Many wild and commercial foods require processing – Have patience

I’ve always said that success is sweeter when you’ve had to work for it. The same is true with food. Convenience foods just can’t match the culinary quality of vittles produced with tender loving care. This is true with most conventional cuisine as well as foraged table fare.

Take chocolate for example. Numerous convenience foods are made from chocolate, but the ingredient itself is far from a quick preparation. The finished product is so far removed from the raw ingredient it’s almost inconceivable how it was ever refined. Bitter cocoa beans must be fermented and then dried. After that the beans undergo several more steps before the product shows any resemblance to chocolate we recognize.

Olives that we consume bear little resemblance to the raw ingredient. They can’t be eaten fresh. Aging and curing are essential whether olives are devoured green or ripened, and I personally can devour either type. Curing is usually accomplished with a brine solution, but fruits can also be prepared with lye or even cold fresh water.

I could elaborate on many other traditional foods, but I’d prefer to concentrate on my passion of wild edibles. Acorns are a good example and they’re plentiful and easy to identify. Theoretically, any acorn can be made edible. However, some species require more preparation than others. Acorns contain bitter substances called tannins. These tannins must be leached out or the nuts become indigestible.

My favorite species and the only one I bother to collect is live oak. They usually fruit heavily and are one of the tamest. Often nuts can be eaten without any leaching at all. Acorns are also fairly large and crack open easily.

So how do we leach them? I usually shell the acorns, place them in a five gallon bucket and fill the bucket with clean water. Acorns that float should be removed. Either the meat has not developed properly or they have been invaded by insects. Set the buckets in a shady place and change the water periodically.

After a few water changes I check the nuts for bitterness. If they pass the test they’re ready to be dried. Some sources suggest sun drying. However, acorn harvesting season seldom coincides with good drying weather. I place nutmeats in a dehydrator or the oven at 200 degrees until they are very firm.

Nuts can be roasted but they’ll never have the taste or consistency of nuts we’re accustomed to eating. Where they become valuable is as a carbohydrate source. A small minority of foraged foods are high in starch that can be used as flour.

Acorns are usually ground into flour and can add character to some of your favorite recipes. They can even be crushed but not ground and make awesome ‘acorn grits’, which are truly unique with butter and salt or milk and maple syrup. All this is a lot of effort and it’s not likely many people will take the time to do it. I derive a certain satisfaction from self-sufficiency.

Acorn products are just one example of anti-fast foods. Cattail pollen pancakes can be even more work but they’re worth it. Natural is seldom convenient.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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