There are millions of them this year! I have an oak tree on my drive and most days, without fail, when I am sitting in the car just about to go down the drive I am bombed by them. CRASH! on the roof. THUD! on the windscreen. They're everywhere. They are literally carpeting our drive. Even the squirrels can't keep up. I'm imaging the acorns will be falling between the pieces of shingle and next spring I will be able to start a nursery by the road with little oak saplings.
This year is most definitely a "mast" year. This is when trees and shrubs produce substantially more fruit, nuts and seeds than normal. Yet it's not just on my drive and neither is it confined to acorns. I spent much of November on my hands and knees in the local woods, normally in daylight, gathering up the most enormous sweet chestnuts. They have already either been roasted for half an hour (don't forget to score a cross into each one first or they will explode) or boiled, shelled and frozen ready to make chestnut stuffing for Christmas. It's worth doing when a tin of whole chestnuts works out at about twenty pounds a kilo. How trees know to be a mast year all at the same time is one of life's mysteries but let's embrace these years and store up the land's goodness.
I did mention to a friend that it was a good year for sweet chestnuts to which he replied, "They're not conkers are they?" No, they're not and although similar looking they are not related and neither are conkers (horse chestnuts) edible to humans so it's worth knowing the difference. Sweet chestnuts have a matt sheen and packed two or three to a shell that is covered in furry spikes whereas horse chestnuts are glossy, are just one or sometimes two to a shell that has fewer spikes but are more rigid.
Acorns in their raw state aren't edible either. They have a bitter taste and are considered toxic due to their high concentration of tannins. A nibble on one shouldn't harm you but you won't want to as they taste almost as bad as uncooked sweet chestnuts. However these tannins can be removed by leaching when the acorns are soaked in water and then drained making them safe to eat. It's worth the effort because they are very tasty! Whether the acorns are soaked in hot or cold water depends on what you are going to do with them afterwards (hot water removes some of the oils) but in all instances wait until the acorns have ripened and their shells are brown and not green. Maybe use last year's acorns: older ones are easier to work with. Remove the shells first before leaching. To do this use a sharp knife to cut lengthways all the way round the shell then ease it away from the nut. Scrape off any of the bitter-tasting dark brown bits of pithy skin to leave the beige-coloured nut. You may find it easier to cut the acorn into quarters before removing the nut. They will also dry quicker if you use this method which is fine if you're going to grind them up. It's worth the effort! You will need a bucketful but with them you can grind them into flour and make bread, pancakes, pastries and much more.
Cold water leaching
Use whole or crush the acorns into small bits or grate / blitz them into a coarse meal before soaking in a bowl of water for several hours then draining. Do this several times each time the water goes brown and with fresh water until the water runs clear or until the acorns lose their bitter taste. Alternatively you can place them in a piece of muslin in a colander and run cold water through them. This is much quicker although you will lose more of what you are trying to keep using this method. Whichever method you choose, once complete, strain the bits in a fresh piece of muslin. Then spread them out on a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and put in the oven on a low temperature to dry them out. This could take up to two hours and they will start to go brown when they are ready. Move them around occasionally to avoid burn spots. Finally blitz them using a coffee grinder until they have a flour-like consistency. Store this gluten-free flour sealed in a cool dark place, fridge or freezer until ready to use.
Hot water leaching
Place the shelled acorns in a pot of cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for thirty minutes. The skins will detach easily. Drain the acorns and immediately put into a new pot of boiling water. Repeat another once or twice or until the water runs clear. Don't let the acorns go cold until you have finished otherwise the tannins will not be completely removed and the acorns will remain bitter to the taste. Then strain, dry and store them as before.
Enjoy these recipes!
Once the hot water leached acorns have been dried, coarse grind them in a coffee grinder and use like ground coffee for a caffeine-free refreshment.
After hot water leaching place the whole acorns on a baking tray (no need to dry them) and sprinkle with salt. Bake at gas mark 7 for twenty minutes or until they've started to darken. Once they've cooled down - eat!
Nutty Acorn Pancakes
Makes (8 pancakes): 50g plain or self raising flour, 50g acorn flour, large pinch of salt, 1 egg. 250ml milk, 1 tbsp melted butter, oil. Filling: Sugar, lemon / orange slices
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the egg, half the milk and the butter and beat until you have a smooth batter. Add the remaining milk and stir in.
Heat a small quantity of oil in the frying pan. Use a sheet of kitchen towel to put a thin veneer of oil across the pan. Pour in the batter so that it covers half the frying pan then tip the pan around so that the batter covers the base completely. After a minute put the spatula under the batter and flip it over. Cook for a further minute then serve with sugar and squeezed slices of orange or lemon.
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