I know much has been said and written about the processing and use of acorns; still, I’m going to share my recent class on acorn processing for those of you who haven’t yet tried acorns.
First, in the very beginning, nearly 40 years ago, I had read that local Native Americans ate acorns once they were “leached,” though none of my books back then said a lot about how that leaching was done. Some books said that the local Indians would grind the acorns into flour, and then put it into these makeshift colanders, and then pour hot (or cold) water over it so that the bitter tannic acid washes out.
Anyway, I processed my acorns that way for years until I met Linda Sheer, who grew up in Appalachia living the old traditional ways. She showed me a better way. The leaching part was still necessary, and boiling was the quick way to leach. But she told me that, on their farm, they’d simply soak the shelled acorns, and change the water twice a day or so. The leaching could take a month, but the acorns would taste better. Next, she once pulled me to the side when I was huffing and puffing trying to grind my dried acorns in a wheat grinder. She said, “ You must like doing things the hard way,” and then she told me that a better way was to take the still-wet leached acorns and run them through a meat grinder! What a difference. That is still how I do it to this day.
When you grind a wet acorn, it goes through the meat grinder easily and there is hardly any work. I can then cook with the coarsely ground acorns, or –more commonly – I dry it for later use. Then, I fine-grind into acorn flour in my coffee grinder before use.
Keep in mind that there are at least three books (that I know of) that deal exclusively with acorn processing and recipes. So, while everything I tell you is true, there may be other opinions or ways of doing these things.
I take my acorn flour and mix it half and half with wheat flour and make pancakes, biscuits, cookies, that sort of thing.
I have noticed at urban powwows that they grind acorns in an electric food processor until it is a fine powder, then they put a cloth into a large colander, and put the acorn meal into the colander. Then, boiling water is poured into the colander and the tannic acid is leached out quickly. This is a great way to process acorns.
Still, I like keeping the acorns whole only because it is less sloppy than grinding first. Plus, the selection of the cloth that you put into the colander is very important. With a fine weave, you lose no acorn meal, but it takes forever for the water to process through. With too open of a weave, the water flows through quickly, but you lose all the fine flour.
I took this large metate to my recent acorn processing class and students ground the shelled acorns by hand. We then put the finely ground flour into various colanders with various cloths, and practiced leaching with both hot and cold water. The cold water-leached acorns tasted better.
We also boiled some whole acorns, and ran them through the meat grinder, and made pancakes too. I was surprised that everyone found these to be the tastiest of all the acorn pancakes we had that morning.
If you want to learn more about this, please buy my “Guide to Wild Foods” book, available from bookstores, Amazon, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com. A lot of good information on acorn use can also be found in “Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian knowledge and usage of plants,” by Saubel and Bean.