Normally when I work with acorns I make acorn flour. But sometimes I want to eat acorns in a different way, so I make acorn grits.
Acorn grits are basically what you think they are: Small bits of acorn that have been leached of their bitter tannins.
Why bother? Well, you get more of an acorn texture and flavor when making grits, and you can use them in a whole different set of acorn recipes. Acorn muffins with some grits in them, or acorn soup, or you can add the grits into stews, or mix into bread, or, well, cook into a breakfast cereal a little like corn grits, although they won’t dissolve.
The texture is a bit like cooked chestnut, so if you have chestnut recipes you like, you can sub these in. Any variety of acorn will work. Some will take longer to leach than others. Here is a primer on the mechanics of eating acorns.
How do you make acorn grits? Here’s how:
Start with acorns. Duh. As I said, any variety works, and you can use fresh or dried ones. I used dried tanoak acorns in this case.
You want to remove the papery “test,” the skin on the nut, as best you can, but a few skins won’t matter. I find the skins come off easier if you freeze the acorns first, or if you use dried acorns. Or do both.
You then need to grind your acorns into bits. You want them small, but not meal or flour. Too large and they won’t leach correctly. Too small and you basically have flour, and that’s a different product. If you use dried acorns, you will need to soak them in water overnight before grinding. I use a food processor to grind.
Remember that your grits are still super bitter with all those tannins. Fortunately tannins are water-soluble. So you put your grits in a big jar or other container and cover them with cool water. Shake and let things settle. Pour off the water once or twice a day until the grits lose their bitterness.
How long? A few days for white oak acorns, or Valley or cork oaks. A couple weeks for red oak acorns, and somewhere in between for other varieties. My tanoak acorns took about eight days.
You can speed this process along with a neat trick that I like a lot: Add lye to the water.
Wha? Yeah, lye. You can either use a little Red Devil lye (make certain the label says 100% lye) or, do as I do and buy food grade lye online. You add a tablespoon to 1 gallon of cool water and gently stir it into the grits. It’s super cool — the lye reacts with the tannins almost instantly and turns the water the color of dark chocolate.
Leave this in the fridge overnight, then pour off the lye water; it’s quite safe, and will feel a little soapy. You then add new water and keep changing this, a couple times a day, until the water is mostly clear. Normally this takes about 3 days.
Why bother with the lye? Well, it will soften your acorn grits to the point where they are easy to eat in baked goods. And they will not be bitter in the slightest.
You store your acorn grits in one of two ways. I like them ready-to-eat, so I keep them in a Mason jar of water in the fridge. They will last this way indefinitely. Or you can dry them and keep your acorn grits in the pantry.
You can use any sort of acorn here, fresh or dried. And remember the lye treatment is optional.
- 3 pounds acorns in the shell, any kind
- 1 tablespoon food grade lye (optional)
Shell your acorns and remove the papery "test," the skin on the nuts. If you're using dried acorns, soak them in water overnight. Once the acorns are soft(ish), i.e., soaked overnight or fresh, grind in a food processor or meat grinder until they are the consistency of stone ground corn or even a bit larger.
Move the acorn grits to a large container and cover with water. Keep cool. Change the water once or twice a day for at least five days. Taste the grits for bitterness. They are done when they are not bitter.
If you want to do the lye treatment, add the tablespoon of lye when the acorn grits have lost most of their bitterness, anywhere from five to 10 days after you started leaching them. Stir in the lye and keep everything cool. Let the acorn grits sit in the lye water 12 hours or so.
To remove the lye from the water, pour out the lye water, then refill the container. Repeat this a few times a day until the water is mostly clear, about 3 days.
Store the grits in a jar of water in the fridge, or dry them. Dried, they will last indefinitely.
NOTE: If you are doing the lye treatment do not use aluminum containers! You will poison yourself. Plastic, ceramic and stainless steel are the way to go.