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Small acorns | Otago Daily Times News Online

Prolific oak can be quite the staple, as long as you get to its acorns first.

Acorns are everywhere – the nostalgic English planted so many oak trees all over New Zealand – and I’ve spent most of my life wishing they were edible.

It was only recently that I discovered that acorns are actually edible, nutritious and versatile.

Native American tribes in California used acorns as a staple food. There are a variety of oak trees endemic to the region, and because oak trees are such prolific growers and their acorns are easy to pick, they did not need to resort to tedious jobs like farming and could continue to hunt and gather, as acorns made up half of their diet.

It is always good to learn about free, prolific and available food sources. Currently, there is little competition for acorns from humans because they don’t know the nuts are edible. However, rats are a different matter all together. It took me a while to find a chestnut tree in a large open park where the acorns hadn’t already been eaten by rats. The acorns were big and it took very little time to pick up a full bucket. Because acorn shells are thin and the inner core completely fills the shell, it’s really easy to put together a decent amount of bulk.

The reason people have given up on acorns is that they need to be leached to remove the bitter tannin.

To process nuts, leave them laid out on trays to dry completely so that the nut kernel detaches from the outer shell. This makes them much easier to shell cleanly.

Once you have taken out your kernels, rub the brown testa (seed coat).

The next step is to wash or soak in many changes of water to remove the tannin.

I leached my whole hulled grains in a bucket and changed the water daily until there was no sign of brown tannin in the water, it took a bit longer for a week, then I again placed the grains on trays to dry. I have since seen people grind the hulled grains before washing them, then either use the wet flour as it is, or dry it again to preserve it.

Once you dry the acorns after leaching, they can be stored for years because they dry very hard.

I ground mine into flour in small batches using a small electric coffee and spice grinder.

Flour contains protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins A and E, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and many antioxidants. What it does not contain is gluten.

I didn’t know how it would tie into the baking, and many recipes I found had other flours in it as well. I’ve done some experimenting and added psyllium husk, but I’m not sure if that’s actually necessary. Both of my cooking experiences were very successful. The flour cooks to a very dark color, with nutty and savory flavors. The crackers are amazing.

I’ve tried making coffee by roasting acorn beans until very dark, then brewing them in an espresso coffee maker. The problem was that the heat turned the starch into a sticky substance in the jar, so it didn’t extract very well. I’ve had more success simply putting a large scoop full of finely ground black roasted acorn flour into a cup of frothed oat milk. Acorns have been used as a coffee substitute for a long time, but I can think of better coffee substitutes.

Other uses of acorns are porridge, milk, jelly, butter, even oil can be extracted from them. They are certainly versatile.

I’ll be experimenting more as I really like the flavor of acorn pastries, and now that I know they’re edible, I’ll keep an eye out for oak trees with large acorns and no rat populations nearby.

Seedy Acorn Crackers

100ml pumpkin seeds

100ml sunflower seeds

10ml sesame seeds

50ml oil

200 ml acorn flour

1 teaspoon psyllium powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ to 1 teaspoon of salt

Boiling water to mix.

Put all the ingredients in a bowl, stir in the boiling water until you get a thick and sticky paste.

Divide the dough in two. Place each ball of dough on a greased baking sheet, pat it out and shape it into a rectangle shape, then cover it with a sheet of cling film and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough thinly. Remove the plastic and mark the shapes of the crackers with a large knife. Bake at 170°C for about 15 minutes, when they should cool to a crispy texture.

Acorn fruit bread

This bread ends up looking like a dark fruit cake.

In a large saucepan, place the following:

1 cup of water

¾ cup sugar

½ cup raisins

1 cup grated apple

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon mixed spices

A handful of nuts

Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and add:

1½ cups acorn flour

1 teaspoon psyllium powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda.

Mix and pour into a cake tin.

Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Let cool before slicing.