Eating Sprouted Acorns

Eating malted acorns

I have read that if you wait until spring to collect sprouting acorns, you never have to worry about worms in the nut meat !

The first week of March we traveled up to our future homestead to install yet another water storage tank.  While removing the forest duff where we were installing the tank, I noticed that most of the acorns still on the ground were starting to germinate!

Hmmm………  I remembered somewhere back in the recesses of my brain that when seeds germinate, the starches turn to sugar.  When a brewer makes beer, he sometimes uses malted barley (which is sprouted barley) because the grain would have a higher sugar content to turn into alcohol. So, it would make sense that if I gathered sprouted acorns in the spring, they would be sweeter than the whole, just dropped acorns in the fall, and it would be easier to get the remaining tannins out of the acorn.

eating sprouted acorns

Don’t worry, there were plenty left for the squirrels, deer and turkey!

Right?

I did some research and found that when sprouting occurs, chemical changes naturally take place so that some enzymes convert carbohydrates into simple sugars.  The complex proteins within the seed are converted into simple amino acids and most of the available fats turn into fatty acids.  This makes the nutrition within the seed more readily available for digestion.

I also found this:  “Germination caused a decrease in the protein, carbohydrate and starch; it increased sugar content, and had varied effects on the lipids contents of the dry samples. The anti-nutritional factor-tannin concentration was decreased.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1546053

Eating "Malted" AcornsI figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I gathered several pounds of the sprouting acorn nuts and brought them back to our current home in the Sacramento Valley.   I decided to use the boiling water method of tannin extraction, using larger pieces of the acorn.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much easier to remove the acorn meat from it’s shell!  The acorns shells had (usually) three splits at the small end, where the future root was protruding from the shell. Just a little bit of pressure on the acorn shell along one of these fissures with pliers would crack the acorn shell in half.  In fact, I was able to get a lot of the acorn nut meats out of the shell whole and intact – which was nearly impossible to do with newly fallen acorns.

"malting" acorns to eat

The testa (papery skin) is easily removed with a slotted spoon when using the boiling method to extract tannin.

I decided to try boiling the acorns for 15 minutes at a time, transferring back and forth to fresh boiling water, and see how many water changes it would take to get fairly clear water – which is supposed to indicate that most of the tannin had been boiled out.   Knowing that my oak is a species of red oak (I figured this out when I read that white oak acorns germinate as soon as they fall to the ground and red oaks wait until early spring) and the fact that red oak carries more tannin than white oak; I didn’t start tasting the acorns until after the fourth boiling.  Ick.  Then the fifth.  Nope.  Sixth.  Maybe, but no.  Seventh.  Much better.  I boiled for the eighth time, just to make sure.  Success.

One experiment with removing the tannin from acorns that I have been toying with is using pH testing strips.  Since Tannin is an acidic agent, I thought it would follow that the acorn nuts themselves would become less acidic as the tannin was leached out.  So I bought some pH test strips from an aquarium supply store to check out the acidity level of the water after each boil, to see if, indeed, the acid levels dropped.  I think it worked.  As you can see from the picture below, the color of the water from each successive boil turned from bright yellow to orange, indicating that the level of acidity had decreased.  I plan to experiment with this method using several techniques of leaching the acorns including the cold water leach method and the combination of cold water/hot water leach, along with the hot water method as above.  According to my palate – the acorns didn’t taste very palatable until the pH had reached about 7, which is neutral. The eighth boiling showed a red color on the test strips (sorry, that one isn’t in the picture), which apparently was an indication that the water was no longer acidic, so I assumed no longer had any tannin. 🙂

leaching tannin from sprouted acorns

The bright yellow color on the bottom of the test strip on the left showed that the water from the first boiling was very acidic, with the seventh boiling on the right being orange, which is neutral, indicating that as the tannin is leached from the acorns, they become less acidic!

After I had some leached acorns I had to decide what I would do with them next.  Since I had leached the tannin using the hot water method, I knew that they would lend themselves to a recipe that was not flour.  If you would like to make acorn flour, cold leaching is best for this because the oils have not been cooked out and the resulting cake, cookie or pastry would be less crumbly.  Baked goods made from flour using hot processed acorns tends to have no structure and fall apart.  So, I thought I would candy them using a recipe I have for candied walnuts!

Candied Acorn Nuts

Yes, I know, taking a natural good-for-you nut and coating it with sugar is counter-intuitive, but it sure is good!  🙂

These were pretty good!  But – next time I won’t add so much cinnamon.  You see, many plants contain tannin naturally, the most famous being grapes!  The tannin in the grapes added to the tannin in the oak barrels is what gives red wine it’s astringent, tannin flavor.  Another food stuff that includes tannin is cinnamon.  When I ate an acorn after the eighth boil, I did not taste any tannin.  In fact, the acorn was almost sweet.  However, after roasting the acorn, I could taste just a hint of tannin. I knew that roasting acorns will tend to bring out any tannin flavor left in the acorn, which is why I boiled once more, after I no longer tasted tannin.  Then, after they were candied, even through the sweet of the sugar, I could taste a stronger tannin flavor – presumably because of the cinnamon.

Will you have to boil your acorns eight times?  I don’t know.  Each oak tree is different.  Some people only have to boil once.  You never know until you try!

Will I make candied acorns again?  You betcha – just not with so much cinnamon.   In fact, I’m thinking of making some caramel acorn and popcorn next!  Anybody want some?

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Acorn Flour Banana Bread

This post has taken me a while to write.  Let me explain.  Some of you may have already read about my experiments cooking with acorn flour.  At first I tried making noodles, but that is still a work in progress with a lot more experimentation to come.

acorn flour cookies

Success! These cookies are really good. REALLY GOOD!

Then I tried making cookies.  One recipe, chocolate chip cookies, was excellent!  The cookies were gone in 24 hours, which, in my household (with a husband, 3 grown boys and 4 grandchildren) means this is a “keeper” recipe.  The other cookie, a shortbread recipe, was awful, but let’s not talk about that one.  You can read about it by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

Lately I have been experimenting with banana nut bread made with acorn flour.  Since acorn flour is made from – well – acorns, which is a tree nut, I thought I would try using an almond flour recipe but substitute acorn flour.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well……………..no, not really.

Here’s the scoop.  I bought one of those E-Books from Amazon about cooking with almond flour called Fast And Easy Almond Flour Recipes.  This book has a recipe called Almond Flour Bread with a Pinch of Cinnamon.  The ingredients looked simple enough and  are very similar to the Banana Nut Bread recipe that I have always used, so I decided this was the one I would use to adapt to acorn flour.

Bread made from Acorn Flour

2 cups of acorn flour – ready to be made into bread.

So, instead of the 2 cups of almond flour called for in the recipe, I added 2 cups of acorn flour.  Acorn flour is quite a bit darker than most other flours, and initially that was the only difference I noticed when I was making the bread.  I was so smug when I popped it into the oven, but 55 minutes later I wasn’t so sure!  The toothpick came out clean, but the bread didn’t rise at all.  Nope.  This (ahem) bread was actually a little concave in the middle.  Well, I thought to myself, not everything has to look good.  Right?  As long as it tastes good, that’s what matters………right?   🙂

I put the bread, still in the loaf pan, on a cooling rack.  I had some errands to run in town, so I left the house for just a couple of hours but then would come back home and cook dinner.  I was planning on accompanying our pork chop and green bean dinner with the bread.

Well, that didn’t happen.  When I tried to take the bread out of the pan, I realized that what I had created was a flat, four cornered hockey puck.  My hubby (bless his heart) tried the bread anyway and said that, on the whole, the taste wasn’t bad!  Unfortunately, human teeth were never meant to eat hockey pucks. Epic Fail! 🙁

So, what went wrong.  Hmmmmm…  I do know that from my cooking experiments so far, acorn flour seems to have a lot less moisture in it than the almond flour.  Probably a lot less oils also.  That may have something to do with the leaching process to get all the tannin out.

Banana Bread using Acorn Flour

The second attempt at banana nut bread – a bit sweeter, a bit lighter.

It also is a bit denser. Cup for cup, it weighs a bit more than wheat flour does.  And it is a lot less sweet than the almond flour.  So, I decided to try adding a bit more baking soda (to help it rise), and instead of four whole eggs, I used three whole eggs with 2 whipped egg whites (also to help it rise and for more moisture), omit the sugar and use honey instead (a different type of sweetness and – more moisture).

The result?  Success!  The bread was done sooner than the original recipe said it would be – at about 45 minutes!  I’m glad I checked it early!  As you can see from the picture below – the bread didn’t rise all that much – but it did rise!

And it tasted really good.

And we could actually eat it!

The bread was very much like the banana nut bread I usually make, just a bit denser, more like a brownie. I tried toasting it under the broiler today and added a touch of butter and it was delicious!

Banana Nut Bread from Acorn Flour

Success! Banana nut bread made with acorn flour!

Here is the final recipe I came up with:

2 cups of acorn flour – ground as fine as you can get it!

3 whole eggs

2 egg whites, whipped to a fairly stiff froth

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup banana puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the acorn flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl combine the whole eggs, oil, honey, banana puree and vanilla.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until you have a smooth batter.  Add the nuts. Whip the egg whites until they are foamy – carefully fold into batter.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 45-55 minutes until bread is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.  🙂

I think my next experiment will be with a similar recipe, except this time I am going to add applesauce instead of the bananas, and apple chunks and raisins instead of the nuts, to see if this will make a good muffin. Perhaps I will swap out some of the cinnamon and instead use cardamom – one of my new favorite spices! Here’s to hoping I don’t make miniature hockey pucks!  Stay tuned!

Here are my previous posts on cooking with acorns – Eating Acorns;  Eating Acorns, Round 2; and Acorn Flour Cookies.

 

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Eating Acorns, Round 2

Cooking with acorn flour

It is a very good year for an acorn crop. Even the squirrels can’t keep up!

I don’t know where my last experiment with acorns went awry, but I am determined to find a way to use the acorns that litter the ground on our future homestead for food!  Acorns, as you know, are a type of nut from the oak tree, and probably one-third of the trees on our five acres are oaks.  Still not sure what type of oak trees we have, but they produce the most bitter, foul tasting, wash your mouth out with hot sauce, nasty tasting nuts that I have ever tried!

The taste problem is with the tannins, naturally found in acorns.  Some people can tolerate a bit more tannin than I can.  That’s why I generally don’t like red wine – because of the tannin!  It leaves my tongue feeling all shriveled up and furry.  Ick.

So, my task is to find the best way to leach the tannins out of the acorns.  The first experiment was using a boiling water method.  You can read about that method HERE.  This time I thought I would try the “refrigerator” method.  Although it takes longer, it sounded much gentler on the acorn and without cooking the nut, it seems like it would result in a more nutritious flour – right?  I’m going to go with that theory.

cooking with acorns

Blended acorn meal. After it sits in the refrigerator for an hour or two, the acorn meal settles down to the bottom and there is a 2-3 inch layer of water on top.

So, here’s what I did:  gathered acorns, cracked them open and removed the nut meats.  Then I chopped them up fairly well, place them in a mason jar with clean water and then set the jar in refrigerator.

Okay.  That sounded easy enough.  Done!

cooking with acorns

Dump the acorn meal into three thicknesses of cheesecloth in a colander. Rinse, rinse, rinse to get the last of the tannin out!

Then every day (twice a day if you can handle it) the water needs to be drained out of the jar without losing any of the nut meats, and fresh water added back in.  Put the lid back on, shake,  and then put back in the refrigerator.  How many days it takes to leach out enough tannin to make the acorn meats tolerable depends on the amount of tannin in your acorns.  Generally, it takes four to ten days.  After day four, taste the acorn meats.  If they are bland and have generally no flavor – good!  You are done!  If, however, you can taste the tannin, then pour out the water, shake, and put back in the fridge.  After the sixth day I put the whole mess into the blender and gave it a few pulses, just to break up the bigger pieces and help with the leaching process.  I let mine go for the full ten days.  Yup – my acorns have lots of tannin, folks.

cooking with acorns

Acorn meal drying on a cookie sheet.

When I couldn’t taste the tannin anymore, I drained the acorn meal through a few thicknesses of cheesecloth in a colander, rinsed the meal one more time with my sprayer in the sink, let it drain again, and then poured the whole mess onto a cookie sheet.  The cookie sheet then went into a warm oven to dry the acorn meal.  Don’t let the oven get too hot – just let it start to heat up, then as it gets warm, turn it off and let the almond meal sit in the oven with the door just slightly cracked open.  You can also use a dehydrator.

Once the meal is pretty dry, it’s time to make acorn flour!  I put about 1/2 cup of the meal into my coffee grinder at a time, pulsed it a few times until it looked like a coarse flour, dumped it into a bowl, then repeated.  It took a few minutes to grind the meal into flour and I finally ended up with about 3 cups of the flour.

cooking with acorns

My first attempt – 1/3 acorn meal and 2/3 whole wheat flour. Tasted okay, but became a congealed blob when it got cold. Would be fine cooked in a beef broth.

So, for my first experiment cooking with the flour, I thought I would go simple and some acorn noodles.  Acorn noodles are very popular in Korea and are called dotori gooksoo.  I followed one of the only recipes I could find which said to mix 1/3 acorn flour to 2/3 whole wheat flour with salt and water until a soft pastry consistency.  Knead for about 10 minutes then let the dough rest.  Once the dough had rested for about 1/2 hour, I pushed the dough through the hopper of my handy, dandy Kitchenaid with the noodle maker attachment, and out squiggled some noodles!  I got of pot of water to a simmer and added the noodles.  I thought I would just end up with mush, but I didn’t!  The noodles actually stayed in the noodle shape even after boiling for about 4 minutes!  Cool!

Now came the taste test.  Hmmm.  Well, they tasted very rustic – like whole wheat flour noodles.  Kind of bland but also kind of earthy.  But once they had cooled just a bit on the plate they became more of a mass of squiggly mush, sticking together and becoming more of a clump than noodles.  I figured these these would be really good in a rustic beef broth soup with vegetables, but it would definitely have to stay in the cooking liquid.  This was not spaghetti and meatballs material.

cooking with acorns

Acorn meal on the left and acorn flour on the right.

Then I thought, “what if I didn’t have wheat flour”?  These noodles are 2/3 wheat flour and there may come a time when wheat is a very expensive commodity!  Could I make egg noodles with just the acorn flour and no wheat flour?  Besides, if I am to become as self sufficient as comfortable (not gonna sacrifice comfort in my retirement, folks!), and since we don’t have a wheat field around the corner, I need to figure out how to make noodles without any wheat!  I decided to try that next.

cooking with acorns

Fettuccini strips. Uh……..no.

I knew that I would need something to bind the acorn flour together and the first thing I thought of was eggs.  So, after reading several egg noodle recipes, I discovered that the standard is 3/4 cups of flour per 1 egg.  Also a little salt and oil.  So, this is what I mixed: 1-1/2 cups of acorn flour, 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.  I mixed it all up pretty good, rolled it into a ball and let it set under a wet kitchen towel for about 1/2 hour – just to make sure the flour was well moistened.  After I felt 1/2 hour was long enough, I put the glob down into the hopper of my kitchenaid pasta maker and turned it on.  Well.  Hmmm.  It came through the noodle maker thingy okay, but as each strand got an inch or two long, it broke!  When I tried to pick up a noodle, it just fell apart in my hands.  Okay – so that didn’t work. I think it’s the lack of gluten (wheat glue) that made the noodles more crumbly than noodley (I think that’s a word – isn’t it?)

How about fettuccini?  Most of the wheat flour egg noodles are supposed to be rolled thin and then cut into strips!  I got out some parchment paper, rolled the blob of failed spaghetti into a ball and flattened it, put another piece of parchment paper on top, and rolled it out pretty thin.  Then I cut it into strips.  It looked pretty good and I thought it would work, but…. well…….  No.       After I let it dry just a bit, I tried picking it up and it just fell apart again!  Heavens to Betsy.

cooking with acorns

The pasta maker was making pasta – the pasta just didn’t want to cooperate!

I decided to think about it for a while.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Potatoes! Don’t Germans make noodles out of potatoes?  Yes!  The noodles are called badische schupfnudeln.  Try saying that three times!  It uses eggs and potatoes with a little bit of flour – so all was not lost – yet.  I boiled a medium sized yukon gold potato until tender, drained it, mashed it, and when cooled a bit I added it to the acorn mixture.  I wasn’t worried about having an overworked mess at this point because – remember – there isn’t any gluten in it.  So I made sure the potatoes and acorn mixture were incorporated together really well.  Then I tried it again.  Well.  Nope.  It STILL fell apart!

The strands coming out of the pasta attachment looked okay, but when I tried to pick up a noodle off the plate, it just pretty much fell apart!

UGH!

Why!  Shouldn’t the egg make it stick together?  Oh, wait – not until it’s cooked!  Hey, what if I made it like spaetzle (another type of German noodle), where you drop the noodles right into the boiling pot of water as they are being made??!!  That might work!

cooking with acorns

It’s edible – but doesn’t it look like that dog food that you pour out of a foil pouch!!??

So I tried it.  Well , it did sort of work – kinda.  The noodles still fell apart as they went into  the pot, but once in the boiling water they pretty much stayed in a noodle shape.  The longer noodles were about 2 inches long.  How did it taste?  Let’s just say that with a heavily flavored sauce these would be good.  They are pretty bland.

spice cake made with almond flour

Spice cake made with almond flour and raisins! Mmmmmm good!

By this time I was out of acorn flour.  I have more leaching in the fridge, but I will have to think this process over a bit more before I try making noodles again.  Perhaps my next experiment should be with baking the acorn flour – maybe muffins or a cake.  I have experimented a bit with almond flour and made a delicious cake with the almond meal that was left over from making almond milk – which in turn was made into almond milk ice cream!  I think I will try modifying one of the almond flour recipes by using acorn flour instead of almond flour.  I will probably need to add a bit more spice, as the almond flour is naturally aromatic and the acorn flour is not.

If any of you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them!  Just click on the bubble thingy next to the title of this article up top, or down below where it says “replies”, and let me know what you think!  Thank you so much!

 

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