Oct 20 2011

On the Farm: How to Prep Acorns for Cooking

Fun Fall Experiment - Processing our acorns so we can cook with them.

I recently decided to experiment with cooking acorns and the adventure turned out pretty well.  There are some things I will do differently the next time around but overall the whole experience was educational and enjoyable for the whole family. To learn how I decided to go on this unique venture you can read about what got me started in my post  “On the Farm: Acorns Are For Squirrels”.

I am always looking for ways to teach my children and since the Fall season is here after a few comments, questions, and some researching about acorns it was decided that our next activity was to go through the complete process of gathering, sorting, opening, processing and cooking with acorns (now that we know that acorns are not just of squirrels).  Here are the Five Steps to gather, sort, crack, and process the acorns in a day instead of doing it the traditional way of putting them in a stream or burying them in mud and waiting weeks before you can eat them.

Bucket full of acorns

Step 1 – Gathering Acorns:

  • Each family member took a bucket or bag and headed outside to start collecting acorns.  We found a couple trees that had acorns under them and started filling our buckets. Please see “On the Farm: Acorns Are For Squirrels” to find out which trees to collect acorns from.
  • Inspect each acorn as you pick it up for holes or cracks.  Some good ones will have the caps on others will no longer have the caps attached.  (I discovered later that we were not good at detecting microscopic cracks or holes in the acorns, so later we just gathered the acorns and used the sorting step to eliminate the bad acorns, see below).
  • Fill up your bucket or bag and pour all the acorns into a large sink

Filling up the sink with acorns and water.

  • Tips to help with gathering (I discovered some ways to make this process easier for the future acorn gatherings):
  • You don’t need to look at each individual acorn, the sorting process is much better at isolating the bad acorns and making sure only the good ones remain.
  • Observe what the wildlife is doing prior to picking up acorns.  For example if the squirrels prefer certain trees then head for those trees first because the acorns will most likely contain less tannins and have less of a problem with bugs.  Trust the animals instinct, they go for the good ones first.

Filling up the sink with water to see which ones will float.

Step 2 – Sorting Acorns:

  • Put all the acorns in a large sink, plug the sink and run cool water over the acorns.
  • The water level should be several inches above the acorns on the bottom to help with the sorting process.
  • The acorns that are crack, have holes, or that are bad will float to the top of the water.
  • The good acorns will sink and remain on the bottom.
  • Remove all the acorns that are floating and leave the good ones on the bottom.
  • Stir the acorns with your hands (or a paint mixer) to shuffle around the acorns, if any more float to the top of the water remove them.

Stirring them with the paint mixer to see if there are any more floaters.

Tips to help with sorting:

  • We used a large utility sink to sort the acorns.
  • Don’t worry about inspecting every acorn (see the Gathering Acorns step above) before putting it into the sink.
  • This sorting step will eliminates 99% or more of the bad acorns in your batch so you can speed up the gathering step by not looking at each individual acorn.
  • You may be surprised at how many acorns are floating
  • You may need to go back out in the yard and pick up some more acorns.
  • In some batches we had as many as half of the acorns floating to the top.
  • Throw away any floating ones because they are not good so you don’t want to waste your time cracking them if you cannot use them.
  • We used the paint mixer to stir up the acorns which help make sure if any bad ones were trapped under the good ones they came to the top so we could remove them.

Rinse the acorns for a few minutes to get any remaining dirt off of them. We used this stick to help disperse the water over the batch of acorns. Then let them soak to soften the shells so you can crack them open easier.

Step 3 – Cracking Open the Acorns:

  • Once you have sorted the acorns and only have the good acorns remaining (the ones that did not float) drain all the water out of the sink.
  • After all the water is drained, rinse the acorns with the drain open for several minutes.  You do this by running the water through the acorns and stirring occasionally.  This step helps get out any of the extra dirt and cleans the acorns.
  • Plug the drain, refill the sink with water and let the acorns soak under water for approximately hour to soften the shell.
  • Once the acorns shells have softened take out an acorn, tap it lightly with a hammer until it cracks slightly, peel back the shell and remove the nutmeat.
  • Put the nutmeat in a pot that you can cook it in and put the shell in another bowl that will be taken back outside to compost or throw away.

Cracking open the acorn with a hammer.

  • Tips to help cracking open acorns:
  • You can use a flat screwdriver to help pry open the shells.  Usually your fingers will work but sometimes having a screw driver helps.
  • You can start cracking open the acorns right away instead of soaking for an hour, however, you will notice that the longer a acorn has been soaking the easier the shell is to remove.  I just took out a handful at a time so the remaining ones could continue soaking.

What a whole acorn nutmeat looks like.

Step 4 – Processing the Acorns (AKA “Leaching” the tannins out of the acorns):

  • This step is very important with acorns.  You will need to leach the acorns to remove any tannins that are in them.
  • Bring two large pots to a boil.
  • Pour the acorns into one pot and let it boil for 15 minutes.  The water will turn a dark brown / black color which is the tannins coming out of the acorns.
  • After 15 minutes strain the water off the nuts and transfer them to the second pot of boiling water.  Boil them for another 15 minutes.
  • While the second pot of water is boiling with the acorns refill the first pot and bring it back to a boil.
  • Continue transferring back and forth from one pot of boiling water to the next for 15 minutes at a time until the water stays clear.
  • The nutmeat will not have a bitter taste to it once the tannins have been removed through leaching.

Our full pot of acorn nutmeats in the boiling water as we start the leaching process.

  • Tips to help with processing / leaching:
  • If you can use a large pot with a strainer inside it for transferring the nutmeats between the boiling pots of water it will be much easier.
  • Make sure to never rinse the nutmeats in cool water during the leaching (boiling) phase of the processing because it could actually cause the tannins to seal in the nutmeats making it impossible to remove enough of it so you can safely eat them.
  • It usually takes several boiling times before the water comes back clear.

Tannins coming out of our acorns. (See how the water is a dark brown color)

A dehydrator full of dried acorns! They will dry to a dark brown color.

Step 5 – Drying the Acorns:

  • Once the water is clear after boiling the acorn nutmeat you can drain them completely and transfer them to a jelly roll pan, spread out into a single layer and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  OR you could put the acorn nutmeat into a food dehydrator until the nutmeats is completely dry (approximately 8 to 12 hours).
  • The nutmeats will turn a dark brown color when they are completely dry.  You are now ready to try out your acorn recipes!
  • Tips to help with drying:
  • The dehydrator works really well for drying out the nutmeats.  It works a lot like drying fruit or beef jerky.  Plus it can run through the night and uses less power than your oven.
  • You can dry the acorns for several days in the sun but you take the risk of bugs and squirrels taking the acorns or they could go moldy.  It is pretty easy drying them in the oven or dehydrator so I think that would be the best option.
  • You can store the dried acorns for several months in the refrigerator or freezer, they will last several week at room temperature.

Information regarding processing Acorns was found at WikipediaGrandpappy, and LiveStrong

I will be sharing soon a couple acorn recipes that we have tried with the acorns we have processed from our yard.

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