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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The venerable oakPosted Thursday, October 6, 2011, at 11:00 AM
For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
We tend to think of acorns as squirrel food. Our vision of native peoples that transected the Ozarks centuries ago may have them surviving on wild game or corn scratched from a small plot in the earth.
Ancient cultures of Europe, as well as American Indian groups, valued acorns as a staple food. Species in the white oak group produce delicious, sweet meal.
In the creation legend of California's Maidu Indians, recounted in a marvelous book Ooti -- A Maidu Legend by Richard Simpson (Celestial Arts, 1977), we learn that the Creator, after producing earth, sky, water, man and woman, created Ooti -- the acorn, the main staple food of the Maidu. Indian groups throughout the continent revered the oak and held festivals in celebration of acorn production.
Soon after the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, they found a cache of buried acorns stored in baskets. In J. Russell Smith's Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (Devon-Adair, 1950), the author suggests that land planted in wheat would have been more productive if planted in oaks for acorn production.
Leached of their bitter and toxic tannins, acorns provide a palatable meal, which can be made into a wide variety of foods. Shelled corns were placed in a basket in a creek for a couple of days to leach out the tannins. One can tell that the tannins are removed when the nuts achieve a bland, non-bitter flavor. The shelled nuts were dried and stored for the winter.
Quercus, the classical name of the oak tree, is represented by more than 530 species, primarily from the Northern Hemisphere, with 90 species in North America. Ten species are found in Carroll Country. Two basic groups are commonly known--the white oak group has acorns maturing within one year; the space between the nut and the shell does not have a velvety lining, and the leaves are not bristle-tipped. A common example is our white oak (Quercus alba).
In the red or black oak group (such as red oak Quercus rubra) leaves have bristle-tipped lobes, a velvety lining between the shell and nut, and the acorns mature in their second year of growth.
Appreciate the oak, as no other tree group has existed in such integral harmony with humankind as a provider of food, shelter, shade, materials, inspiration and reverence.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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