While regularly attached to mushrooms, foraging is the act of gathering food. This can mean collecting fruit, veggies, herbs, nuts or any other edible. When experimenting with single gallon batch brewing, foraging makes sense. Foraging is a popular hobby where I live, in Southern Vermont, but you can forage anywhere things grow.
There are a few things you should know before heading out to pick your own food.
- Obey all posted signs. While that patch of herbs growing just beyond the public trail looks promising, don’t cross into land that is private. Many public trails will have notices near the property line. Stay on your own land and public land. If a preserve, conservation area or other spot has signs asking that visitors not take anything that includes foraging.
- Find a mentor. I don’t remember the name of the movie where the guy lived in the woods in an abandoned school bus, but the name isn’t what matters. What matters is that the story, a true one, ended in tragedy. He ate the wrong plant. Plenty of what grows in the wild is poisonous. And I don’t just mean it will make you sick. There are things out there that will kill you. Find a mentor and never eat anything you’re not 100% sure about. There are foraging communities out there – check social media and sites like meetup.com to find one near you.
- Stay alert. If you’re foraging in the woods don’t use headphones. Keep your ears open for those that might be foraging for you.
- Take precautions. Treat foraging like hiking, climbing, camping, geocaching or any other outdoor activity. Bring water, a snack, let someone know where you’re going and dress appropriately.
With anything, safety should come first. With foraging that comes from outset to eating.
Starting Out: Acorns
Acorns are everywhere there are oak trees which makes foraging acorns an easy place to start. You’ve probably heard that acorns are very bitter. Acorns have a high concentration of tannins, especially acorns from red oaks. Eating them in large quantities can be toxic. Eating them in small quantities is unpleasant. But knowing how to find and forage acorns can lead to snacks and meals if you know what you’re doing.
Foraging Acorns: Which Ones Should You Take?
You don’t need to climb an oak to get acorns. Instead, you can find what you’re looking for on the ground. When acorns are ripe they drop. Some drop early or get knocked off, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for them. If an acorn is still attached to the tree, it’s not ripe.
Ripe acorns separate from the cap so start by looking for capless acorns on the ground. Larger acorns often yield better results. Start by picking up and looking for a small hole. If you find a hole in an acorn, toss it. The holes are made by the larvae of oak weevils who eat the inside of the nut and then bore out of it. You do not want these acorns.
You’ll take more acorns with you than you end up using. In the beginning just practice picking them – you may not end up with much usable acorn meat.
Like grating pumpkin, shelling acorns is awful work. The easiest way is to set the nut on the flat side (where the cap was) and knock it with a hammer. If the inside is white, you’ve got a keeper. The meat oxidizes quickly, so maybe people immediately put them in water to keep them white. No matter what, you’re going to have to soak the meat. This is how you rid the acorns of excessive tannins.
Tannins are a bitter organic found on things like tea plants and grapes. In small amounts they are fine but they cause bitterness. They also, in large quantities, cause constipation and can trouble your teeth. This is one reason to avoid eating acorns from the tree.
Ridding Acorns Of Excessive Tannins
The most water friendly way to deal with acorn tannin is to shell, then dry your acorns. Do this by placing them in a layer on a cookie sheet and setting in the sun. No yard? Do it in an oven set to “warm” (or your lowest setting). Once you dry the acorns, grind them in a food processor. Pour one cup of the meal into a glass jar and then add 3 cups of water. Shake the jar once a day. Then wait 12 hours. At that point pour off the water and then replace it and do this again. It can take a week or two but is the most water friendly way to minimize the tannins and get, when done correctly, acorns that taste like chestnuts.
A quicker way to do this is shell the acorns into a pot filled about 2/3 with water. Once you’ve put in about 1/3 shelled acorns let it sit and when the water turns dark, pour it off and replace it. Do not use this as cooking water – the tannins are too high – use it as plant watering water instead. This is a quicker version, taking about 3 hours, less if you boil the water. This is great if you have a garden or extensive indoor plants.
What Can You Do With Acorn Meat?
Acorn flour makes a great, earthy flavored base when baking. In fact, the water in the jar method of getting the tannins out aids in your flour making process because it activates a gluten-like compound in the nuts. More importantly, though, you can make wine from foraged acorns. So get to foraging!