Recipes for the Mighty Acorn: A Forager Experiments

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Hank Shaw


Another year of cooking, experiments, and insights, and I still don't think I've come even close to unlocking the potential of acorns. Yes, acorns. You know, those things that fall from oak trees?

Readers of this space know I've written extensively on collecting and eating acorns, how acorns are eaten in other world cultures, and on the important role acorns play in a wild diet. I also have a series of acorn recipes. What else was there to write?

You can really taste the nuttiness and the warm, "dark" flavor of the acorns in the spaetzle. It was my favorite acorn dish
so far.

Lots, apparently. For starters, there are nearly as many ways to get the bitter tannins out of the acorns as there are people who eat them, which is to say, um, at least a dozen. Different species of acorns also taste different, and will act differently in the kitchen. Some are oily, some more floury, some light, some dark.

The best reference point I can give you for all acorns is the chestnut. Both nuts are slightly mealy, share the same color, have a similar nutrient content, and act pretty much the same in the kitchen; chestnuts taste a little sweeter, but acorns caramelize more easily.

A few weeks ago I went to my acorn spot, a grove of giant Valley oaks that regularly drop tons of acorns—not an exaggeration. This year, however, the trees did not set. No acorns to speak of. None. Oaks will do this, however, so a forager needs to have several spots scoped out in case one doesn't pan out.

Fortunately this year I had help. A friend of my friend Jim has a horse paddock underneath lots of oaks. Oaks that were dropping acorns something fierce. Every morning she picked up the acorns, because apparently horses get sick if they eat too many. Did I want them? Hell, yeah I did! So I met Jim and he handed over nearly 30 pounds of acorns.

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Hank Shaw

Sadly, almost a third had the tell-tale hole in them that means an acorn weevil ate the nut. These acorns went outside, food for squirrels. Another portion were from an oak that set tiny acorns, not really worth bothering with. But the bulk of the remainder were acorns from California's blue oak, a "sweet" oak species whose acorns require minimal processing.

Last season I ran out of acorn flour, so I was determined to make more this time. And this time I decided to use cold water to leach out the bitterness in the acorns; last season I used boiling water. Boiling water happens to leach out some important starches in the acorns, and the resulting flour won't stick to itself as well as flour made with cold water.

This matters, because acorn flour lacks gluten—so you need every little bit of stick-to-itive-ness you can get. I also found that cold-leached flour tasted more acorn-y, and was lighter in color.

The catch? It takes many days to make cold-leached acorn flour. Here's how:

    • Crack your acorns into a bucket of water, then extract them from the shells into a large bowl of water. Keeping the nuts under water helps preserve the light color—acorns oxidize and turn dark easily.

    • Fill a blender half full with acorns and cover with fresh water. Buzz the hell out of them, until you have what really, really looks like a coffee milkshake. Far be it from me to suggest a truly excellent practical joke right now....

    • Pour the mix into large jars (big Korean kimchee jars are great) about halfway and top off with more water. Seal the jar and shake everything up. Put the jar in the fridge.

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Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.
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