Acorns for Food

We don’t think it is possible to live sustainably in this region until we revere oaks and depend on them for our sustenance.

Acorns not only provide humans with a nutritious alternative to grains, they are a primary food of the feral pigs, our best bet for local, sustainable meat. Acorns also feed deer, squirrels, woodpeckers, scrub jays, mice and many others, including domesticated livestock.

We are grateful to the indigenous cultures of this region for many things, and acorn knowledge is near the top of the list. Acorns were a staple food of nearly every tribe in what became California, so oaks were very valuable members of the community of life, and were tended to meticulously, as demonstrated by the following account from a French consul to California between 1843 and 1856: “One remarkable thing that I have observed in all parts of Upper California in which I have traveled is that one never finds any of the large oaks broken down, fallen into decay or partly consumed by age and weather. All are sound and vigorous.”

Compare that with the state of oaks these days. One of the best things we could do for our grandchildren is to protect, restore and revere the remaining oaks. Besides benefiting the land and water cycles, no cultivated crop can compete with acorns when it comes to sustainability.

Nutritionally, acorns compare favorably with grains. As nuts go, they are less oily. Being a wild food, their make-up varies more than domesticated crops.
acorn nutritional chart

For a more detailed analysis than the one at left, see this source , but note that it fails to name what kind of acorn or if it is an average of many species.

The comparison at left was done by a scientist named C. Hart Merriam, published in National Geographic in 1918. In the article, Mr. Merriam stated that acorns could be stored in good condition for a longer time and more easily than any other food product known. He discovered caches of acorns that had been stored thirty years without spoilage by being buried in cool, moist soil near a spring. We’ve tasted no sign of rancidity in nuts stored at room temperature for three to four years. In Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, author J. Russell Smith states, “But more important than the cash value . . . would be the conservation of the soil. Oak orchards could hold the hills that are now washing away as we plow them and attempt to grow cereals upon them.”

Acorn as Staple Food: Step by Step
There are two fundamentally different ways to use acorn, green (soft) or dried until hard. The latter is the traditional way, and we see it as the primary method for a sustainable future as well. But while we still have electricity, food processors and freezers, using acorns before they harden makes it possible to prepare large amounts of meal that is then stored frozen for convenient use. Since we emphasize harm reduction (see transition), we would like to see more people in this region relying on acorn as a staple food, even if they process and store it in unsustainable ways. As society transitions away from industrialization, be it planned or not, the connection to oaks will hopefully be established, the dependence on acorn solid. It won’t be a big deal to transition further to completely non-industrialized methods. In fact, it isn’t a big deal now. Pounding acorn into flour is fun!

Gathering
In a stellar year, we can afford to be picky and take the largest acorns. In a poor year, we are grateful for whatever we can gather. There are three primary ways to gather acorn: picked, knocked to the ground, or picked up off the ground after they fall naturally. The first acorns to fall off a tree are often wormy. We wait until most of the nuts are easy to pick or knock off, and as the season progresses, we just gather them off the ground. We pick a significant amount because we enjoy looking up into and through the tree. The acorn needs to come out of the cap with a fairly gentle twist. If it doesn’t, it isn’t ripe enough and will shrivel. We sometimes take a stick and knock them to the ground as well. The ones that fall are ripe, the ones that stay on the tree need more time. We prefer the easiest method of all–waiting for them to fall.

If an acorn is wormy, most of the time it will be noticeable. There is a pimple-like bump where the worm entered the immature acorn. We leave these for the deer, pigs, birds and squirrels unless they are gigantic, in which case we use them right away as green acorn, and cut away the wormy parts.

For details on using green acorn, see this page. For using them dried, see this page.

Recipe page is in progress.