Friday, November 15, 2013

Acorns!

I had a great dinner tonight! It only cost $3, included an educational aspect, and highlighted the humble acorn! I remember our family roasting an acorn when I was 11 or 12. As I remember, it didn't taste so great. However, Andy, from Elkhart County Parks, made tasty treats for us!

He usually has a few hand outs to help us understand the topic better. I have several copies of this dichotomous tree chart from various programs by now. It really is handy to identify and classify the tress in our area. Andy talked about red and white oak families. He said the red oaks are especially bitter. These have stipules or pointy tips at the ends of each leaf section. These are also called bristle-tipped leaves. Red oaks include black, red, in, and shingle. The white oak acorns are a little less bitter and include bur, white, chestnut, cinquapin, and swamp white oak trees.


As far as using acorn, Andy shared how he prepared the acorns and several recipes. Here are several acorns which have been dehydrated after they were soaked (draining water each day) for several days. The tannins are leeched from the acorns through this process. You can see the color in the jar of liquid below. It was used to cure hides at different times.

When using acorns, discard the one with worms. Watch for any fungus that might be growing. Another option is to sprout the acorns first. I think this is a great approach as we have done sprouts of other kinds in the past with one son even using them for his science fair project last year.


This is what the acorns looked like when they were ready to process after several days of removing the tannins with cold water. Andy used a food processor to grind break them up into smaller pieces. 



He then roasted them in an electric skillet to enhance the nutty flavor. They didn't have too much flavor, though added a lovely texture and crunch to the foods we ate. He added them to a mushroom soup for one of the dishes. 


We also tried them roasted with a little salt. I might need a little more salt. :-)


This is a my plate, with several acorn treats. We had acorn mushroom soup, peanut butter acorn cookies, an acorn dip, and acorn banana bread. They were all very good! 


To top off the night, we made acorns with small vanilla wafers, chocolate chips, hershey kisses, and frosting. I've seen these floating around Pinterest--it was fun and tasty to make them myself. 


Andy mentioned that Native Americans ate acorns by "the ton". The acorns were often broken open, placed in a basket, and dropped in the river for several days to leech the tannins. The left over water with tannins would have been used to tan hides or as an antiseptic. He wrote an article in the current Currents (but it looks like you need to see the hard copy to find his article) that mentioned the Japanese collected a million tons to supplement their meager food in the mid 1900s. Acorns need a cold spell to germinate. Only 1 in 10,000 acorns actually become trees. They start producing acorns at around 20 years and stop producing around 80 years old. It's best to gather them just as they start falling, trying to take them off when they are still green on the tree. 1 oz. of acorns is 142 calories. They have been feed to pigs to fatten them up. I've also read that acorns that are "planted" (should say cached!) have a higher germination rate than acorns planted by humans. If they are planted by humans, they do need a cold spell (keep in the fridge in a plastic bag) in order to germinate, as do many seeds. In programs, I've done with preschoolers, I've also learned that bluejays have great beaks for cracking open acorns. There is an acorn woodpecker (does not live in this area) that actually hammers acorns into a tree to store them for later. 

It was nice seeing a few people, too. I saw a lady from the Flying Wild and Children, Art, & Nature program, two great teenagers who were part of the Junior Indiana Master Naturalist program this summer, and a couple of others I've seen at various festivals and such around the area. It was great to chat with others interested in similar things. I shared about the Indiana Master Naturalist program again and also shared the Eat Wild group with several. 


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