Just 400 years ago, a typical Santa Barbara meal would be loaded with acorns, the staple food of the Chumash people. Today, despite acorns falling from the oak trees all around us, few indulge in the nutty treats. Renowned forager, author, and survivalist Christopher Nyerges hopes to change that, and he will be running an acorn processing workshop in Ojai on November 2 with herbalist Lanny Kaufer.
The rain-or-shine day will begin with a walk through the Ventura River Preserve followed by a workshop under an oak tree at Euterpe Farms. Guests will also learn about other plants, taste wild mushrooms, and learn how to make fire primitively and to string cordage from yucca. Nygeres, whose website is schoolofself-reliance.com, answered a few of my acorn inquiries last week.
How do you make acorns edible? Since acorns contain tannic acid, they must be washed, or leached, of the tannic acid. You could just boil the whole acorns and change the water many times until they are no longer bitter. Then you grind and use. However, I generally do the traditional way. We shell the acorns and then grind on metates. Then we put the flour into what looks like a coffee filter: a cone with a tea cloth in it. Then we pour cold water through it until it is no longer bitter. There are many things you can make with the leached flour.
How long does that take? Usually at least two hours, depending on how much you are trying to make.
What sort of foods do you typically make? We make pancakes, but I also make gravy, cookies, cakes, and chips. Sometimes we make a tofu-like food. It is bland, but you flavor it with soy sauce, or butter, or whatever. Sometimes we make the traditional wi-wish, which is just simple acorn.
Can you add other ingredients from nature? Sometimes I blend in wild seeds, such as wild buckwheat or curly dock seeds. Sometimes we top with prickly pear cactus fruits. It depends on what is available.
Are acorns particularly healthy? It’s a gluten-free food that is readily incorporated into other dishes. In general, acorns contain about 37 percent fat and around 8 to 15 percent protein, depending on the species. They contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and they are said to boost your energy level, improve metabolism, and eliminate constipation. Native people subsisted on acorns during the winter.
Register for the $75 workshop on Saturday, November 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., by calling 646-6281 or through herbwalks.com.