On acorns

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I want acorns to be food. I really, really do.

And there’s no reason they shouldn’t be. They’re nuts, from trees. Like almonds! Or pecans! Besides, luminaries like Euell “Try Anything “ Gibbons of Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook say you can make delicious things out of acorns.

Acorns, before

First, you collect them and remove the shells. And you don’t taste them – a raw acorn is not just bitter, tannic, and vile, it’s also poisonous. You leach the tannins out of the acorns by soaking them in water, changing it every few hours, for several years. Then you grind them into a flour that’s vastly inferior to, say, wheat flour.

I’m going to try this. I am. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, I feel terribly wasteful not collecting the vast quantities of acorns the oak trees on our property drop on our house, our driveway, and our vehicles.

Then I got an idea from Kate at Living the Frugal Life. She gives acorns to her chickens, which struck me as an excellent idea. A couple weeks back, I gathered some, crushed them with a hammer, and offered them up to our flock.

They turned their beaks up at them. There were a couple of desultory pecks, and then nothing. They wouldn’t touch the stuff.

But the lightbulb didn’t go on until I put up a recent post about our turkeys, and our efforts to fatten them up in this, their last month of life. I’d assumed that, since the chickens wouldn’t eat them, the turkeys wouldn’t either, but several astute readers suggested that turkeys are very fond of acorns.

It was Kevin who who saw the light. He collected a good half-pound of acorns which, on our property, takes about seven seconds. But there was no way he was going to crush them by hand when he could employ a power tool. In this case, he turned to my Vita-Mix, the two-horsepower blender that can pulverize anything this side of statuary.

Acorns, after

He put the acorns in the Vita-Mix jar with the special blade for dry ingredients, and turned the thing to “vaporize.”

For those of you who don’t think two horsepower is all that much, consider that a really good woodsplitter is only five. Four will power a decent-size skiff. A two-horse motor can power a lawnmower, rototiller, or weedwacker. It’s got no problem with a half-pound of acorns. They were turkey feed in no time.

We took the acorn meal out to the turkey pen and gave it to them. First, they tried to eat the bowl. Then they tried to eat the zipper pull on my jacket. Finally, one of them – Edith, our one hen – tried the acorns.

She liked them!

It was turkey see, turkey do, and in moments all four of them were beaks down in the acorn pile.  We’ll be supplementing their feed with high-protein, high-calorie acorns from now until Doomsday – oops, I mean Thanksgiving.

So I’ll be eating acorns after all, but only after they’ve been converted to turkey.

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Comments

  1. You know, I’m tempted to ask you to see if there’s difference in how your turkeys taste by leaving at least one off the acorns, if you could manage it.

    I think it’s the Iberian jamon, where the pigs are fattened on acorns. In Italy, pigs are fattened on chestnuts, and Novella Carpenter writes of her Red Durocs last few weeks of feed being mostly peaches and that their flavor was pretty sublime.

    So would you be interested to know if there’s a difference in the flavor between turkeys fattened on acorns, and turkeys fattened on some poultry feed?

  2. I agree with Paula. Sad part is you’d have to deprive one. I hope this works as good as cherries in liquor. Or gummy bears in vodka (yes, people do that. family of mine actually. In a quiet town in MO, which explains it all).

  3. Don’t they use acorns to fatten up pigs?

  4. Please note – it took the hen bird to find the turkey equivalent of chocolate while the boys were off doing the alpha male bit! :-)

  5. I’ll bet you anything the acorn-fed turkey tastes different (read better) than those that don’t get them. The best tasting wild duck, the wood duck, eats them. The best tasting whitetail deer are those harvested during a good acorn year. And yes, the famed Iberico jamon is finished on, you guessed it, acorns.

  6. I think I remember reading a book in my youth where a young boy lived in a tree trunk and made bread from acorn flour. I think it was called “My Side of the Mountain” ??

  7. that’s my side of the mountain, one of my favorites. there is a sequel to that book too, i believe. I think about that book so often…. living in a tree, walking into town to the library, having a hawk (was that it?) as a pet. just seems so out of this world in my lifetime.

  8. When I’m foraging, there’s an imaginary line of defense in my head. Things that fall the wrong side of my foraging Maginot: nettles, beechmast, puffballs (now), and acorns. Definitely acorns. Although I was in awe of Hank at HAGC and his post about acorn flour.

    I agree that acorns are best served as the flesh of a tastier animal. Here in the UK, certain inhabitants of the New Forest in Hampshire have the rights of pannage, which means they can run their pigs through the woods and let them feed on acorns. I personally look for wild boar where oaks and beech trees are most prevalent, starting about now. This year’s been only an average one for acorns.

    However, this gummi bear vodka thing…I’m intrigued….

  9. Hi All — There seem to be two well-supported ideas coming out of this comment thread. The first is that acorn-fed livestock tastes good, which is good news. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to do a taste test because it would involve separating one turkey from the rest of the flock, and that is both logistically challenging and not very nice.

    The second is that everyone should revisit “My Side of the Mountain.” Kevin just put the DVD in our Netflix queue.

    I’m not sure we have yet reached consensus on gummi bear vodka, so if anyone other than Brooke has experience with it, please share.

  10. Actually, My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite reads as a kid, and yes, I’m going to get it from the library again.

    And I can think of a lot more interesting things to soak in vodka than gummy bears. Candy corn, for instance.

  11. @Jen – So no Nettle & (wild)Garlic Soup?!
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/recipes/roadkill-recipes-nettle-and-wild-garlic-soup-785122.html
    They even served this in the work cafeteria one day (when work was in Basel). It’s totally delicious. Unfortunately my attempts at cultivating wild garlic have fallen flat.

    Oh … and acorns bah! if you could get something to eat Gumnuts, *then* I’d be impressed.
    I thought you only needed to soak the acorns for a few days … in a stream, so you don’t have to change the water.

  12. I certainly hope you do not rent it and deprive yourself of the read. i bet they have it on tape. but even in the 70’s, movies based on books raped the plot. it will take you an afternoon, its standard 5th grade reading assignment fare.

  13. I wonder why your hens don’t care for the acorns. Mine surely do. Could be that my Red Star hens are the hoover vacuum cleaners of laying hens, and don’t much care what they eat. Or maybe you’ve got a different, more bitter variety of acorn up there on the cape. In any case, I’m glad you found some use for them. Have you, incidentally, offered the hens the acorns processed in this way?

    Oh, and fwiw, I’ve been in southern Spain where that jamon Iberico comes from. I was psyched to try it, but found I really didn’t care for the flavor. Now cured pork is a world away from fresh turkey. Flavors evolve and develop enormously in ham as it ages. And this was well aged ham. But the higher the grade of pork, the more prominent a place the acorn had in the animal’s diet, and the less I liked it. Just saying. If I were feeding acorns to my turkey, (and I just might do that if I can get a one-eyed turkey interested) I would personally back off that feed at least two weeks before slaughter. But I don’t want to discourage you. Please report back on your taste testing after Thanksgiving!

    • Kate — If Red Star hens are the hoovers of the poultry world, I’m very glad to know about it! They’ll be part of our next flock, for sure.

      I thnk you’re probably right about the acorns. Once I process them for human consumption and taste them myself, I’ll have a better idea whether we just have an inferior variety. I have tasted them raw, but they’re supposed to be disgusting in that state, so I didn’t learn much.

      Interesting about the ham. You’re the one dissenter so far, but I know how seriously you take your food, and your opinion goes a long way with me. This time around, I think we’ll give the acorns a go up until slaughter. If we don’t like the flavor, we’ll try something different next time.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      • I should say that Red Stars are hoover vacuum cleaners mostly in that they will eat as much food as is offered to them. I guess they’re programmed that way, given their production model output numbers. I never just fill the feeder with as much as it will hold, but measure out their daily rations instead. They always behave as if they’re positively starving. I suspect they’d turn into fat blobs if I gave them all they’d happily eat.

        Don’t let me worry you on the acorn feeding. My personal taste is only one data point. It’s just that real, acorn-fed jamon Iberico is miles from Italian prosciutto; you can see it by looking at the color. Hope your turkeys are delicious!

  14. This seems as good a solution as any to the fact that acorns are just not that good to eat. Problem is, the squirrels know it too and go right for all the walnuts and chestnuts first. Jamón Iberico is sublime; I think the acorns have a lot to do with that.

    And we’re getting back into My Side Of The Mountain with my son after a 35-ish year hiatus. It’s great.

  15. velvet goldmine says:

    Let me know if you like the movie. I just rented it last year and it was nowhere near as magical as the book, in my opinion. And the way the child actor talked was really distracting — a very mannered, 70s-era drawl-whine that’s hard to describe.