How to Forage for Nuts: Part 2

by heather

Image courtesy Wikipedia

So, we’re back to foraging for nuts! If you missed my first post on nut foraging, you can see it here.

Today I wanted to tackle acorns and pecans. Yum!

1. Acorns

Many people think acorns can’t be eaten because they’re so bitter. But the truth is that we can eat acorns, but only after they’ve been prepared. And they’re darn tasty.

Acorns are high in fiber and low in sugar, which makes them a great food for controlling blood sugars. They’re also a rich complex carbohydrate, and have several important vitamins and minerals.

Many people cook acorns in breads and stews, and you can even grind them up to make acorn noodles. They’re also tasty roasted, or soaked overnight in maple syrup.

First, though, we have to collect them. And there are some rules we need to follow.

1. Only harvest acorns with no top. Acorns that fall to the ground and still have their little “hat” on are immature. These won’t be good to eat.

2. Don’t harvest acorns with any shells that are damaged (holes, splits, etc.)

3. Don’t harvest acorns with any discoloration or bruising.

4. Use acorns with nut meat that is yellowish, not black or dusty.

Once you have a healthy collection of acorns, you need to remove the tannic acid. This tannic acid is what makes the acorn so bitter.

Native Americans used to eat acorns all the time (and the Koreans still eat acorns in several of their foods to this day). Native Americans removed the tannic acid from the acorns by putting them in a sack and then lowering them in a swift moving stream for a few days.

We can remove the tannic acid simply by cracking the acorns and taking out the nutmeat, chopping it into fine pieces, and then boiling them for several minutes. Drain off the water (which will be discolored) and boil them again.  Taste a nut after this; it should now taste sweet and yummy. If not, then boil again, always remembering to drain away the water and use fresh.

It’s unclear how many times you need to do this; I found sources that said you have to do this at least one or two dozen times (which is way more time and energy than I would want to spend) and other sources that said you only needed to boil it a few times. Since my own acorns haven’t started falling yet, I can’t test this.

By and large, however, I found that the Native Americans’ stream method is the easiest if you have a stream handy. Stick the acorns in a sack and come back a week later. They should be good to go.

2. Pecans

Pecans, courtesy Wikipedia

I wish I could show you what my dad’s yard looks like every fall. His yard is covered in pecan trees, and you can hardly walk without slipping all over them. I love going to visit in the fall so I can harvest and eat those pecans; they’re so delicious!

Pecan trees are found in a fairly limited area, mainly from Texas and Louisiana  to Georgia on up through Southern Illinois to Eastern Tennessee and Western Oklahoma. But the US the world’s largest exporter of pecans, producing 80%-95% of the world’s supply.

Pecans are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats. They’re also rich in Omega-6 fatty acids.

And, check out these other health benefits as quoted and sourced on Wikipedia:

Clinical research published in the Journal of Nutrition (September 2001) found that eating about a handful of pecans each day may help lower cholesterol levels similar to what is often seen with cholesterol-lowering medications.[16] Research conducted at the University of Georgia has also confirmed that pecans contain plant sterols, which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability.[17]Pecans may also play a role in neurological health. Eating pecans daily may delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration, according to a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts and published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research.[18]

So, yay for pecans!

One of my grandmother's pecan trees in Louisiana

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that can support pecan trees (or you to go visit one of these areas in the fall, especially late Sept. through mid-October), then you should make time to harvest these nuts. The trees normally grow very tall; you can see an example on the right. This is a picture of one of my grandmother’s pecan trees.

Pecans can be cracked and eaten out of the shell with zero processing. My favorite way is to just pick up two off the ground and crack them together in one hand.

Pecans are also fantastic to use in breads and desserts.

Harvesting pecans is fairly simply. All you do is wait until the husk has opened and either fallen to the ground, or dropped the pecan completely. Try to harvest pecans daily if you have a tree close by; wet weather is not good for pecans when they’re left sitting on the ground.

Pecans can be stored for months in the shell if they’re in a dry area. They’re best stored in a cloth sack, hanging up somewhere, which will allow the nuts to breath and cure. This time will actually improve the pecan’s flavor if you don’t crack them.

Last Word…

I’m really excited to start nut harvesting in a few weeks. I’ll be going down to visit my family this fall, so hopefully I’ll get there in time to harvest pecans as well!

How about you? Do you harvest any wild nuts in the fall? Have any tips or stories you’d like to share? If so, I’d love to hear them!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney Beard August 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

I’m in Indiana – you’re welcome to come get all my Walnuts! 🙂 For some reason hubby doesn’t appreciate me shooting them out the mower deck . . .

heather August 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

Courtney! Gosh I wish I could. I LOVE walnuts so much! Perhaps you could send me walnuts and I’ll send you pecans this fall. 🙂

Hey…that’s not a bad idea. A Nut Exchange Group. All you’d have to do is pay for shipping…so if you had a ton of one nut in your yard (like walnuts) but didn’t live in a place that got another nut (like pecans) you could meet up with another member and swap.

Genius. 🙂

Diana August 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm

When I was a kid, I used to harvest acorns, pretending that I was a squirrel. I never dreamed that I could actually eat them. I have to try this!

Ben August 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Another trick with acorns is to put them in a mesh bag – or an empty onion bag – and put them in the back of the toilet for a while. It’s clean water in the tank and every time you flush the acorns get fresh water to leach into.

Leave a Comment