Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's a knack, I'm telling you.

I seem to have made a bet (in the form of an independent study course) about whether or not someone could have survived on the wild foods that were available 2000 years ago, or whether it was possible to survive on these when you were just one person or one family making the effort.

At least I didn't offer myself up as the guinea pig to actually survive on this diet for a semester, which saved my butt twice already this afternoon from one misadventure in experimenting with acorns. I didn't know two things a few hours ago:

1) If you're scooping up acorns for food, check the shells. If the acorn is cracked, has a neat little hole bored in the shell,or is soft enough to squish with your fingers, toss it. Why?


And I didn't find this out until I came back with my booty, left it there for an hour or two while I took off for my last class of the day, and then returned to discover that the bag I'd scooped up everything in had a few holes in it. Apparently the worms didn't like hanging out in a plastic bag with nine pounds of acorns all that much, and liked the carpet much better.

A sweep with a vacuum and a thorough inspection of all of the acorns outside took care of that problem, which reduced the nine pounds down to two that might have been trustworthy.

(Sigh. I can already tell this is definitely not a solo effort if you're trying to feed yourself...)

2) With the two remaining pounds of semi-trustworthy acorns, I flipped through a tree identification book to check what type I had (I hadn't thought to look straight up to see if I was picking up acorns from under a red or white oak at the time.) Turns out I had red oak acorns, from the oak trees with the sharp, pointy tips to their leaves. Fine. I dug through the wild foods cookbook I had... discover that red oak acorns were considered too poisonous to prepare. The thing about acorns is that they're loaded with tannin, which is great if you're trying to process leather but absolutely rotten for a human to eat. Too much of it and your kidneys will crap out on you. You can dry and then repeatedly boil the acorn meat through several changes of water to leach out the tannin, but red oak acorns have too much in them to do this unless you have a week or two to spare.

Out goes the remaining two pounds.

If I'm ever so hard up that I'm considering eating red oak acorns, I should just let the squirrels eat the acorns, and then I'll eat the squirrels. And next time I'll make sure I target the white oaks and start harvesting the nuts as soon as the acorns start hitting the ground.

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