them gather, shell, crush, and soak some acorns. Once they have them in the water, I will pull a Martha Stewart “swap-out” maneuver, and produce the acorns that I am soaking right now. We will roast them over the fire and then cook something with them.
I’m guessing Martha Stewart would probably NEVER leach acorns in a toilet tank though.