Acorns From The San Bernardino Mountains And The Acorn Meal Experiment

For years I have wanted to grind up acorns to make meal the way the Serrano Indian women did for centuries. I used to go on daily walks to Indian Rock Camp up in the San Bernardino Mountains, and I always felt in awe when I touched the indentations created in the rocks from grinding acorns. Watch the video below to see a few photos of the large rocks where the Native American women ground acorns for centuries. This place has always felt very spiritual to me, and years ago I would go out there and just sit and think.

So I had this romanticized notion of making acorn meal, but that went out the window pretty fast. Perhaps using a rock is a more effective way to crack the shells, but I had to make do with a nut cracker.

I crushed the acorns up with a nut cracker.
I crushed the acorns up with a nut cracker.

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This is very repetitious work, and after a few hours my mind began to wander. I have a lot of respect for women who ground acorns for food and survival, but this can get a bit tedious after a while.

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Several hours worth of hulling acorns produced about one cup of acorn meat.

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As the first batch of acorns were soaking in water to remove the tannins, which taste bitter, I began hulling a second group of acorns waiting in the wings.

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To keep myself stimulated, I decided to create pretty arrangements with the acorns surrounding the bowl I used for hulling. I allowed the second patch to soak in water, and then I began rinsing out the first patch.

What I have learned since my failed acorn experiment it is better to first boil the acorns, and then roast the acorn meal. I wish I had known about this because even after several soakings the acorn meal was bitter when I baked it in a cake. I had to throw the entire cake away, so I did not take a picture of that.

Yes, I did rinse the acorns several times before grinding these into meal, and I would do this part again next time. However, next time I will do this before boiling the acorns in a large pot of water for an hour, and then draining these to roast the acorn meat in an oven for another hour. Then I would grind up the acorns into meal, and hopefully next time around I will not turn out with a disappointingly bitter acorn cake.

However, this was a fun experiment, and I learned tannin is a wonderful natural dye. I spent a bit of time scrubbing out the sink because the acorns stained it. Acorns would probably be ideal for creating natural dyes for art and craft projects, but it is a messy and tedious process dealing with these. Also, the natural oils in the acorns make your hands feel slimy, and there is a surprise every once and awhile of a worm popping out.

The educational aspect of processing these acorns taught me that if I had to I could learn how to prepare acorn meal to make it less bitter, and to appreciate more than ever the luxury of supermarkets. It is a convenience to purchase whatever type of food we want, it truly is.

In years past people spent their entire lives in survival mode, and today we spend little time having to think about how we prepare food, or where it comes from. This sort of makes the entire I have no time to cook memes look a bit silly, especially since we all do have time to cook, and more so than hunting and gathering groups that spent their entire existence looking for food and procuring shelter.

I actually appreciate living in the present moment, but I think it would be interesting to go back in time and see how the Serrano people lived gathering their acorns and grinding these. Perhaps the Serranos had more fulfilling social interactions because people actually talked when they were working ,and not ignoring others to tap away on their phones. I love technology as well, but sometimes it is disconcerting to realize you were talking, and a person completely ignored you because they were looking at their phone.

Each era in history has its pluses and minuses, but perhaps having more respect for the land and how people acquired food when there was no supermarket around does have its perks. Next time you complain about how cooking a simple dinner takes too much time, maybe it is not that it takes too much time, but we have the luxury of time these days. People can decide whether they want to spend their time cooking or watching a movie, and we all do have time to do the things we want to do. There is time to cook, it is just some people prefer the convenience of fast food. I know once and awhile fast food is a necessity, but there is truly something to be said gathering the ingredients to make a meal from start to finish.

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6 Replies to “Acorns From The San Bernardino Mountains And The Acorn Meal Experiment”

  1. I admire your persistence and hard work! This was quite a project.

    I do sometimes imagine people talked to each other more when they prepared food in the distant past using more primitive tools. But maybe they didn’t, Maybe they were silent, each with her own thoughts.

    1. I can imagine it was a mixture of both. I am not saying all communication is poor these days, but it just seemed like people had to try harder back when it was not acceptable to just stare at your phone when you were having a conversation with someone. They used to scold us for not making eye contact with people when speaking to them, but today it seems to be okay not to do so.

  2. Thanks, Sweetbearies, for sharing your experience. I’m glad to know that leaching is natural. I thought lye or something like that had to be added. You’ve inspired me to give it a try. It may be a while before I can go collect some as that near where the fire is. (It’s almost all contained.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the women’s minds also wandered as they grinded away on the rocks. I feel the same way when I come across grinding rocks.

    1. I hear boiling the acorns for an hour in a big pot, and then draining it to roast the acorns for another hour gets out more of the bitterness. I did not realize this until I did more research after baking the cake, which was bitter. I will try the boiling and roasting ideas next time.

  3. I commend you for trying to make something truly original how it used to be made. I agree that we even can complain when we have to take 5 minutes to place food on a plate to just microwave it. We have no clue as to how difficult it was to have a simple meal. What I am surprised about is how bitter you said it was. I thought they would taste great and fresh right away.

    1. Acorns are bitter, and take a lot of water and boiling to get the tanin flavor out. Apparently Native Americans used to place these in streams of running water for days. I soaked mine for two days and rinsed two times, but I am going to try boiling and then baking the acorns next time. It is quite intensive.

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