:: in which I explain my acorn-throwing habit ::
I have a sickness. Maybe it’s more of a condition but don’t worry, it’s not contagious. Actually, it is slightly contagious but I think they’re working on a pill for it.
You know how you scroll through your facebook feed and you see posts like “DIY Cardboard Garden Beds” or “Build a Treehouse Out of Matchsticks”? Most people read these headlines and wisely scroll on past. Not me. That’s the sickness. Every third idea I read about lodges in my brain and agitates me mercilessly until I try it myself. One day I read a post titled “Make Your Own Acorn Flour” and the crazy train pulled out of the station.
This idea appealed to me because I have celiac disease and state law requires me to spend the equivalent of a year’s worth of college tuition on alternative flours every time I go grocery shopping. The thought of making my own gluten-free flour completely free of charge gave me a big smiley face. So I gathered my loyal enablers, i.e. my family members, and headed out to collect acorns. I knew of a tree that had been dropping acorns by the bucketload, so we started there. I found out later this was a lucky break. Oak trees mast, which means they have several years when they drop only a few acorns, and then one year when they drop a ton. This was a masting year for the oak I had picked.
It started off fun. Everywhere we looked, we saw acorns on the ground. We turned up the bottoms of our shirts to make little pouches, and proceeded to fill them up with beautiful brown acorns. These were Valley Oaks so the acorns were large, long, and cylindrical in shape. When our shirts were full and our backs were sore, we hobbled over to a picnic table to spread out our haul. My back hurt from bending over and standing up again and again. So far I was having slightly less fun than I had expected, and things were about to get worse.
The next step was cracking open the acorn shells, and this turned out to be very hard work. I don’t like squirrels but I have to give them props for being able to open these little suckers. After a lot of swearing about the sharp bits of acorn shell being driven under our fingernails, we resorted to cracking the shells open with a hammer. (It pays to bring my brother on these trips, although I’m not sure why he was carrying a hammer.) This was effective. Unfortunately, it was also dangerous. Apparently hitting a small, round object with a hammer requires holding said object in place with your precious, precious fingers. Which then get smashed with the hammer.
To add insult to hammered finger injury, we shelled the smashed acorns only to find another wicked surprise. Almost every nut was inhabited by a worm. Not a worm, exactly, but the larva of an Acorn Weevil. I admit I am a bug-loving person, but even I do not enjoy keeping company with things that resemble maggots. Or are maggots. The first few times we discovered an acorn with a worm, we would fling the acorn across the table and shriek in disgust. When we realized they were ALL infested with worms, we had a decision to make: quit and go home without any acorns, or keeping working and deal with the worms. I chose to keep working, which means everyone “chose” to keep working. I’m persuasive like that. Once the acorns were out of their shells, we broke the meat apart to get to the worm and dispose of it. This was usually accomplished by flicking the worm at the person sitting next to you. I suppose there are other, equally effective, techniques one could employ but this worked for us.
We spent the better part of the afternoon at that picnic table shelling and deworming acorns. Finally, we felt we had enough to make some flour and we called it a day. The facebook post probably neglected to tell you that making acorn flour is a multiple day endeavor. The next day, I soaked the acorns (now broken into chunks and baby-weevil-free) in boiling water. This draws out the tannic acid, which gives the acorns a bitter taste. Try eating just a tiny bite of raw acorn to see what it’s like; your face will contort in ways you never knew possible. It’s that bitter. The acorns should be soaked/boiled a few times to leach out all the tannins. If you’ve got other things going on in your life, you’ll probably do this over several days. Once the water stops turning dark brown, you’ve gotten enough tannic acid out of the acorns. Now they’ll have a milder flavor.
The next step is to dry them out a bit. For this, you can spread the acorns out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for a while. A low temperature like 200 degrees works well. Don’t crank them up to 350 and leave them in there for 4 hours. That will burn the acorns and make your house smell like a forest fire, and I wouldn’t know anything about that.
Now you start the grinding process. You want the acorns really dry, but they need to be ground up to achieve this. So I dried them some, then ground them, then dried them some more, then ground them more finely. Eventually, you end up with acorn meal that is fine enough for baking. It’s not what I would call flour, but it’s as close as you’re going to get with a nut. If you’ve ever seen almond meal, this is the consistency you’re going for. Although yours will be a little more coarse since you used a coffee grinder instead of an industrial acorn milling machine, if such a thing exists.
After a week of work, several sore fingers, an aching back, and way too many close encounters with weevil larvae, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor: 4 little acorn flour pancakes. I think technically you would have to call them silver dollar pancakes since they did not meet the size requirement for true pancakes. But I don’t dwell on technicalities. We ate them up and were so proud of ourselves for making the flour from scratch. Was all the work worth the $11.99 I saved on a small bag of gluten-free flour? Yes and no. No, if you’re using traditional math to calculate the answer. In that case it was not worth it at all. And no, if you’re considering the pain and physical suffering we caused ourselves in the process. But yes, in the sense that we experienced something new we had never before thought to try. Who knew you could make your own flour with stuff that falls down from trees?
I wish this were the end of this post, because the next part gives me the heebie jeebies and I don’t like to retell it. But I will because more than a how-to, this is a cautionary tale.
After the acorn collecting adventure, I ended up with stray acorns stashed all around. Just the random nuts that didn’t make it onto the table for shelling. I didn’t think too much of it because I thought there were just a few here and there, no big deal. Only it was a very big deal, because each of those acorns housed a still-living, not-yet-destroyed weevil larva which I had completely forgotten about. Here’s how I remembered: I reached into my purse one day to grab my phone and felt something smushy on it. I pulled it out and YES, you guessed it. There was a shiny, fat, wriggling maggot crawling across the screen of my phone. The full weight of this realization settled on me, and I went about the business of checking every single item that may have come into contact with acorns that day. After cleaning out my purse, I checked my backpack. There were larvae hatching in my backpack. There were larvae hatching in my car. The pockets of the clothes we were wearing that day, the bags we brought with us, I checked it all. All I have to say is, I’m glad we ate the pancakes before this happened. To this day, if I see you pick up an acorn I will grab it from you and violently chuck it as far as I can. I actually do bicep curls to keep my arm in good throwing shape just for this purpose.
So there you have it, a real life “Make Your Own Acorn Flour” post. Don’t you want to try it yourself?