Oak Foraging

Some say iron won the West in the form of great steel railways. Other say lead paved the way, one bullet at a time. In the end though, they all have to bow to leather, the true king of the West. Countless miles upon leather saddles, countless more in leather boots. Hands protected from rope and weather by leather gloves, leather aprons worn by the blacksmiths keeping everything together. Nothing else was so intimately tied into every aspect of the West.

Now, you can’t have leather without the ability to tan hides. But from where does the word “tanning” come from in regard to making leather? Setting hides out in the sun certainly doesn’t tan them into leather. No, tanning comes from “tannic acid,” the key substance that turns raw hides into durable, strong leather. OK, so where does tannic acid come from? Tannic acid is actually a key component in many plants, often making them bitter to the point of being inedible.

Acorns are a prime example of bitter tannic acids. Nutritionally, acorns are packed with oil and protein, making them an excellent source of calories. Prehistoric mankind across the globe feasted on acorns when in season, fattening themselves up for the long, lean winter months.

If you’ve ever tried an acorn off the tree you’d probably spit it out because they’re extremely bitter. So how could our ancestors eat them? Were their taste buds that much different from ours?

Nope, they just knew stuff most people have forgotten. The secret to eating acorns is you must first remove their tannic acid. Luckily, this compound is water soluble, so removal just takes flushing with a lot of water.

In most early times, the crushed acorn meat was placed in a woven container and placed in running water for a few days. The constant exposure to new, fresh water washed away the bitterness, leaving behind a multi-useful food.

Nowadays, few people have a stream nearby that’s close enough to soak their food in so other techniques have been found. Note, simply boiling the acorns won’t remove the tannic acid as you need a lot of more water than you can fit in the pot. However, this is similar to my preferred method of flushing acorns ... a coffee maker. Fill the filter with crushed acorn meat, fill the coffee maker’s reservoir, and start brewing. Now, you want to keep refilling the reservoir as soon as possible so that the meat doesn’t cool and shrink between flushes. Keep this up until the resulting extract water is colorless and lacks any bitter flavor. At that point the acorns are ready to eat.

Sure, you could eat them right from the coffee filter but personally, I find toasting them followed by grinding into flour has the largest variety of uses.

This gluten-free flour can’t make fluffy breads but it does make wonderful flat breads such as pancakes, tortillas and even pizza dough. It can also make a fantastic acorn gravy. And don’t forget using it to bread fried things such as fish, chicken or okra.

Funny how acorns can make tough leather as well as delicate foods. We’re truly surrounded by lost miracles like this. Sometimes those miracles were only lost two or three generations ago during the transition from human and horse to coal and steam.

But touch some leather and something deep inside you goes back to an earlier time.