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Food falling from the sky!

It is another masting year for the Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) here in the Bay Area, CA.   They don’t have them as much by the coast, you really need to go to Contra Costa county East of the hills to really see it.  Lafayette, Orinda, and Walnut Creek are especially covered.  The ancient trees, seriously, some of them were around before Europeans, are littering, and I mean literally littering the towns!   In the street, everywhere, it’s quite the phenomenon.  And they are tasty and nutritious food, they just have to be leached.  And these Valley Oak acorns, besides being some of the biggest acorns in the world, see . . .

biggest acorns in the world?
biggest acorns in the world?

are relatively low in tannin, the astringent substance that you have to leach out.  It’s the same thing that makes oversteeped black tea to be too bitter to drink.  You can taste it and unless you gorge yourself on it, it’s okay.  So don’t be afraid of eating acorns, unless there is something wrong with you, your taste buds will protect you just fine.

The big issue is storage, different things work for different people, but mold and worms are a problem with these acorns.  Unlike their red oak family cousins, the Live Oaks, which have a yellow flesh instead of the very pale color of the Valley Oak acorns, they don’t keep all that well.     The yellow fleshed, Live Oak acorns have much more tannin (means you have leach them a lot more) but they also store way better and were considered by the Natives to be better tasting and more nutritious.   I guess the Valley Oaks especially suit us modern Americans, they are like the fast food of foraging.

Acorns at the Drive Thru
Acorns at the Drive Thru

This amazing food source is being gathered all the time, by mow and blow landscapers typically, and thrown the trash, or the not so negligent dumped in a pile to rot method.  Or they are pounded into dust by traffic, automobile, foot and bike.   The animals gorge themselves, sure, but this is only a small fraction of the total.   They are in numbers like humans are in this landscape.  This is a human food.

This article I guess is not about acorns processing in general, but about the masting of the Valley Oaks in California this year.  There was a huge mast in 2004, 2007, and again this year in 2009.   They don’t do this every year, and it’s quite the spectacle.  It’s unavoidable.   I was gathering some today on the side of the road (not the best place, but hey), and they were falling, pounding down on the ground all around us, and slamming into a tin roof nearby.   Cars where crunching them as they drove whooshed by.     It was like we were in a storm — of falling food!

So do your part to connect to the place you live, and partake in this year’s acorn masting here, or maybe there is a similar masting near you.   If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please post  in the comments below.

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