As It Was: Processed Acorns Provide Winter Staple for Native People
Before the massive migration of settlers to the Far West, the acorn was an important winter staple in the diet of native peoples and wildlife in Southwestern Oregon.
The Indians used fire to optimize the production of acorns. Large oaks resisted low-intensity fires that killed saplings of Douglas-fir and other conifers that otherwise invaded valley bottoms and foothills. The oaks produced large quantities of acorns that provided important habitat for numerous species. The acorns were gathered in the fall. The nuts required special processing before eating, because a high concentration of tannic acid makes them bitter and toxic, causing indigestion.
Indians soaked the acorns in water to remove the tannic acid and bitterness. After drying, the nuts were cracked open and ground into a meal, then leached several times. The resulting sweet meat was highly nutritious, rich in protein, carbohydrates and fats. It was pounded into flour, boiled in water and prepared as a mush or baked into bread.
Present-day residential and agricultural development has reduced severely the lowland oak savannahs and woodlands.
A disease called Sudden Oak Death threatens the trees today.
Sources: Adams, Mike. Chetco. Brookings, OR, Chetco Valley Historical Society, 2011, p. 39; Trail, Pepper. "In Praise of Oaks." Jefferson Monthly, 1 July 2015. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017; "Sudden Oak Death is Still Spreading." Open Air, NPR-JPR, 17 June 2015.Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.