Processing and cooking with acorns

Well, the first pass is all about learning, right? So here’s what I’ve learned so far.

A cup of shelled acorns

About a cup

Cracking dry acorns is quite easy. You can do it by hand (though I’d probably pick a tool a little more robust than the “nut bowl” nutcracker I inherited from my grandma. The Davebilt nutcracker also works very well. Separating the nut meats from the shells also goes quickly, and is facilitated by the nut pick that came with grandma’s nutcracker.

Now for processing. It helps to break the nuts into smallish pieces before leaching – then grind into flour after leaching. My good grain mill can’t handle anything as big as an acorn, and it can’t crack things roughly. So I thought hey, people use meat grinders for making nut butter – that would be just the ticket!

Oster 505 meat grinder

Oster 505 meat grinder

I spent nearly an hour on Saturday at the Kiwanis sale pouring over all the meat grinding aparatus they had. There were lots of pieces, but they only resolved into two complete grinders – one manual and one electric. I decided to go with the electric one: an Oster 505 model that looked to be built like a tank. And hey, I’ve been wanting to try making my own sausage, so double trouble. In-depth searches of eBay, Oster, and the like suggested that it’s probably not possible to get replacement parts for this model – so I was glad I got one in 100% working condition.

Once I got all my ducks (acorns) in a row, I greased the plates of the grinder (as per instructions) and threw in a couple acorns. Hmm, is the motor supposed to slow down like that? What was that popping noise? I turned off the grinder, and found this:

Thoroughly borked meat ginder

Thoroughly borked

That’s right. I’d broken the cast aluminum collar (dude, that’s all one piece – it’s not like it popped a seam), the grind plate, and the cutting knife. I can’t even get the pieces apart any more. It’s not the $10 I spent on the thing that irks me; I destroyed a vintage machine that could have had a long and useful life if I’d not destroyed it. Other people out there desperately want the parts for this machine that I just broke. Well, crap. That was not what I’d wanted to do. So: lesson one: don’t grind acorns in an Oster meat grinder!

Quaker grain mill

Quaker grain mill with acorns

Now I needed a way to smallify the remaining acorns. So I pulled out an old cast-iron grain mill my mom found for me at a yard sale. I’d never used it for grain, but I knew the plates would handle big grains and a coarse grind. And, as it turns out, the free thing I had in the closet worked perfectly for acorns. Broke them into nice, 1/8″ pieces, ready for leaching.

There are tons of opinions about the right way to leach the bitterness out of raw acorns. I ended up just boiling them in three changes of water. Oddly, the water was darker and more tannic on the second and third changes than on the first.

After four changes of water, I ran out of steam for the project. The acorns are now in a jar of water in the fridge…hopefully I will have time and inclination to cook something with them before they go bad. Details later if I do!

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4 Comments

  1. ahautevoixdotcom said,

    December 16, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Sooo, it seems like most acorns on the ground would be partially squirrel/bug-eaten. Did you have to gather a lot of acorns to find the ones that were not? Did you gather them from the ground? Or shake a tree? Did you know that they had /just/ fallen? Or are the squirrels & worms slower than I assume?

    This is a cool project!

    I’m still stumped that the machine broke. I guess that meat is more fibery and less hard than nuts, but still. I would never have predicted that either.

    • Emily said,

      December 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      I actually got these on campus shortly after they fell. Almost none had bug damage, and there were too many for the squirrels to get them all. And big as my thumb! I just hope I can get enough tannins out to make them edible.

      • ahautevoixdotcom said,

        December 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

        Oh, wow! I wonder if it was a mast year, or if it’s like that every year. Cool!

  2. chefbrian1 said,

    December 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Keep in there. These food projects takes some trial and error and error some more.

    The first thing I thought about your process was to try a good ol food processor in small batches to mash them up.

    Or like with chestnuts, I would try pressure cooking them in water to soften the nuts to make an acorn nut cream.


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