I am trying to recall the exact moment when I set my mind to making food from acorns. It could have been any of the following moments:
a) When reading “When Technology Fails” I wanted to take a stab at more self-sufficiency
b) When I listened to “Everybody Dance Now” I was inspired by “I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut”
c) When I moved to into my new house this summer, I saw the MASSIVE oak out front and knew the acorns were coming
Whatever planted the seed, it was obvious that I needed to make acorn flour. Apparently, acorn flour was a food that was made by native peoples (I have since confirmed reading some blogs of families of Native American descent who used to hoard massive amounts of acorns for making food).
The first step was harvesting the acorns. At the beginning it was not terribly easy as I stalked the yard (to the bewilderment of my new neighbors who must have thought me out of my mind… or rather, having “gone nuts”) looking for an acorn that had not fallen far from the tree. It became increasingly easy as the season wore on and by the end of fall, I was kicking myself for trying so hard at the beginning of fall where by the end I could, and did, rake bags full of the stuff. Ah well, you live you learn.
After having gathered what I considered a reasonable amount, the next step was removing the acorn top cupule. No, I did not know that word before I looked it up. Feel free to use it in scrabble for 10 points. That was easy enough for the “early season” acorns, and virtually did the job by itself for the late season ones.
Next was going through the stash and finding any acorns that showed evidence of rot, or worms.
Next, and certainly the most fun (please note sarcasm) part of the process was shelling. I tried just using my hands, then a few with teeth, and finally settled on a set of adjustable pliers the perfect width to apply enough pressure just to crack the shell when closed. It was a slow and tedious process of cracking and peeling the somtimes stubborn shell from the nutmeat. Many a football Sunday was spent watching a game and shelling acorns. Yeah its weird, but damnit I was determined. When it was all said an done, the shelled acorns gave off a sweet, nutty, almost bourbon scent.
So before you just run off and throw a handfull of shelled acorns into your mouth and consider yourself educated, there is something you should know about acorns. Apparently they are very high in tannic acid. This is not good for your system (I have read somewhere that even animals may wait for rains to rinse the tannins). Take a small nibble of an acorn and you will feel that rough acidic bitterness that will turn you off from said handfull. The proces of removing this water-soluble acid from the nutmeat is called leaching. I effectively chopped the acorns into smaller bits to increase the surface area and allowed the water to do its work.
The water browned significantly the first morning, so I changed the water. Then the first night, so I changed the water. Then day 2 morning and night so I changed the water. Then day 3…then day 4… you get the point. 2 water changes for over 2 1/2 weeks. After that time, I tasted the acorn and there was very little residual acidicy, so it was onto the drying phase. I have read its possible to to leach by putting a pillowcase of acorns in stream for a while to do this, or in extreme cases, put them in the upper tank (I repeat, UPPER TANK) of a toilet because the water is clean and changes regularly. I didn’t do this.
The nutmeat was spread evenly onto a baking pan and I forced my wife to make pizza so I could use the “leftover” heat to dry the acorns. I think they were left in for too long as is evidenced through significany browning. They were almost a coffee roast, but smelled good.
Ever the purist, I went the motar and pestle route to mill them. (Footnote: This inspired me to read about millstones, which are more fascinating than you think. Take a quick read about the patterns millstones cut with and how they are dressed. I thought they just pulverized, which they do not). After a laborious while, I had made a small bit of flour. Losing steam, I went to my coffee burr grinder and made quick work of the rest, grinding into a fine flour.
The last step was to make something edible. The flour tasted fine by itself. Somewhat bland
but with a nice nutty finish. My wife was kind enough to look up a “Traditional Acorn Flour” recipe for Acorn Muffins.
They turned out very dark and after a first taste they were…shall we say….harsh. It didn’t matter and I stubbornly gagged down the muffin, grinning in my self-sufficiency. The recipe did not call for butter nor sugar. I quickly topped them with sugar and ate one with butter. It was much better that way.
Nutrition Facts (from http://www.elook.org/nutrition/nuts/3218.html)
Serving Size: (100 grams)
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 30g 46%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carboydrates 55g 18%
Dietary Fiber 0g ~
Sugars 0g ~
Protein 7g 14%
Vitamin A 1% Vitamin C 0%
Iron 6% Calcium 4%
So, my technoPhobe friends, this was a fine day. I have never really been a gardener or worked on a farm. I like most Americans get my food from the store. This was about finding a small amount of nutrition raining down in my front yard. It was more time and effort than I was expecting, but its encouraging to think that if I had to, I could survive a couple days by spending a bit of time under an oak. All the better if its mine…
The trebuchet was a siege weapon with an interesting and complex history. Where some weapons employed torsion of ropes or sinews (such as the ballista, catapult, onager, espringal, etc) the trebuchet was a great advance as it used a massive counterweight to store the potential energy. Nowadays, these machines are used to throw pumpkins, cars, or just about anything. They are also the objects of much analysis for people trying to understand physics. This is an interesting and efficient throwing machine, so I had to build one. It has even recently been featured on Make.
While there are many kits out there and “right ways to build” a trebuchet, I wanted to simply go on illustrations from a book I had received for Christmas. Reverse Engineering, old school.
Here is the workspace in my basement. The trebuchet was to be built from scratch using balsa, basswood, and some dowel rods.
Building the Basket
This was one of the more “complex” parts of the build. The basket had specific shape requirements to keep the basket from flipping over, and had to hold a good amound of weight relative to the build material (balsa). Lastly, it could not dump the lead weight as it accelerated downwards.
The two basket sides and the basswood throwing arm. Also 4 dowel rods are used to give additional support under the lead sinkers used as counterweight mass.
Almost fully built basket. Need to add planking to the base so the lead won’t fall out. Also need some washers on the sides of the arm to minimize friction loss. The dowel pegs do add quite a bit of strength and stability.
Building the Frame
This was very derivative off what I saw the in my Ancient and Medeival Siege Weapons book. Its a rather simple A frame with some additional supports, but I added 2 basswood squares to stabilize the frame and give the throwing arm axle something firm to rotate through.
The built up frame. Also note the flat track for the sling and projectile to slide with minimal friction as it accelerates. Here you can see the angled braces keeping the frame up (that were coming out of the sides of the base).
Detail of the sling. I screwed a small brass eyelet here to tie one end of the sling string to. The other has a simple tied loop, and is able to slide off as the sling angles around the throwing arm.
Take a look at the illustration. See any similarities? Ah, yes. The hamster wheels are missing. Those were used for men to wheel the heavy arm back down, and the counterweight back up. Real hamsters would be appropriate at this scale.
Ready, Aim, Fire
I really don’t know when I became interested in this neat little machine. I had stumbled upon The Grey Company’s Site, and their trials to build this class of tabletop trebs called “Cheese Chuckers”. There are sophisticated software packages that will allow you to run simulations to optimize your machine. Whether you want to build one to throw a car, or as I did, one to roll a die in a room at least 30 feet long, you can rest assured that your home is safer with one of these siege engines standing guard.