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3894RE: [fukuoka_farming] acorns

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  • jamie
    Dec 18, 2003
      Hello everyone, thanks for all the replies on acorns.

      I'd not thought acorns were toxic, just sometimes extremely bitter. Russell
      Smith talks about people in Spain and Portugal eating acorns out of hand
      from the trees without mention of any adverse effects, even relating that
      they were sold alongside sweet chestnuts at markets.

      Perhaps the confusion here is due to two distinct misapprehensions: firstly,
      the role of tannin; tannin is not toxic to humans, especially as this is the
      bitter element in certain foodstuffs and therefore makes food of high tannin
      content unpalatable - it is the bitterness found in tea that has stewed too
      long. It is soluble in water, which is no doubt why people leach tannin-rich
      acorns before preparation for food, thereby making acorns a simple and
      abundant food for humans. Secondly, the different oak species; as mentioned
      there is great diversity within the same species and therefore between
      species there will no doubt be even greater diversity which might also
      entail the possibilities of other substances that might be toxic. Therefore,
      as with all wild foods, it is reccommended to taste only a small amount of
      unknown toxicity before preparing larger quantities for consumption. I've
      probably had 10 acorns in one day with no ill effects, but then these were
      not bitter at all.

      My interest in acorns is that Q. ilex is the local climax hardwood (in
      association with box, Buxus semprevirens) and therefore if you leave the
      land to itself it will eventually pass through successive stages of plants
      until finally the oak/box create a 'stable' forest. Imagine selecting and
      scattering only the most palatable acorns across this region, which is only
      now beginning the succession back to forest because the herds of sheep and
      goats no longer graze the higher hills and ridges, and within 20 years you
      would have a staple food available simply through harvesting the acorns: No
      ploughing, No fertilizers, No pesticides, No pruning, No leaching...through
      only the lightest human intervention (selecting the acorns to scatter) the
      Corbières, Fenouillèdes and the foothills of the Pyrenées could supply a
      large part of France's needs. Of course, this could also be applied to
      other countries in the Mediterannean basin, where Q. ilex is also the climax
      hardwood - but then, I suspect this is exactly what Fukuoka and Panos had in
      mind with their Greenbelt Southern Europe Project!

      Such forests would not only supply food but help establish and stabilise the
      most biodiverse life and bring rain back to these semi-arid lands (as
      Fukuoka says rain falls up from the ground - the reason there is so little
      rain in california is because of the denudation of the native flora,
      revegetate the hills and the rains will return).

      By doing nothing (except scattering seed) we feed ourselves with no effort
      and begin to heal the scars our agriculture has left on nature. And while I
      feel faintly ridiculous sounding, no doubt, like some obsessed Old Testament
      Prophet, this forest regrowth is happening before my eyes at Souscayrous,
      making my attempts at market gardening seem even more insignificant than I
      previously suspected.

      For those interested in such detail here is a nutritional analysis of acorns
      as compared to cornmeal and wheat flour taken from Russell Smith's book
      (note particularly acorns fat content). The percentages below relate to
      acorns (unleached California Valley White Oak), cornmeal and wheat flour

      Water 8.7 12.5 11.5
      Ash 2 1 0.5
      Fat 18.6 1.9 1
      Protein 5.7 9.2 11.4
      Carbohydrate65 74.4 75.4
      Fibre ND 1 0.2
      Tannin 6.63 ND ND

      ND means No Data

      And to finish off my hymn to the acorn here's an old Spanish poem (by
      Wiffens Garcillasso I believe) that suggests the role of acorns in everyday
      life some centuries ago:

      Hast thou forgotten, too,
      Childhood's sweet sports, whence first my passion grew,
      When from the bowery ilex I shook down
      It's autumn fruit which from the crag's high crown
      We tasted, sitting chattering side by side,
      Who climbed trees swinging o'er the hoarse deep tide,
      And poured into thy lap, or at thy feet,
      Their kernel's nuts, sweetest of the sweet.


      -----Original Message-----
      From: sinniss@... [mailto:sinniss@...]
      Sent: jeudi 18 décembre 2003 06:21
      To: fukuoka_farming@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [fukuoka_farming] acorns

      There is but one oak species native to my area, (Quercus garryana). I
      was once told that the acorns are quite sweet and mild, as acorns go, so
      I've tried them on occasion, two or three at a time. They do seem
      relatively mild, but only compared to other acorns. Aboriginal people
      here ate them. The acorns can even be eaten raw if you don't mind bitter
      food and you don't eat too many, but the usual practice was to steam,
      boil, or roast the acorns for a very long time to make them more
      palatable. Further south, in Oregon and California, there were more
      elaborate leaching methods. I've heard people in other parts of the
      world used treatment with mineral clay, with the same purpose of
      removing tannins. If nobody else on the list has it to hand I can dig up
      the reference, but I haven't tried those methods myself, so the
      information would be second or third hand. I'd try Bill Mollison's book
      on the topic of food preparation (if memory is correct, I think it was
      called something like "The Big Book of Fermentation")

      I understand that oaks vary quite a bit in their tannin content, even
      within a species (Jamie, that would be why you found some trees better
      than others). Breeding from these "sweet" oaks would be quite a project,
      though, partly because there are many different genes controlling tannin
      content and partly because oak tree generations are so long. Not so much
      that our ancestors "slipped up", but that the project is a bit beyond
      the usual human time horizons.

      Acorn flour is apparently higher in fats and protein than grains, though
      I don't have anything on the amino acid profile. Quite tasty, too. One
      day I may try making some, but it sounds like quite a lot of work for
      what you get.


      jamie wrote:

      > Hello everyone, I've spent some of the last month tasting acorns from
      > the
      > many oaks in this area inspired by Russel Smith's 'Tree Crops'. While
      > there
      > have been many that have been ferociously bitter there have equally
      > been
      > those not far from palatable and at least 2 trees where the acorn can
      > be
      > eaten out of hand where the taste is not disimilar to chestnuts
      > (perhaps
      > without quite the same sweetness). The main species are Quercus ilex
      > and Q.
      > kermes, with Q.ilex the most palatable.
      > I'm wondering if others are using their own native acorns and how they
      > prepare and use them. I'm also wondering if there is a change in taste
      > dependent upon the yearly climatic factors or whether taste
      > (especially
      > sweetness and tannin content remain fairly constant). If anyone can
      > point me
      > to online information or other books discussing acorns I'd appreciate
      > it.
      > Jamie
      > Souscayrous
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