Indigenous Acorn Facts

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It is probably safe to say that human beings have eaten millions more tons of acorns than they have all of the agriculturally produced grains combined.

The quantity cooked and eaten by Indians is almost beyond belief.

A maidu family could harvest enough acorns in 3 days to feed themselves for an entire year.

Oddly enough it is not the sweet acorns but the bitter that have played the greater worth in aboriginal history. Natives apparently based their acorn preference on oil content, storability, and flavor rather than sweetness.

Native Americans also sweetened bitter acorns with iron rich red earth, wood ashes, and other ingredients to neutralize the acids.

One native practice was to bury the acorns with grass, ashes, and charcoal in a sandy place or swamp and return the following year
Some Native Americans stored acorns for several years in bags buried in boggy areas, often near cold springs, where they became swollen and softened and turned nearly black in color, but remained fresh for years.

White men plowing have opened up caches of acorns that had lain in these cold, boggy places for fully 30 years, and found them black, but still good.

Anthropologists speculate that the reason California tribes did not develop agriculture is that by cultivating fields they would have to work harder for less food than they were able to produce simply by harvesting acorns.

Cooking oil is said to have been obtained from acorns by some Eastern tribes, the nuts being pounded, boiled in water containing maple-wood ashes, and skimmed off.

Indigenous tribes in the southeast used a boiling method as a means of extracting the acorn oil which they rubbed on their bodies.

Some native groups baked a bread from the acorn dough in shallow pits first lined with thoroughly heated rocks. For this purpose the dough was usually mixed with red clay in proportion of about 5%. When removed after about 12 hours of slow cooking, the bread was coal black and of the consistency of soft cheese, oily and heavy, but noticeably sweet in taste. The latter characteristic is doubtless due to sugar developed by the prolonged, slow steaming.

North American tribes commonly made a drink similar to coffee from ground, scorched acorns.

The aboriginal people of the Columbia River valley used urine to cure acorns. The settlers of European origin in that region gave the dish the name Chinook Olives. About a bushel of acorns were placed in a hole dug near the entrance of a house. The acorns were then covered with a thin layer of grass and then 6” of earth. Every member of the family regarded this hole as the special place of deposit for his urine, which was on no occasion to be diverted from this legitimate receptacle. In this hole the acorns are allowed to remain four or five months before they are considered fit for use...the product is regarded by them as the greatest of all delicacies.