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Bumper acorn crops

Bumper acorn crops like this one seen in 2016 are considered by some to be a sign of a rough upcoming winter. Some people see a new superfood source for humans, while others see a fall hazard for people walking in the woods.

Anyone who says acorns are good for humans has never had to walk on them or rake them up. Hiking a trail laden with acorns is like navigating a footpath on ball bearings. It is not only not fun, it is dangerous. Dangerous to traverse, not to ingest. That is what the buzz is about. Acorn “meat” as the new superfood.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this year’s abundance of acorns is a fair predictor of a rough winter. That and pigs gathering sticks, crickets in the chimney and racoons having thick tails and bright bands. As nature’s forecasters, we may or may not believe those signs.

Some say there is no correlation between the amount of snowfall or vagaries of temperature and acorn production. Additional squirrel activity could be their new workout routine and they may be smoking the acorns for all we know.

This year’s bumper crop of acorns can mean harsh weather and snow galore, but it also can just be part of the three to five-year cycle. Oak trees may just have a stronger desire to reproduce at times. Can oak trees really have desire? Either way, there is debate about whether to rake them up or eat them, and each of these alternatives creates a shortage for the squirrels, since they depend on that food source for the winter.

Many other acorn predators are out there including deer, mice, chipmunks, turkey and bear. Each use this overwhelming abundance to beef up or deer up or mouse up, as winter approaches. This nutrient-rich, gluten-free, dairy-free nut is gaining attention in many human cultures as the free, easily gathered food source it is.

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Starving squirrels is not a concern for those who choose to harvest the pesticide-free, unfertilized tree nut. Unbalancing the ecosystem is another factor abandoned by the acorn gourmets. In South Korea, where the popularity of acorn noodles, jelly and powder is skyrocketing, the Korean Forest Service has had to put a fine on illegally gathering forest products. Forest foraging offenders can face up to five years in prison or a fine of $40,000.

A product that can fight obesity and diabetes always gets attention. Weighing the squirrel population decline of around 30% over the past decade in South Korea was the job of the South Korea Institute of Biological Resources. Acorn Rangers came to the rescue. But enough about other cultures. Let’s talk about good old North American acorns and squirrels. There is an ample supply of both and if you are feeling adventurous and your critters are willing to share, you may want to try some recipes. Restaurants here as well as blogs for the health conscious are offering dishes featuring acorns.

Current suggestions involve food processors and blenders, but my guess is that the Native Americans who used acorns as a staple in their diet didn’t opt for those techniques making their traditional venison acorn stew. The toxicity has to be leached first by soaking in baking soda and water for 12-15 hours, but societies a century ago chose other options. They soaked acorns in cold water and changed it often until the water was clear. That got the tannins out.

Filled with B vitamins and protein and as a decent complex carbohydrate, I can see why those earth-minded gardeners and cooks would love to pickle, roast, sauté and mash acorns. Grits, muffins, coffee, and even acorn butter can be found in recipe books. Some say they taste like chestnuts. Acorn dumplings with some dandelion gravy might serve as a new offering this Thanksgiving.

If any of our readers have tried these or other recipes, let us know how they turned out. In the meantime, watch your step. I won’t be harvesting acorns anytime soon, but as a diet food, the calories expended to collect and prepare acorns far exceed the calories in the product; and those acorn griddle cakes sound delicious. It is food for thought.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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