acorn extravaganza

There’s no denying it’s a bumper season for acorns in northern California, but there are many conflicting opinions on what this means. In casual polling, the majority view seems to be that the oaks are so stressed by the drought that they have made the supreme effort to produce masses of acorns this year. Some go as far as to say they believe the trees are dying, and this crop is their last desperate hope. Countering this are the few optimists who insist the trees know enough rain is coming to support the growth of new oaks.

Whatever the cBigAcornause, it’s an accomplishment that flirts with the miraculous. Not only are there lots and lots of acorns, but they’re larger than in any year I’ve seen. Here’s one that Kristine Hill picked up near one of the younger Valley oaks that shade her Whispering Winds Nursery in Ukiah. Whoa. This would be the year to experiment with acorns as food – it will never be easier to harvest enough to make porridge or bread or acorn cookies.

My own harvesting – yes, how could I resist? – has been from one grandmother Valley oak I pass often on neighborhood walks, pausing just long enough to bend and fill my pockets. This tree is an ancient resident carefully encouraged by an iron support made for a massive branch that extends horizontally for 65 feet from the main trunk. Just standing nearby slows my pulse and encourages me to enter tree-time, a much more spacious, patient, generous state than is engendered by other activities of my day, like driving or using electronic devices. The gift of these big acorns is generosity piled on generosity.

With just a little tweak, our culture could properly venerate trees like this one. Think of all the places in the world where a tree like this would be a well-known shrine. It would have a name. Offerings would be left for it, prayers would be written out and tied to the little fence before it, pilgrimages would be undertaken. Mexico, Japan, Bali – or  right here at home where native traditions have never abandoned connection with the earth and still acknowledge the wisdom of the tree people.

Unfortunately I now find myself unwilling to say exactly where this tree can be found. Big trees are vulnerable to crazy men with chain saws. I would like that thought to not even enter my mind. We are in the midst of the shift into reverence for the earth – everyone I know is feeling it and looking for ways to live it, but are we all there? Do we trust the people we meet to be respectful? When ancient oaks are still being cut to make way for vineyards, or highways, or bigger buildings, how do we live our appreciation for their sacred presence in ways that are contagious, that lead us into the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible? (Thank you to Charles Eisenstein for that resonant phrase.)

One way might be to harvest some acorns, and plant the most magnificent of them, and nurture them along. Another might be to harvest some for food. What a great school project or kids’ activity. A quick internet scan reveals many acorn processing methods. Here is the way I intend to do it, gleaned from a handful of sources:

1. Dry the acorns so the nut shrinks a bit in the shell, making it easier to extract (a cookie sheet in 150-degree oven for an hour).
2. Shell them – I’ll try the hammer method.
3. Acorn meats and water in blender (1 cup acorns to 3 cups water)
4. Leaching – very important step – pour blended mush into a jar and refrigerate. Every day pour off the water and add fresh, until the water is clear. Different species have varying tannin levels – Valley oaks may take as little as 3 days, while coast live oaks will take at least a week.
5. Strain through cheesecloth.
6. Dry if using as flour – in a dehydrator, low oven, or in the sun.

As acorn enthusiasts point out, this may sound like a lot of work, but it is actually far less than the effort required to grow, harvest, thresh, and grind wheat. One oak can easily drop a thousand pounds of acorns. A taste similar to chestnuts, some protein, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and gluten-free!

I’ll report on my processing and cooking results. And please share your experiences here, and your thoughts on the significance of this bounty.