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How to Process and Cook With Acorns

Acorns used to be a major food source for Native American—and with good reason. They were everywhere, were easy to gather, and stored fairly well . . . as long as they were kept in a squirrel-proof container!

Acorns are gathered in the fall after they are ripe. Early in the season, you will occasionally find acorns without their “little hats” lying on the ground. These are usually buggy. (If the acorn is so heavy that it pulls itself from its cap, it is usually because there is a worm flipping itself about inside the acorn. All this activity is what breaks the nut free from its cap and the tree.)

When the acorns are actually ripe, they fall from the tree, cap intact. If you see any holes in them, throw them away. They are sometimes stored first, to dry them out, and then shelled. Other groups shell them first, and then dry them out by placing them someplace safe yet warm to dry.

3 Ways to Process Acorns

For the ultimate in information on processing acorns, check out the book It Will Live Forever: Traditional Yosemite Indian Acorn Preparation by Julia Parker and Beverly Ortiz.

Read More: “How to Eat Acorns: The Absolute Easiest Way”

Traditional Leaching Method

There is, first and foremost, the original recipe: after the acorns are completely dry and removed from their shells, they’re ground until the meal is so fine that “it will stick to the basket sifter” when it is turned upside down. When you have determined that you have ground the acorns enough, you must then leach it.

This was traditionally accomplished (before we had woven cloth to work with) by building a mound of fine sand, near a spring or the river, and then scooping out the center. The meal you wished to leach was placed in the center of this mound and water poured over a clean cedar bough, which was placed or held above the acorn meal. The tannins would leach out of the acorn meal into the sand. When tasting it showed the tannins had been removed, the meal was carefully removed from its sand “colander” and put into a cooking basket.

Water was added—the correct amount for the amount of acorn meal they were going to use, which is a skill often learned through experience. Too much water would require cooking longer to get the desired consistency. Not enough water, and the acorn meal would burn.

Then, special cooking rocks were heated in a fire, rinsed off, and—using special stirring sticks—the rocks were stirred in the basket to heat the acorn solution thoroughly. As each rock cooled down, it was removed, and another hot, clean rock took its place in the cooking basket. The rock that had been removed was washed off and placed back in the fire to reheat and await its turn to become a cooking implement once again. In a short time, the acorn soup came to boiling, and the stirring continued until the soup was of the desired consistency—either thin, to eat with a spoon, or thicker, to eat with a fork—depending on what the cook had in mind.

Though the above soup was eaten straight by the traditional people, I usually add a little salt, and occasionally some dried currents or blue elderberries, or even raisins. Some people like to add a little cinnamon.

Alternative Leachings Method and Natural Dying Uses

The Basket Method

An alternative method of leaching is to take a broad-bottomed basket; place a clean, white, unbleached cloth (like a tea towel used just for this purpose . . . which will never be white again) in the bottom of the basket; and then place your finely ground acorn meal on top of the cloth. Get a piece of cedar branch—new growth preferred—and place it on top of the acorn meal. Run water on it very slowly.

Place your basket on top of a large cooking pot (so that you can save the tannin water) in such a way that when the pot fills up, the basket won’t be sitting in the water, and the pot can overflow. Check on the leaching process periodically, so you can empty the soup kettle as it fills.

If you do natural dying, you can pour the tannin-filled water into the washing machine and add in up to 4 pounds of clean, white wool or yarn so it can soak up the tannic acid solution. This way, when you’re ready to dye the wool, the color will come out much brighter than it would if it had been applied to untreated fleece.

The Toilet Tank Method

Another way I have heard of to leach acorn, which I have never tried and probably never will, is to scrub the water tank on your toilet to remove any algae, and use this “sanitary” part of your toilet to leach your acorn meal.

It makes sense to use water that otherwise is wasted, but it doesn’t seem like a very polite topic of conversation for a public gathering . . . . I can hear it now:

“Gee, this acorn mush isn’t half bad. . . . You must have leached it really thoroughly.”

“Why, yes, I did. I let it sit in a clean muslin bag in my toilet tank for a week or so.”

Then watch your dinner guests put their food down, never to eat at your campfire again.

FYI, the girl who shared this bit of information with us had just remodeled her house, had a brand new toilet (and hence no green film in the tank), and thought it was the perfect opportunity to try out a method she had heard of, or had a theory about. She also went on to say that she was glad her new toilet was a pale brown color because the tannins discolored her toilet bowl for quite some time.

4 Acorn Recipes

Below is a recipe that’s good to serve those who stubbornly believe that acorn meal is yucky. They’ll never even know it’s there unless you tell them later. If you want to be sure you are actually tasting the meal, use the recipe exactly as-is. Once you feel confident that you wish to include the meal, but you want to add more character to the stew, feel free to add garlic, green pepper, carrots, etc.

Traditional Venison Acorn Stew

2 pounds venison, cut up
1 cup finely ground acorn meal

Cover venison with water in pot or basket. Add hot rocks to simmer until meat almost falls apart. Remove meat from broth and chop into fine pieces. Return to pot with liquid and stir in acorn meal. Serve hot.

Acorn Stew

1 pound stewing beef
1/2 cup finely ground acorn meal (tannins removed)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place beef in heavy pan and add water to cover. Cover with lid and simmer until very tender. Remove from liquid and cut meat into very fine pieces. Return meat to the liquid. Stir in the acorn meal. Add salt and pepper as desired. Heat until thickened and serve.

Ethnic food enthusiasts like to substitute acorn meal for corn meal when making muffins—usually using 1/2 corn meal and 1/2 acorn. Some have substituted 1/2 of the flour in a biscuit recipe with 1/2 acorn meal. Experiment carefully, remembering that a good portion of the work performed by flour has to do with the gluten in it. Acorn meal has no gluten, so you’ll have to keep this in mind.

Here is a modern Acorn Bread recipe from the book Cooking with Spirit: North American Indian Food and Fact.

Acorn Bread

6 Tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup finely ground, leached acorn meal

Mix cornmeal with cold water. Add boiling water and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt and butter, and cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in lukewarm water. Add remaining ingredients to corn mixture, along with yeast. Knead to a stiff dough. Dough will be sticky. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down; shape into two loaves; cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375°F for 45 minutes.

Acorn Griddle Cakes

2/3 cup finely ground, leached acorn meal
1/3 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon honey
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
3 Tablespoon melted butter

Combine dry ingredients. Mix together egg and milk, then beat into dry ingredients, forming a smooth batter. Add butter. Drop batter onto hot, greased griddle. Bake, turning each cake when it is browned on underside and puffed and slightly set on top. Makes 12 to 15.

We Want to Hear From You!

What’s your favorite way to leach and/or cook with acorns? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on January 7, 2013. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!)

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COMMENTS(18)

  • Grannie Annie says:

    In the Acorn Bread recipe, “sale” should be “salt”, both in the ingredients list and in the mixing instructions.

    Looking forward to testing this recipe!

  • Tallan Acalin says:

    When I was in grade school back in the 70’s ! We went to one of the local Indian Museaums where they had a tutorial on how tto use Acorn Meal to make Tortia like bread & they showed how to Grind it up on long flat Mortor stones, How to leach it & then how to add other all natural plant ingredants, + a small amount of water to make a sticky dough & then to flaten it out & how to cook it either on a flat rock or in an Adobe cook oven ! which was also showen how to be made, But was instructed not too as it would require Adult supervision.

    But I have a Photographic Memory & 187 I.Q. & if I were to make Acorn or any other Tree-Nut Tortias/flat bread ! I would use a simple to make Solar Powered Electrical Flat Griddle.

    The leaching process that was tought was somewhat differant or maybe they were just using an all Cedar Woven Basket !

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Hi Talln,

      I really want to get a big stond and grider like the old way, but have to confess right now I use a blender.

      LOL.

      but I absolutely love acorn meal.

      Hey, what a delight to have seen the whole process.

  • Pauline says:

    When the grid goes down, what of what use are videos? huh? huh? huh?
    I have no patience with e”books.” In my opinion they’re not books!
    What I want is a real book (hard copy, I guess) that I can carry with me and read as needed. Do you have any?
    I’ve just become acquainted with your material on the internet and find it interesting. Thank you. I’m sure you have a lot of information to offer.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Yes Pauline, that is an important point about the reliance on digital – you are not the first to think of that. And there is the other thing about cost and physical delivery.

  • Dave S. says:

    One traditional alternate way of harvesting acorns was to gather acorns, spread them around a fire and roast the nut near the fire until it cracked, turning them frequently for a uniform roast. Then the nut meat was removed, put in a hole in the ground lined with small rocks. Then water was heated in birch bark containers by heating fist-sized rocks and placing them in the water to heat it. Then the very hot water was poured over the whole nuts, leaching out the tanic acid. After the nuts were dried, they were carried whole, to be ground into meal later or mixed with a variety of nutritional seeds and eaten like a bread cooked on a flat rock around the fire.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Do you have a source for that process? From the acorn processing I’ve done so far, it takes quite a few repeated washes with water.

  • Carol Stockett says:

    I let the children in my library make acorn muffins when they studied Indians. We shelled the acorns and boiled them until the water was clear. It took
    several waters to leach – then we ground them with mortar and p. or in my food processor – have recipe. I also cooked and used cattails in several ways. It is a food factory…

  • Catherine says:

    I’ve seen recipes making sweet breads using only acorn flour, as well as using a nut milk bag for leaching out the tannins, sort of similar to making a nut milk. Thanks for the info and recipes 🙂 I’d recommend that if someone is into gluten-free that they could totally use ONLY acorn flour and a binder (such as eggs or flax/chia seed). Alternatively, for that yummy acorn griddle cake recipe, using 1/3 cup almond or nut flour flour would probably pair quite nicely with the acorn flour, as might teff flour, which has a particular nutty taste. 🙂

  • Lucy says:

    Thank you, Marjory, great article. I live in southern Spain right by the largest cork oak forest in Europe, the Quercus suber. Do you know if they can be used instead?

  • Scott says:

    I’ve always wondered about the acorns laying around on the ground in profusion in the fall here in Virginia. I’m sure getting the tanic acid out is of utmost importance as it might harm our health. But, the nuts have to be loaded with protein. Why a cedar branch? (Why not filter the water through rosemary? it is also an evergreen, edible and quite tasty.) I would assume that any warm water bath would leach out the tannins. I would want to make sure that my acorns were clear of any acid as i wouldn’t want to find out it was harmful the hard way.

  • joy says:

    An Asian neighbor once borrowed the use of my blender… almost wrecked it grinding up acorns (or so it sounded) then she soaked the grind for several days. At our New Years Eve party she brought over a plate of fudge shaped cubes that tasted strongly of garlic. We all ate them and no one died, but several people got the recipe. Unfortunately I was not one of them. They went well with all the sausage and cheese we served. Any idea what the recipe was?

  • d. henry Lee says:

    Boy! This seems like a lot of trouble. Why not let the squirrels eat the acorns and then eat the squirrel. Just kidding. But this process lost me.

    1. Because it’s delicious, healthy free food that works in all kinds of recipes both as a flour substitute and nut?

      Our family harvests acorns every year for the same reasons we harvest elderberries, mulberries, morel mushrooms, ramps and dozens of other kinds of wild edibles. They’re forgotten foods that taste wonderful, nourish our bodies, are grown without chemicals or genetic modification and are FREE. It’s certainly worth the trouble for us. 🙂

  • Bert says:

    I’m slowly comely to the opinion that meats (meaning the dense muscle tissues) need to be cooked (and eaten) with adjoining fats, bones cut to expose marrow, and connective tissues. So, I’d add bones and fats to the recipe. Then, like Marjorie says, a long slow cook “until the meat almost falls apart.”

  • Robert G. says:

    White Oak is easier to leach, but even red oak or the prolific water oak and laurel oaks in FL I have used. They both have deep orange acorns, lots of carotene I suppose, and can be leached by cracking in peices and several changes of water. A good way is to use the meal in pancakes when the meal is no longer bitter. Some chestnut oak acorns can be eaten out of hand.

  • RachelWrites says:

    Very helpful! Thank so much. I was just wondering about acorn preparation because they are one of the most foragable foods in my area. And bless those authors for preserving this knowledge in “It Will Live Forever.”

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