Big disclaimer again: There are plenty of ways to safely and efficiently process acorns. Consult the experts. Don’t imitate somebody who is just bumbling around.
In our earlier episode, I gathered about 2 cups of perfectly fresh sound fallen acorns from a white-oak tree. They dried in the sunshine while I studied up on library books and websites about acorn foraging and preparation.
Exhibit A: Whole shells
One source said that putting acorns in a dehydrator will help the kernels shrink in from the shells for easier removal. Ten days in the sun on the windowsill might have helped with that. I placed them in a plastic bag three at a time. I figured out how hard to tap each one with a Russian kettle bell weight: not enough to shatter the acorn, but just enough to get one clear dry splitting sound. That creates a crack in the shell. Then one can pry apart two shell halves with a half kernel in each, gently bending the flexible shell to pry out the kernels with a thumbnail. The shells went into the compost pail.
Exhibit B: Kernels and inner skin
That left these shelled kernels still with the “testa,” the papery brown inner skin, still attached. The kernels need to be peeled and have the testa removed. Testa has extra tannin, and a papery mouth feel. With chestnuts, it’s simpler; one can oven-roast the nuts, and generally the testa cracks right off with the shell. Or, with raw almonds, just dunk them in simmering water for a minute, then into icy water, and the inner skins should slip right off. (Even easier, I just soak the raw almonds overnight, then slip the skins off next day. No cooking needed.)
Blanching these acorns was more of a challenge. Even after blanching and cold water, the testa did not just slip off. So I simmered them for several minutes, then used cold water again. Even after several blanchings, I still had to chip away with fingernails to scrape the testa away from each kernel. Many kernels needed additional carving with a sharp knife to remove blemishes; I wanted only completely sound kernels.
Even after multiple simmerings in several changes of water, a taste test kernel had a crunchy texture. The flavor was pleasantly nutlike for about 10 seconds until the tannin taste kicked in. I had to throw away the kernel and brush my teeth to get rid of the bitterness. That double handful of kernels cost 90 minutes of slopping around with pots and bowls and strainer, a sore back, and two split fingernails. I felt like an inept loser up past her bedtime.
Exhibit C: Peeled kernels
Next I pureed the kernels with lots of water in the Vita Mix blender. This made a murky liquid with floating particles of sediment. Before putting the jar in the refrigerator, I took one very cautious lick. The solution tasted like runoff from a storm sewer. That discouraging moment brought to a close an evening of bother and fuss.
Exhibit D: Flour-water solution
Next day the acorn flour had settled to the bottom of the jar, leaving the water with a murky color and very bitter taste. I poured off and refilled the water, then shook up the jar and put it back in the fridge. After five days and dozens of rinses & refills, the solution looked clear with a well defined layer of flour at the bottom. The water and the flour had a neutral taste with no bitterness, and no astringent mouth feel. I poured off and discarded the water, drained the flour, and heated it a bit to make a soft more cohesive dough. It had a plain starch taste, like eating plain millet or white corn grits.
It’s impressive to imagine our ancestors devising and sharing tasks like this as part of their social bonding rituals. A project like this must have been much more efficient and enjoyable when a whole group worked on the harvest together.
Exhibit E: Starch dough
It seemed that this starch dough with its plain taste might lend itself as an ingredient in a highly spiced sweet like German pfefferneusse or Russian prianik cookies. So I mixed the acorn dough in the Cuisinart with dates, tahini, coconut, bitter cocoa, allspice, and a dash of xylitol. That made a soft halvah candy, rolled into small balls for the freezer.
Exhibit F: Voilá
Straight from the freezer, this made a delicious candy. Here is a sample below, on fresh edible nasturtium leaves from the garden. This confection would benefit from some ginger, and more festive flavorings such as cinnamon and cloves and orange zest. To me the acorns gave a very subtle note of centered calming autumn-woodsy flavor, like the smell of rain on freshly fallen leaves.
When more fresh sound acorns come along, I will try this venture again.