Acorns have great potential as a staple food. This may seem like it takes a lot of processing, but compared with conventional staple food sources with similar nutritional profiles and palatability, this and many other tree crops require less energy overall to enjoy, potentially require less capital as a cost-of-entry, and have numerous co-benefits. This calls for a different culture however, as there’s a shift in where much of the energy is expended in enjoying regional nuts and trees for basic needs:
In conventional systems, energy use and negative externalities occur “Not In My Backyard“, in rural areas and in far away oil and fertilizer producing places. In systems offering greater food sovereignty, resilience, and positive externalities, energy use is brought closer to the point of consumption and after the point of sale.
Shelf stability of acorns highlights a trade-off of this shift in the point of energy use to enjoy the crop: acorns and many nuts are very shelf stable, but when they’re processed enough to be ready to eat (e.g. as acorn tortillas or roasted hazelnuts) they become less shelf stable. This is not a critical issue, as acorn flour and many value-added nut products can last for weeks dried or refrigerated and be preserved for months or maybe years frozen. This trade-off affects the culture of use and markets for local nut crops:
Tree nuts are long-lasting, resilient, more intimate staple foods which require more labor close-to-home, but
tree for basic needs also bring home closer with the source of one’s well-being and being well in ecological mutualism with that which supports oneself.
And with this in mind, I give thanks to Osker Brown and Living Web Farm for the information below about acorns for landscapes and livelihoods.
Distribution of time for tasks to enjoy acorns:
- 1/3 labor gathering and drying
- 1/3 labor cracking, leaching, processing
- 1/3 labor quality control, removing nuts with signs of mold
Gather & quality-control red oaks, dry, store in-shell . . . here is a very informative video series, starting specifically at part 5 which details home and community-scale acorn gathering.
Ready to prep for meals? De-shell red oak acorns using hammer, nut cracker, nut crucible…or for large home-scale (e.g. ‘5lbs batch weekly for two months’), Davebilt #43 nut mill has been found effective and robust.
Sort and quality-control, winnowing kernels from shells. Discard kernels that are not a shade of brown whether dark or cream colored, e.g. remove nut meat colored white, yellow, green, or blue), discard shells for mulch or fuel or tanning.
Leech (various methods) until astringent flavor is no longer noticeable when tasting nuts. Dry. Break down further into flour using food processor or similar methods. To begin with cut with 50:50 all-purpose flour and use as you would all-purpose flour. Acorn flour can replace all purpose flour for many recipes.
Plenty of guides and recipes are available by simply searching ‘eating acorns’. Here’s another useful example: https://honest-food.net/how-to-eat-acorns/ And some outreach material for the cause: https://www.internationaloaksociety.org/content/eating-acorns-save-world
A great book on this subject just arrived in the mail here Summer 2020, ordered from eBay since the author is all the way in Greece. I look forward to putting it to practice this Autumn!
Documentary on indigenous use of acorns
Regional cooperatives for nut processing:
- New England
- Asheville, NC
New York and Mid-Atlantic
The New York Tree Crops Alliance (NYTCA) has started and is running an oil press for hazelnuts and hickories. This new (2019) co-operative is designed for commercial nut growers, and I’m not yet sure if it is open to nut gatherers as some of the co-ops listed below are (e.g. paying $0.50/lbs for minimum of 50 lbs of useful nuts).
The informative New England Acorn Cooperative lists an equipment wish list which is worth donating to and offers ideas on what other areas can use to facilitate equitable and cooperative tree crop enjoyment. https://newenglandacorncooperative.com/community-equipment-wish-list/
Asheville, North Carolina
Circus Quercus, a beautiful inspiration. https://www.acornucopiaproject.com
The Acornucopia Project’s mission is to develop perennial based agriculture as an economically viable, environmentally beneficial, and socially dignified human endeavor. Regional hubs of worker owned cooperatives will increase the demand for highly nutritious tree products incentifying farmers and landowners to transition their pastures and croplands into native tree orchards, bringing balance to our checkbooks, our environment, and our diets,
Instead of there not being jobs, there will be nut jobs-
Let us shift from a culture that is half nuts to one that has gone completely Nuts! Let’s work together with nature by starting to harness the regenerative resources of our native nut trees in our back yards, commons and woods. After proving the economic viability and social relevance of native nuts, public demand will incentify landowners to augment their agricultural fields with low maintenance native species orchards and enhance the productivity of their grasslands. This will create biodiversity, sequester water, remineralize soils and subsequently our food. Each tree will pull one ton of carbon out of the air during its lifetime.
The economic model of the Acornucopia Project aspires to reflect the trees that support it- generous, regenerative, and self replicating. New economic models have arisen from internet technology, but we also will need new social structures to guide these technologies for the benefit all mankind. The largest taxi company in the world doesnt own one vehicle, nor does the largest hotel chain own a single hotel. What if the World’s largest global agricultural conglomerate was a worker owned, non heirarchecal cooperative, yet didnt need to own a single acre of land or even a plant?
Around Appalachia and the Ozarks
Hammons Black Walnuts – The largest distributed, ‘open source’ nut job-creating aggregation, processing, and sale facility that I know of in the U.S. There are depots at a far range from a medium-scale industrial facility to process of black walnuts, and this started as a small operation with a few local depots contributing to small farm-scale nut processing. https://black-walnuts.com/discover-harvesting-and-hulling/hulling-and-buying-locations/
The Midwest and the Northwest are both useful guides for agroforestry out east, because these regions have more developed tree crop systems. The Midwest and Appalachia are both helpful as their agroforest systems (such as chestnut alleycropping and sivlopasture) are more agro-ecological than the Northwest’s industrial monoculture tree crops (such as hazelnut plantations). There are many worthwhile farms, farmer nut processing contraptions, and institutions to learn from. As a starting point I recommend the Savanna Institute, as they provide many great resources including connecting with various practitioners and guides in the region.
Equipment for a Nut Processing Hub
What would it take to turn money, effort, and various forms of capital into a nut processing hub? How can it be done in a way that is an equitable asset for food sovereignty in the region? In mutualism with and uplifting those which support our foundations: trees, soil, indigenous ways. A cooperative? An open source enterprise? An accessible, low cost-of-entry opportunity to engage trees for basic needs (through gathering, processing, using, purchasing, or marketing gifts of trees).
The New England Acorn Cooperative has an equipment wish list that helped orient me about equipment. My experience with Edible Acres processing black walnuts, and a local hazelnut breeder’s Hazelnut and Chestnut Handbook also inform this list of potentially useful equipment.
Drying and storage
- Wood and/or steel drying racks and storage frames ($20-200). Small-scale dehydrator ($100) or commercial dehydrator ($300)
- Freezer ($200-1,800)
- Vacuum packer ($50-400)
- Cracking: Master Nut Cracker ($120), Dave Bilt #43 Nut Cracker ($160), Nut Crucible, commercial nut cracker
- Winnowing: baskets, tarp, fan, ($20-40) or for larger-scale could build an air aspirator ($100?)
- Leaching: pots, potable water, large colanders, preferably deep sinks, and cheese cloth, commercial leaching tanks. (Assuming no cost using household items.)
- Milling: Food processor, blender, flour mill ($30-300)
- Baking, preparing as flour-based food products (cookies, tortillas, pizza dough, pastas, muffins, falafels, and more (see recipes above)