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1024px-Quercus_macrocarpa

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) acorns that are ripe and will fall soon. I believe the best acorns for eating are the ones from the Bur Oak. (By: US NRCS)


Season: Fall


Urban, Rural or Both: Both


With Oaks, there are three basic groups: The White Oaks, The Chestnut Oaks and the Red or Black Oaks. Some sources say there are only two groups, and the Chestnut Oak group is considered part of the White Oak group.

In the east, there are two "White Oaks" with one season acorns and irregular, deep, rounded lobe leaves:

There are three "Chestnut Oaks" also with one season acorns:

The third group is the "Red or Black Oaks" with two season acorns and sharply pointed leaves:


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions for all the Oak trees, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Oak tree page.


There are many other smaller oaks in Eastern North America, and there are at least two more that are large tree size and planted that are not native to North America. They are the English Oak (Quercus robur) and Durmast Oak (Quercus petraea or Quercus sessiliflora). I cannot speak for the Durmast Oak, but I would not eat the English Oak acorns again - too bitter, and why bother when there are better ones around is my reasoning.

Only use acorns from either the White Oak group or the Chestnut Oak group. NEVER use the Acorns from the Red, Black or Pin Oak. The acorns from the Black Oak contain phenolic - a poison. It is hard for the beginner to tell the Red from Black Oak. Also, Red Oaks and Black Oaks can interbreed, giving a tree that looks like a Red Oak that makes acorns with the Black Oak toxin. Also, the Red and Pin Oak acorns require much more processing to make them edible than either the Bur or White Oaks due to very high tannin levels in them. Make sure before you gather any White or Chestnut Oak acorns, that there are not Red, Black or Pin Oak trees very close, as the acorns on the ground could be a mix of the two. If not absolutely sure, don't bother gathering at that spot. The "bad" three - Red, Black and Pin Oak are easy to spot, they all have leaves with sharply pointed lobes - see included pictures at the end of this acorn section.

I have to say right off, I gather almost exclusively now from The Bur Oak. The advantages of the Bur Oak are: 1 - the acorn is a bit larger than the others, therefore you get more for the effort. 2 - it is outright the best tasting. 3 - requires the least processing. 4 - it is the most common. Bur Oaks tend to mast, that is, they have seasons where there is a huge crop of acorns, and years in between with much less. Chinkapin Oaks have very good acorns, but these trees are not nearly as common - at least in my area.

They are ready to harvest as soon as they hit the ground, don't bother trying to pick from a tree. So on a good year here is what you do after you collect a bunch. First, you have to remove the outer husk (the cap or cup that holds the acorn). The acorn is generally loose fitting in the husk when ripe. If it is tight, I find it to be a sign that there is a worm in the acorn - just the same as with a Hickory nut. Whatever works best for you to remove the husk, for me, a dull paring knife is good for the Bur Oak, with the white Oak, it usually just falls off. You can then separate the good from bad by putting them in water. If they float, toss them, only ones that sink are saved for the next step. Next is to remove the leathery shell. Some people first put them in an oven at a very low temp 150-175 F. for 15-20 minutes at this point, I don't. Again, experiment and find what work best. Here is what I like to do: with a few at a time on a cutting board with a cloth on it (old, clean washcloth is good) so they don't roll around, use a larger, sharp kitchen knife (and NOT holding the acorn with your fingers), roll the knife from the blade tip to handle in a single quick roll, cutting the acorn in half shell and all. After you have done a bunch this way, remove the nut half from the shell. When done this way, there is no doubt whether it is worm free or not. Some use a nutcracker, but if you do you might want to do the 15-20 minutes in the oven first.

Now, the next step - the leaching out of the bitter tannins - has a lot of variations. Because I use Bur Oak acorns, I skip this step completely. You can soak the nut meat in room temperature water, changed at least once per day for one or two or more times. When I did this, I put a little salt in the water, but I've never heard of anyone else doing that. Not sure how I started doing that. Another way is to put the acorn meat in water that is already boiling (don't put in cold water and heat up), simmer for 15-20 minutes. Depending on the type of acorn, you may need to do this more than once.

At this point, you can use them. Grind them up in a blender and add to baked goods or other meals. I more often than not like to roast them before using.

To roast, put on cookie sheets in oven at about 300-350 F in an oven and roast until dry and just starting to turn golden. Take out and cool down when done.

You can grind them into flour in a grain mill or coffee grinder. I find the grain mill bogs down with acorns, so I suggest a few at a time in a coffee grinder. 10 - 20% acorn flour when making bread works fine, and gives a nutty tasting bread.

If you don't want them made into flour, you can put the roasted halves between two clean, old dishcloths, and hammer them gently with a wooden or hard rubber mallet and use the small bits in baked goods. Added to bread dough this way makes a nutty textured bread. You can also use the bits to add to stir-fry meals to add a bit of crunch without adding a strong flavor. The roasted halves or flour keep well frozen in baggies to use throughout the year.

If, you want to use them right away after harvest for making into pan bread (pancakes?), there is a way. After floating and shelling them, put in a blender with lots of water to the acorns, blend fine and strain through a clean cloth and use. Twist the cloth tight around each batch to squeeze out the water. If you do this, my suggestion is to use no more than 25% acorn mash to 75% buckwheat flour. In the recipe section, there is a basic buckwheat pancake recipe here.


Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).




White Oak

White Oak (Quercus alba):

Description:


White Oak (Quercus alba) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


White Oak acrons.jpg

White Oak (Quercus alba) with Acorns. Notice the rounded lobes of the leaves.


NAS-001a_Quercus_alba

White Oak (Quercus alba) illustration. (By: François André Michaux (book author), Augustus Lucas Hillhouse (translator), Pierre Joseph Redouté (illustrator), Bessin (engraver), Nonenmac (eraser))


723px-Quercus_alba_white_oak_bark

White Oak (Quercus alba) bark. (By: Dcrjsr CC BY-SA 3.0)


White oak in fall

White Oak (Quercus alba) fall foliage. (By: Famartin Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


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White Oak (Quercus alba) new foliage growth in spring. (By: Famartin CC BY-SA 3.0)


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White Oak (Quercus alba). Good harvest of acorns. (By: Dcrjsr CC BY-SA 3.0)




Bur Oak

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa):

Description:


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


Bur Oak

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) leaves with immature Acorns.


1024px-Quercus_macrocarpa

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) acorns that are ripe and will fall soon. (By: US NRCS)


1024px-QuercusMacrocarpa

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) bark. (By: Chhe)


NAS-004f_Quercus_macrocarpa

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) illustration. (By: François André Michaux (book author), Pierre-Joseph Redouté (illustrator), Renard (engraver))






Swamp White Oak

The Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor):


Description:


Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


NAS-007f_Quercus_bicolor

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) illustration. (By: François André Michaux (book author), Pancrace Bessa (illustrator), Gabriel (engraver))


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Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) leaves. (By: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) leaves. These seem to be very different in color compared to the leaves above, but as you can see the general shape is the same. (By: Liné1 GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


768px-Quercus_bicolor_trunk_01_by_Line1

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) trunk and bark on fairly young tree. (By: Liné1 GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


768px-Quercus_bicolor_bark

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) bark on a more mature tree. (By: Chhe)


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Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) acorns. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)




Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak

The Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii).


Description:


Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


Chinkapin_oak

Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii). (By: Kim Scarborough Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)


NAS-010f_Quercus_muehlenbergii

Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) illustration. The name Yellow Oak and the Latin name Quercus acuminata on the bottom of the illustration are synonyms for the name of this tree. (By: François André Michaux (book author), Pierre-Joseph Redouté (illustrator), Gabriel (engraver))


768px-2494-Quercus_muehlenbergii

Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) leaves and immature acorns. (By: Vojtěch Zavadil CC BY-SA 3.0)


1024px-2500-Quercus_muehlenbergii acorns

Chinquapin or Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) immature acorns up close. (By: Vojtěch Zavadil CC BY-SA 3.0)




Chestnut Oak

Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus or Quercus montana).

Description:


Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


Chestnut_Oak_in_Weiser_State_Forest

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana). (By: Jakec Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


768px-Chestnut_Oak

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) leaves and immature acorn. (By: Mwanner GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


768px-Chestnut_Oak_Bark

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) bark. (By: Mwanner GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


NAS-009_Quercus_montana

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) illustration. (By: François André Michaux, Augustus Lucas Hillhouse (translator), Pancrace Bessa (illustrator), Fe. Boquet (engraver))




Red Oak, Black Oak & Pin Oak

First off, the acorns from the Black Oak are poisonous, so that one is out. Technically, the acorns from the Red Oak can be processed into being edible. In my opinion, they are not worth the work if there are any of the other oaks mentioned above around. But there is a more serious issue with the Red Oak: it can hybridize with the Black Oak into a tree that can be misidentified as a Red Oak. I cannot verify if the acorns from the hybrid are poisonous without a doubt, but it seems reasonable that they would be at least somewhat poisonous. I don't know if the acorns from the Pin Oak are poisonous or not, but since they are 2 year acorns like the Red and Black Oak, I suggest not even trying them for food purposes in case they are poisonous.

The Red Oak, Black Oak and Pin Oak have a very easily identifiable feature that make separating them from the oaks that have acorns that are edible. That feature is very sharply pointed leaf lobes. Not all of the edible Oaks have very rounded lobes like the White Oak and Bur Oak, but none of them have the very pointy, sharp lobes of the Red and Black Oak. So the bottom line is: don't harvest acorns from oak trees that have sharply pointed lobes like the ones in the pictures below.

red oak leaves

Leaves on a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) - notice the sharply pointed lobes of the leaves. These are what you don't want when collecting acorns.


Black oak leaves

Black Oak (Quercus velutina) leaves are pointed too but have a yellow hue to them. THE ACORNS FROM THIS TREE ARE POISONOUS. If the leaves have sharply pointed lobes, don't use.





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