If there ever was a time to survive in the wild off of nuts, berries and twigs – autumn is it.
As animals begin their annual feast to fatten up for winter, nature puts out a buffet of high calorie, nutrient dense wild foods that both man and beast can enjoy.
Tree nuts represent the most food value of the annual fall harvest. You can crack open and enjoy many different types of tree nuts like Black Walnut, Butternut Walnut, Pecan, Hickory, Beechnut, Hazelnut and even Pine nuts. The best part is that you can eat each of these nuts as is – with no processing – other than to get them out of the shell. Just get them before the squirrels. Those rascals really like the Beechnuts and sweeter Hickories, trying to devour those nuts before any foods.
The ubiquitous Acorn requires a little more work than just using a nut cracker, but Acorns were a staple crop to many of our ancestors, and too abundant of a food crop to ignore today. Just make sure you know an Acorn from a Buckeye, as Buckeyes (and the very similar looking Horse Chestnut) are poisonous for people to eat.
To prepare palatable acorns, crack them out of their shell and break any large pieces into “pea-sized” chunks. Then soak these acorn chunks in cold, warm or even hot water to remove the bitter and irritating tannic acid. Note that some books instruct us to boil acorns, but this locks in some of the bitterness. You’ll have the best results with warm water.
Soak the acorns for a few hours. If the water was safe to drink, taste a piece of acorn to see if it is still bitter. If you don’t like it, dump off the water (which should be brown like tea), add fresh warm water and soak the acorn pieces again for a few hours. Repeat this a time or two, or three depending on the acorn’s bitterness. Once they taste “OK” (read here: bland), let them dry out for a few hours. Then you can run them through a grain grinder, flour mill, or the classic mortar and pestle to make acorn flour. Add this flour to existing recipes; or try your hand at making acorn porridge or hard, brown biscuits.
How do you tell if you picked the right nuts and berries to eat?
• Have positive identification with a good book, like Peterson’s Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants.
• Know the poisonous nuts like Buckeye and Horse Chestnut, and the bad berries like Pokeweed.
• Don’t collect near roads, dumps, power lines, train tracks or other contaminated areas.
• Eat only small amounts of plants that are new to you, after you have positively identified it.
• Just try one at a time so you can tell which plant you are allergic to, in case of allergic reaction.
• And last but not least – if you are in doubt, DON’T eat it!
And remember that just because an animal ate it, doesn’t mean a person can safely eat it.
Let us know your favorite fall wild edible plants in the comments.