Friday, April 27, 2012

Not only Squirrels Eat Acorns

acorn2 acorncoast_liveoak_ 
The acorn bearing oak tree are found throughout the world. In times of famine or need it has provided populations with a protein and fat rich food source albeit rough on the taste buds at times. While there are some acorns quite edible most have a high tannin content which makes them astringent and bitter. Removing this feature takes time and effort and usually involves leaching the hulled and crushed nuts with water, drying and milling. The resulting acorn flour is made into mush, stews, soups and breads by Native Americans. Acorns became quite important to western tribes in their food chain whereas the eastern tribes had an abundance of other nut crops easier to include into their diet. Acorns were called various names by the Native American.
The only other society today that eats acorns on a regular basis is the Koreans. Acorn jelly (do-to-ri-mook) an insipid brown gelatinous substance made from acorn starch a little salt and water. It is used in salads and other cold dishes. Acorn noodles made from acorn flour is used in soups and salads. Ogam Acorns Village has topology especially suitable for growing acorns. Linked to the mountainous regions of Gangwon Province, full of hillocks and land made fertile by the Namhangang River, the town abounds with acorns in autumn. Acorns serves as a substitute for rice during bad harvests.
The townspeople enjoy food made of acorns. The versatile nut is turned into jellies, dumpling, noodle, pancake, and wine or rice cakes.
Acorn jelly is especially popular nationwide in Korea for its fresh and mild taste. Acorn wine and rice cakes are specialties of the town rarely found in other parts of the country. Free of the bitter acorn taste, the wine is especially popular. Totorisul is an acorn liquor with 40% alcohol and a pungent smell of acorn.
Some vegetarians have included acorns in their varied non meat diet.
Besides the wild birds and animals acorns provide a food source for wild pigs of our southern and southwestern states. These run always from early Spanish populations have also provided a food source for Native and non Native Americans for hundreds of years.
Whether Korean, Native American or vegetarian the making of acorn edible is similar. Here is one of the best methods. Put them in the blender with water (3 cups water per 1 cup acorns) and “liquefy” them. Make sure that you blend them until they are “finely” ground. YOU MUST GRIND THE ACORNS AND YOU MUST LEACH THEM. You’ll use this same water to leach them. Keep acorns leaching in large mouthed quart- size canning jars in the refrigerator. The blended meal will settle to the bottom. Everyday for about a week, pour the darkened water off and add fresh and mix well. The water will get clearer everyday. This leaching process is done to remove tannic acid. Be careful that you don’t pour out your acorn meal. Acorns can be leached in a shorter period by other methods, like constant water running through them hot or cold. Leaching large quantities in big bowls or buckets is fine too, but difficult to keep refrigerated. Put a little note on the refrigerator that reminds you what day you leached the acorns. Black Oak acorns contain 31.4% water, 3.44% protein, 13.55% fats, 8.60% fiber, and 41.8 1% carbohydrates. According to Edible and Useful Plants of California, by Charlotte Clark.
Of course really the best method is to go to a Korean store and buy packaged acorn flour or starch.
An interesting theory is to use the abundant hill country as commercial acorn forests and harvest acorns for human and animal food. This would utilize unused areas that are not now suitable for agriculture production. It is a part of the sustainable organic agricultural or slow food movement now growing in popularity. So if you look over your shoulder foods like acorn might be creeping up on you. Why not turn around?
As a chef you might wonder why use this difficult bitter astringent product when there are so many taste friendly nuts out there. Authenticity is one when dealing with Native American or Southwestern cuisine. Beyond that there is a unique taste factor if a species low in tannin or well leached acorn meal or flour is used. Of course there is always the desire to be unique and different, to go where none has gone before. Come on, acorn in anything sounds as intriguing as adding, say pansies to a salad and it is far more unique.
For PDF cook book Eating Acorns