Every year when fall rolls around the mighty Oak trees across the nation begin shedding their acorns. Acorns of all shapes and sizes litter the ground. It’s estimated that a 100-year-old oak produces 2,200 acorns per season. So if you’re like me, with a half-dozen oaks out back, that’s roughly 13,000 acorns to rake up! No wonder oaks are considered the “King of the Forest” and, as of 2004, the Oak was recognized as “Americas National Tree.” Look for the magnificent Chinquapin Oak where the Art Trail and Crystal Springs Trail converge.
Regarding the nuts themselves: acorns are one of only a few nuts that aren’t named directly after the tree that bears them—i.e. walnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts. Acorns are traditionally broken down into two groups: White vs. Red. The trees around our campus are almost split 50/50, so look closely. Here are some helpful identifiers:
White—Rounded leaf lobes, low tannin count (not bitter), underside of cap is hairless, and they produce acorns yearly
Red—Pointed leaf lobes, hairy under the cap, high tannin count (bitter), produce acorns bi-yearly
From an edibility standpoint, white acorns are far superior, unless you plan to store them. In that case the tannic acid of reds will act as a preservative and they’ll keep for years. That’s old news to squirrels. When you look outside and see squirrels chowing down on certain acorns and discarding others or burying them, that’s because of the tannins. They will almost always eat white acorns immediately and bury the red ones, knowing they’re being preserved for winter/spring. Burying them also decreases the tannins; the consistent moisture leaches the tannins into the soil, leaving the red acorns as sweet as the white ones.
The same is true for human consumption, except we have various cooking methods to speed up this process. Stay tuned for Part II to find out how we can cook with ‘em—and in the meantime start collecting those nuts for some fall forage cooking!!
Learn more about what’s growing at Crystal Bridges by dropping-in on a Fall Forage Tour! They’re taking place at 11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through November 30.