Friday, September 27, 2013

Easy Acorns

 This post is for those who live in the desert southwest and other places where the "white oaks" predominate the oak landscape. An article cited on the Prepper Website details the steps to cold leach acorn flour.  These techniques generally do not apply to the white oak fruit due to their very low tannic acid levels, and constitute a delay between you and food in case of crisis. This article discusses how to tell the difference between white and red oaks by looking at the leaves of the oak, and provides some other tips on use of acorns. Leaching the acorns of the white oak group is generally a waste of resources.  In the southwest, most of the acorn-producing oaks are of the white oak group. Elsewhere, it might be useful to find a source of white oak acorns in your area for potential future use.

I have an Emory Oak in my front year. If I can beat the javelina to the ripe nuts, they are usually abundant in late October. I've harvested and made flour twice, and it's pretty good. Harvesting can either be done by picking them up off the ground or by placing a sheet on the ground under the trees and gently stroking the branches with a long stick or pole. The gently stroking helps the oak drop only the ripe acorns and helps ensure that only the new crop is harvested. I learned the stroking method by watching our local Apache tribe members harvest acorns.

The shelled kernels are about the size of a shelled peanut, with similar size variations from small to larger. My method is to crack the nuts, briefly rinse the kernels to remove grime or bits of shell, air dry and grind. The shells are thin and most nutcrackers destroy the acorn. I use kitchen scissors to cut off the soft end (the one that was under the cap) and split the shell. I tried cracking them en mass with the nuts inside a towel using a hammer. The results were unsatisfactory, with some nuts destroyed and others not cracked, so back to kitchen scissors. It's time consuming but I don't destroy my food source. If you've found a good way to open them without doing it one-by-one, let us know in the comments!

I use two hand mills when I grind them.  The first is a larger Lehman's set for coarse grinding. This reduces the nuts from the size of large peanuts to about the size of wheat grains.  I transfer this to my small Back to Basics mill for fine flour. When the nuts are fresh, this stuff is rather wet compared to most grains, so you'll need to check more often for clogging in your mills. I prefer to do this by hand using non-electric means because if I ever really need my front yard acorns for food, we'll probably be in a grid-down scenario.

The flour is sweeter (i.e. more carbs) and has less protein than wheat flour. It has essentially no gluten, so needs some help to stick together for breads or muffins. Eggs or wheat flour can help, if you have them. If you have used mesquite bean flour, it is somewhat similar for cooking. Given this, if I were eating these in serious survival mode, I'd probably bypass the flour step altogether and eat raw or chop roughly to add to stew. If harvesting and saving for future use, shelling and preserving the whole nut kernel is probably the way to go. I may try that this fall and let you know how it goes!


  1. I have harvested acorns twice over the years. Once from a large White Oak and again from mostly Pin Oaks and I soaked them each time. Perhaps the White Oak property of less tannin is strictly a dry climate thing?

    Anyway. Soaking them also reveals the bad nuts as they will float.

    I also placed the nuts in a heavy plastic bag and then inside a burlap feed sack and ran over them with my truck a few times then used a fan to sift out most of the shell husk bits. It required alot of sifting by hand to remove the non-edible bits and broke the meat up bad but in the end since I was going to grind them up it didn't seem to matter much.

    It's a huge amount of work for the final small amount I got anyway.

    1. Thanks for the note and info, especially about the floaters. Interesting observation about the arid climate and tannins. I figured it was just the Emory Oak, as the local Apaches harvest them -- I never asked if they leach them or not. I tossed nuts with obvious worm holes or dark interior color, so perhaps I threw out the more tannic ones. Our Emory acorns (minus the ones that were streaky black inside) are palatable right from the shell, but taste raw, not tannic. This fall I'll try toasting the whole kernels to see how it works. You aren't kidding that it's a lot of work for a small payoff. In a pinch you might end up with more calories than it takes to prepare them but they do provide a change of flavor.

    2. Maybe I misread what you were saying I thought you said the White oak didn't need soaking. I have no experience with an Emory oak at all.

      I think we mixed the acorn flour in with some pancake mix finally. My take on the whole thing was that it would be a good project to collect the acorns and then hull them etc. during those periods when you were stuck inside. Kinda like hulling dried beans :)

      BTW I added a link to your blog off of mind if it is OK, if you want me to remove it let me know.

    3. From what I've been reading, oaks are classified as being part of the Red group or the White group. It's confusing because there are also specific trees called Red Oak (Q. rubrus) and White Oak (Q. alba). I meant the groups which are about the color of the wood, rather than the specific tree. Emory would fall in the White oak 'group.' Main way to delineate without chopping them down is by looking at the leaves. Red oak group member leaves have strong veins that go all the way to the end of the leaf and each lobe. White oak veins end before the edges of the leaves. As for Emory, I had never seen one before moving to the high desert. Their natural habitat around here starts around 5000 feet elevation up to about 6800' (Oak -Juniper woodland), but ours (planted) has done well at 4700' with drip irrigation.

    4. Interesting. We have so many different varieties of oaks up here its almost impossible to keep track of them all. I have tried and then found out after I thought I had one ID'd it ended up being an entirely different one I hadn't read about before. White Oak, Red Oak, Black Oak, Pin Oak, Chinkpin Oak, Burr Oak, Swamp Oak, Scarlet Oak (which you would think would be related to a red oak). Just to name a few. Plus they have so many regional names as well.

      Yet I have never heard that some of them could go without soaking the tannin out of the acorns. I must look into this further.