Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eating Valley Oak Acorns




Valley Oak A-corn Bread
Spread upon a large cookie sheet, the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) acorns that I collected last month are a constant temptation. The acorns are just so big! Even though I usually dry my acorns completely before shelling them, I wanted to share the process with some college friends that were visiting, so we shelled a pint that were not yet dry, and cooked up my first batch of Valley Oak acorn bread.

This (left) Valley Oak acorn split itself open as it sprouted
Valley Oak acorns sprout in the late fall and if given the chance, will rapidly send a tap root deep into the ground. Most of the acorns I collected last month had just started to sprout, and several of the shells were split along their entire length from the vital force of the growing nutmeat. A few acorns even escaped their shells completely! Late season harvesting has advantages since only healthy (weevil free) acorns will sprout, and expansion-fractured shells are a cinch to remove by hand. However, on low mast years, all the late season acorns might already be cached by the squirrels.

Partially dried Valley Oak acorns
Acorns that haven’t hatched themselves out of their shell can still be easily processed if the nuts are completely dry. Acorn nutmeat shrinks by up to about 10 percent as it dries, and the shells become brittle, allowing them to crack easily. If you shake an acorn that is sufficiently dry, you should be able to feel the nutmeat rattle inside of the shell. Hurried by temptation, I struggled to remove the shells from the acorns that were still fresh, but hadn’t split themselves open. Using a nutcracker was like trying to crack open a gummy bear, because both shell and nutmeat were still soft, so I finally resorted to slicing open the shells with a paring knife. The nutmeat came out of the shell free from the bitter brown seed coat, which clings to other species such as Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii).

Shelled acorns ready to blend into flour
Some species of acorns (like Garry Oak) oxidize rapidly when shelled fresh, but my Valley Oak acorns appeared to be amazingly stable. I put 2 cups of shelled acorns into a Vita-mix with 2 cups of water, and blended them into a fine flour batter. Then I poured the batter into a gallon sized mason jar and filled it with water, which I changed every day for several days (for more information about this process, see How to Eat an Acorn). After 3 days the batter was only slightly astringent, and after 5 days, it was almost completely free of all bitter/astringent constituents. Katrina used the batter to make her a-corn bread recipe, which turned out amazingly delicious- almost like a butterscotch brownie! Of all the cold-leached acorns I have tried, they are among my favorite, perhaps second only to Garry Oak acorns. Valley Oak acorns are actually less bitter than Garry Oak acorns, but also slightly less flavorful.




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1 comment:

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