Exploring Acorns, Starch Noodles

Some of you may remember my post on making pinole energy cakes with acorn flour. This fall, with the arrival of acorn harvesting season, I decided to finally try making the acorn starch noodles I had learned about in a foraging group on Facebook. Pictured above is the outcome of my SECOND attempt at making the starch noodles…the first batch did not work out, sadly.

I will write about the process below and link to the resource I used. But first, look at these beautiful acorns I harvested. Valley oak acorns. These acorns were and are cultivated by the First Peoples of what is now California. In my area, that would be mostly Chumash folks. You can tell by the size of these acorns and the strength of their shell that they would be good acorns to store and process. I like to remind people, on herb walks that I give among the oak trees, that we are not standing in a forest, we are standing in an orchard.

These acorns are just beautiful. My daughter and I had so much fun harvesting them from the ground. What we found interesting was that smaller acorns from other oaks were found underneath the bark of the valley oak that dropped these large, amazing acorns. It seemed that the acorn woodpeckers preferred the smaller acorns for storage in the bark and left the large acorns for we humans.

That observation made me wonder if that’s just how it was. Were different acorns were utilized by different creatures in the oak woodlands of California?

My daughter and I cracked open our acorns, pounded the meat (we used the mortar and pestle until we both pooped out and then used the blender), and then changed the water in the jars full of acorn meat until the water ran almost clear (or until we couldn’t taste the tannins any longer). I just store the strained meat in jars in the freezer until I want to use the meat/meal in baking.

This is definitely a very simplified version of the process, but it’s what we are able to do! The best resource on acorn harvesting and processing is by the lovely Julia Parker, a talented basket weaver and tradition keeper, is It Will Last Forever.

To collect the acorn starch that separated from the meat or meal of the acorn, I simply took the strained water and let the fine particles settle to the bottom. I put the jar of water in the fridge and let the particles settle overnight.

In the morning, I strained the water off the top and then scooped the starch into a smaller jar. The starch at the very bottom was hydrophobic and powdery…pretty neat. With that amount (it was probably about 1/2 cup, total), I was able to make two portions of acorn noodles that fed three people (but as you know, my first batch did not work out, lol).

The resource that I used to figure out how to make acorn starch noodles was this blog post on dotori naengmyeon, a Korean traditional food.

Ok. Side note. If you want to learn about acorn processing, the best resources are Korean cuisine (because they have a long, unbroken history of processing and consuming acorns) and California Coastal Tribes. Anywhere there are oak trees, humans have been consuming acorns (hello temperate world, and yes that means Europe, too). These two cultures that I’ve mentioned have maintained their relationship to the oak trees, though.

So, yes, back to acorn starch noodles.

After I read her blog post, I gave it a try. I eyeballed my ingredients and stood there stirring for 15+ minutes. My first batch didn’t have enough starch, I think (my starch to water ratio was off)…so my noodles didn’t set right. The second time around, the ratio was better and as I stirred…around that 7-8 minute mark…the liquid became thicker and thicker…until it was like creamy peanut butter or a thick pudding.

The author suggests a 1:6 ratio of acorn starch:water. However, I urge you to err on the side of more starch and less water your first time around. The constant stirring is important. And, yes, your ingredients are as simple as that — acorn starch, water, and a little salt.

I poured my thickened starch into a baking dish and let it sit for a couple of hours. When it had cooled down and was firm to the touch, I used a large, metal spatula to transfer it to a cutting board and then slice it into strips.

My husband and my 5-year-old daughter both loved the taste and texture of the noodles. My husband even said that the texture even grew on him as he ate his meal and that he found it quite satisfying. Most importantly, if I get the thumbs up from my daughter, I know its something to do again.

I served the noodles with steamed vegetables, roasted turkey, toasted sesame seeds, and a tamari-honey-ginger-rice wine sauce. To make the sauce, just creatively mix the ingredients together until it tastes good (I honestly didn’t record any exact measurement on that).

If you want to learn more about acorn processing, my foraging friend at Healing Ecosystems often teaches some on-line workshops on this topic. He’s a great resource and has been thoroughly immersing himself into acorn processing!

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