The Urban Acorn Forager

By Christine Kosirog

 

I’m a kitchen herbalist. I make food and medicine for myself and my family from the plants that grow outside my front door. I know the plants around me well from the time I’ve spent searching for, studying and harvesting them. I know which plants prefer which part of my garden, where wild nettles grow in my neighborhood, and where the city has planted St. John’s Wort downtown. A few years ago it occurred to me that in all the time I’ve spent learning from the plants, I was always looking to the ground. That meant I was missing out on so much. So, I made the decision to look UP and was greeted by the trees.

Trees have traveled alongside humans since the beginning of time. We depend on them for everything from shelter to paper, from dyes for cosmetics and bubble gum to landscaping centerpieces, yet we take them for granted. They have a strong, quiet, gentle presence that gets lost in our immediate, screen-obsessed culture. But they are here and they graciously offer their food and medicine. One of the most accessible of these is the acorn that falls from the mighty oak tree.

Harvesting acorns is a simple, satisfying, time-intensive act. It also feels familiar. Ancient. And for very good reason as harvesting acorns has been done in cultures across the world for forever. The first year I harvested, my kids and I took pillow cases around the neighborhood and filled them to the brim while squirrels yelled at us from the tree tops and threw acorns at our heads (which endlessly amused my then 7-year-old). We took our harvest home and spent the next few days bumbling our way through the shelling and processing. We made mistakes. We took deep breaths. We giggled, thinking about all the angry squirrels in East Lawrence. We tasted. We trusted our guts. It was good. I encourage you to do the same. Here’s what you need to know:

Harvesting:

-Choose intact acorns that have fallen from the tree and are free of holes or squirrel bites.

-We have a variety of oaks in our area and all are edible (check out  http://www.kansasnativeplants.com/guide/index.php for more info). Stick with the ones that have bigger acorns (bur oaks, for example) as they will yield more meat.

-If making acorn flour, think 2:1. If you harvest 2 gallons of acorn, it will yield 1 gallon of flour.

-Worried about the pesky oak mites that are so mighty this year? You can harvest acorns though February, so wait until after a hard frost (warning, my need for acorns is stronger than my aversion of oak mites so if you do wait you run the risk of me and the squirrels taking all the good ones).

Processing:

Processing acorns is a multi-step process that includes shelling, leaching, and dehydrating. The process requires some time and effort. None of the steps are hard, but you will need to plan ahead and dedicate a few hours. If you are unable to process right away, stick them in a 250 degree oven for 30 minutes to kill off any bugs or mold that would risk ruining your harvest.

Shelling:

-Equipment needed: a comfy spot with a good firm surface, your collection of acorns, a pot of water and a hammer.

-With a firm whack (or two or three) separate the meat from the shells and the thin skin that covers them (fingernails do a good job with this, remove as much as possible but don’t let it make you crazy if you don’t get it all). Place the acorn meat in the pot of water to cut down on oxidation that will occur.

-Acorn meat out of the shell is a creamy, tan, uniform color. Toss aside any that look buggy or otherwise discolored. Some of your acorns may turn to a yellowish-brown color as they sit and wait, that’s ok.

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Leaching:

Acorns are nutritious and have been collected by a variety of cultures to supplement diets. They include carbohydrates, fat, fiber and protein. But, they also have a high amount of tannins leaving them bitter and inedible raw. In order to take them from mouth-puckering to mouth-watering you have to remove the tannins through a leaching process. There are two ways go about this, hot or cold, with pros and cons to each. Regardless which leaching process you choose, take a bite of the raw acorn and then taste again through every step. When fully leached the acorn will taste bland (if you wonder to yourself “Why bother?” then you are doing it exactly right!):

-Hot Leaching Process: Place your acorns in a stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil for 5-10 minutes. Toss out the water, replace with fresh and repeat 5-6 times. This process is relatively quick but you lose some of the nutritional value of the acorn due to the cooking.

-Cold Leaching Process: Place the acorns in cold water and leave in the fridge. Replace with fresh water every day, until the acorns don’t taste bitter any more. From my experience this can take up to 2 weeks. This process is longer, but allows you to keep more of the acorn’s flavor and nutritional value since no heat has been applied.

Dehydrating and long-term storage:

Once your acorns have been leached you need to dry them in order to keep them stable for long-term storage and use. There are two preparations I use for this, dividing my harvest in half and using both techniques.

-Roasted acorns: Roast the leached acorn meat in a 250 degree oven for 2 hours or until they turn dark brown and your kitchen smells amazing! Give them a good stir occasionally through the roasting. Store the roasted acorns in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. If properly roasted they will last as long as any nut.

-Acorn Flour: In batches, place the leached acorn meat into a food processor and grind until you have a rough breadcrumb-like consistency. From there, there are 3 options for dehydrating the meat:

-Place on cookie sheets and put in an oven set at 175 degrees. This will likely take a few days of drying for a few hours at a time.

-Use a dehydrator and follow the recommended time and heat level for nuts provided in the instruction manual.

-Place outside to dry in the sun. Be sure to keep your harvest protected from water, insects and creatures as this will take a few days as well.

Regardless of which option you choose, your end product should feel hard and not stick together when pinched. You will likely need to help the process along by running your hands through it and breaking apart any small bunches that form. Once fully dried, use a coffee grinder to break the “breadcrumbs” into an even, fine “flour” consistency (I have a grinder dedicated solely to the use of herbal preparations so it doesn’t turn everything coffee flavored). Store in an airtight container, just as you would any flour. If properly dried, it will keep for years.

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Enjoying:

The first year I processed acorns I had the mystery of the acorn to keep me motivated through the long process of preparing them. I had never tasted an acorn and had no idea what to expect. Now I have my personal experience to keep me going. And now I wait ALL year for acorn harvest. Acorns taste, well, nutty. But they also taste earthy and dark and bring a depth and complexity to whatever you cook.

Despite your acorns tasting bland throughout the processing, when you start cooking with them you will realize their power is subtle but strong. Once your acorns are fully dried the culinary possibilities are endless, here’s some of my favorite recipes.

Acorn infused butter. My absolute FAVORITE way to use roasted acorns. It is simple to make and so dreamy good. I only made one container last year and, after tasting it, portioned it out to last. As. Long. As. Possible.

-1/2 cup roasted acorns

-2 sticks good quality butter

-Place both in pan and place on stove over medium heat

-Warm until the butter turns frothy, stirring occasionally

-Reduce heat to low and continue to stir occasionally for 20-30 minutes (the more time the more intense the acorn flavor will be in the final product)

-Remove from heat and strain acorns out (keeping them to add to dishes or eat straight out of your hand)

-Place butter in an air tight container and allow to cool. The flavor will intensify as it cools

-Store in the fridge

Treat this as you would any butter (but you will cherish it like something otherworldly). It is especially good paired with things like scones or sweet breads. My personal favorite is cinnamon chip bread from Great Harvest.

-Acorn Chocolate Chip Cookies. So good! Recipe, and further proof that squirrels really get testy when we take their acorns, here- http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2011/11/acorn-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Don’t have a sweet tooth like me? That’s ok, there’s plenty of savory foods to be made better with acorns. Here’s some inspiration:

http://honest-food.net/foraging-recipes/acorns-nuts-and-other-wild-starches/acorn-flatbreads/

http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2010/10/acorn-gnocchi/

http://honest-food.net/foraging-recipes/acorns-nuts-and-other-wild-starches/acorn-soup/

I also have a recipe for acorn wine that I haven’t tested out yet. Interested? Email me at ckosirog@yahoo.com. Happy harvesting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Can Graft Fruit Trees! Join Us for our Summer Grafting Workshop.

   Would you like to learn the art of grafting? It’s part of the process of making a new fruit tree. Lawrence Fruit Tree Project wants to teach you how to make more trees for an abundant future!

Join us Wednesday August 12th and Thursday August 13th from 5:45 p.m to 8:00 p.m. at Lawrence Community Orchard to learn chip budding, a type of grafting done in mid to late summer.

The class will begin with the theory and science behind grafting. Then we will be doing lots of hands-on practice making grafting cuts. Finally, students will graft onto rootstocks in the nursery. The goal is that students will walk away from the workshop with the skills and confidence to do their own grafting in the future.

A 25 dollar donation for the class is suggested. But no one will be turned away for the lack of funds. For safety concerns, you must be 18 years of age or older to attend this workshop. You will need to have the ability to kneel for extended periods and have good strength and dexterity in both hands.

You must RSVP with your name and phone number to reserve a place in the workshop. Just send a reply email to lawrencefruittreeproject@gmail.com

Q. What is grafting?

A. Grafting is a technique that botanists, farmers, gardeners and hobbyists use to add living tissue from one plant to another. This is a way to reproduce plants asexually.

Q. What is the purpose of grafting?

A. Grafting has a lot of benefits. Let’s say a certain tree has really strong roots, but its fruit isn’t so great. This tree would make a great rootstock. It can be combined with another tree that doesn’t have good roots, but produces wonderful fruit. Plants that are selected for their stems, flowers, or fruit are called the scion. This combination of rootstock and scion can create a tree with the best of both attributes.

Q. Why should I learn how to graft?

A. Grafting trees is a skill that is needed in any community. When we graft trees we can reproduce trees at low cost, we can propagate selected local trees that do well in our environment, and we can change an established tree from one variety to another. Grafting is also a lot of fun!

Visit the Lawrence Fruit Tree Project website at https://lawrencefruittreeproject.wordpress.com/

Pie Auction and Community Potluck for Sunrise Project

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Join us in celebrating Sunrise Project’s successful launch! We are bringing our supportive community together for a potluck and pie auction. As well, we’ll have beer, a kids’ zone, heirloom tomato tasting and some awesome live music provided by youth bands of Richard’s Rock Camp!

Admission is free!

Saturday, August 8th, 5-8pm
Hobbs Park

*Pies are still needed for the auction, so please submit one (or two!) by emailing info@sunriseprojectks.org.

See you there!

Join the LFTP team!

Would you like to join the  Lawrence Fruit Tree Project Leadership Team?
 

   Are you passionate about urban agriculture and community building? Are you looking for an opportunity to learn new skills and connect with new people? Lawrence Fruit Tree Project is looking for 2 or 3 dedicated leaders to help advance our mission to create a city abundant with productive fruit and nut trees. We nurture a culture of mutual support and growth. We like to work with those who know how to enjoy life (and work), while making a tangible difference in our community. This is a volunteer position.

Skills in any of the following fields are helpful, but not necessary. All that you need is an excitement about the project, an aptitude for communicating, and a willingness to learn and do new things.

  • Horticultural, gardening, or farming experience
  • Social media, web, and computer skills
  • Photography and/or video skills
  • Fundraising experience
  • Management or volunteer organizing
  • Teaching or youth engagement experience
   Other criteria are:
–  Availability throughout the growing season, as well as much of the winter months,
–  Ability to attend and help organize 7 out of 10 Saturday work days at Lawrence Community Orchard.

If you are interested (or have questions), please contact Skyler at lawrencefruittreeproject@gmail.com with a statement about why you would like to be involved and how you can help move the project forward. Interested individuals will be contacted to meet and discuss how we can best match your skills and interests to LFTP’s mission.

Growing Cities Film Showing

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Make sure to attend the first fundraising event for Lawrence Fruit Tree Project’s new parent organization, Sunrise Project.

Growing Cities: Fundraiser for the Sunrise Project

Sunday, April 19, 4-7pm at Liberty Hall.

Join us for a screening of the documentary, Growing Cities! The movie will start at 4pm and will be followed by a presentation on the Sunrise Project, the new nonprofit that builds community through programming focused on the connection between food, the environment and social justice.

Dinner, donated by the 23rd St. Brewery, will then be served and attendees will have the opportunity to hear from a panel of dynamic leaders in the world of food and environmental justice:

Katherine Kelly, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Cultivate Kansas City

Dina Newman, Health Initiatives Manager, Grown in Ivanhoe Project

Richard Mabion, Independent Black American Green Czar and board member of the Sierra Club, President of NAACP

Brett Ramey, Community Engagement Coordinator, Native People for Cancer Control, University of Washington

The panel will be facilitated by Magali Rabasa, Assistant Professor, Department of Spanish & Portuguese.

Purchase your tickets HERE or at the door.

 

 

2015 LCO Workdays

Announcing 2015 workdays at
Lawrence Community Orchard
Spring is here again! Come join us for our 2015 workdays at Lawrence Community Orchard. Here are our scheduled workdays through July:

March 21st
April 4th
April 18th
May 16th
June 20th
July 18th

Saturday workdays start at 10 a.m. and may last until 3 p.m. We will be planting trees the next 2 workdays so we need extra help. We look forward to seeing you there!

Come prepared with water and appropriate dress. Some snacks will be provided. If you’d like to provide for the orchard’s hard workers, bring food and drinks to share.

Lawrence Community Orchard is located on the far east end of Garfield Street in East Lawrence neighborhood.
View map here Lawrence Community Orchard.
Walking and biking to the orchard are encouraged. Please park cars on Delaware street.

Please email with any questions.

Workday – Saturday, May 17

LCO workday Saturday, May 17th

   Come join us for our May workday at Lawrence Community Orchard on Saturday, May 17th, starting at 10am and lasting until 3pm. Come help make this “free food park” a success.

As always, we still need truckloads of cardboard for sheet mulching. We want brown cardboard that is no smaller than 2ft by 3ft. Cardboard can be found in green cardboard recycling dumpsters throughout the city.

The days work will consist of sheet mulching, planting, and digging a garden bed. Come prepared with water and appropriate dress. Some snacks will be provided, including Eric’s famous chocolate chip cookies!  If you’d like to provide for the orchard’s hard workers, bring food and drinks to share.

See you on Saturday, May 17th at 10am!

Lawrence Community Orchard is located on the far east end of Garfield street in east Lawrence.
Walking and biking to the orchard are encouraged. Please park cars on Delaware street.

 

Workday – Saturday, April 12th

Come join us for our April workday at Lawrence Community Orchard on Saturday, April 12th, starting at 10am and lasting until 3pm. Workdays are open house style, so join us when you are able. Come help make this “free food park” a success.

We are excited to announce that this year we have a new addition to the orchard: a fruit tree nursery to make more productive plants available in our community. The nursery will provide a hands-on learning space for people who are interested in plant propagation.

As always, we still need truckloads of cardboard for sheet mulching. We want brown cardboard that is no smaller than 2ft by 3ft. Cardboard can be found in green cardboard recycling dumpsters throughout the city.
The days work will consist of sheet mulching, tree planting, and digging a garden bed. Come prepared with water and appropriate dress. Some snacks will be provided, including Eric’s famous chocolate chip cookies!  If you’d like to provide for the orchard’s hard workers, bring food and drinks to share.

See you on Saturday, April 12th at 10am!

Lawrence Community Orchard is located on the far east end of Garfield street in east

Workday – Saturday, March 22

Please join us for our first workday of 2014 at Lawrence Community Orchard

Come join us for another year at Lawrence Community Orchard. Our first workday of 2014 is on Saturday, March 22, starting at 10am and lasting until 3pm. Come help make this volunteer-created orchard a success. We’ll start the day off with a tour of the plants at the orchard, so if you haven’t yet made it by to see this great community space, now is the time.

As always, we still need truckloads of cardboard for sheet mulching. We want brown cardboard that is no smaller than 2ft by 3ft. Cardboard can be found in green cardboard recycling dumpsters throughout the city.

The days work will consist of sheet mulching, tree planting, and digging a garden bed. Come prepared with water, snacks and appropriate dress. Some snacks will be provided.

Hope to see you on Saturday, March 22nd at 10am!

Lawrence Community Orchard is located on the far east end of Garfield street in east Lawrence.