The acorn is far more than just “squirrel food. The truth is that corns have enjoyed some interesting intersections with human history over the centuries. ” During some periods, ancient civilizations relied on the acorn in times of need.
When wartime took away creature comforts at different historical periods, acorns answered the call to keep coffee-craving lips happy.
Today, we are discussing the history of acorns and how deep their impact was in some cultures.
What Are the First Records of Acorns?
While the earliest known oak fossils have been found in Georgia, there’s no telling where oaks first showed up when they became part of the landscape more than 25 million years ago.
Native to the Northern Hemisphere, the acorn-bearing oak grows throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. But that doesn’t mean they first appeared in one of those areas. Even places that don’t host oak trees today often show fossil records that indicate oaks were once abundant.
The one sure thing is that the acorns dropped by these trees form a breadcrumb trail that leads us straight into human history!
Acorns During the Iron Age
Acorns have played essential roles in many societies throughout early human history. The evidence of acorn consumption can be traced back to the Iron Age (VIII-II BC).
The Iberian peninsula, or Iberia, is one of the places with the most significant findings on possible acorn preparation during this period. Archeologists found several artifacts connected to acorns in this area, especially in the northwest, in an area that is now southern Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal.
According to Strabo, the great geographer of antiquity, people in this region depended on acorns for most of the year. This was due to the harsh conditions of this mountainous region, which resulted in poor agricultural production. In the famous Strabo’s Geography, he states:
“For two-thirds of the year the mountaineers feed on the acorn, which they dry, bruise, and afterwards grind and make into a kind of bread, which may be stored up for a long period “.
In fact, oaks and acorns were so important in this region, that they still enjoy a special place in the hearts and minds of many modern-day Iberians. Read our post about acorns in the Iberian Peninsula to learn more about this special connection!
Acorns in The Classical Antiquity
Acorns were very present in the classical era too. Pliny the Elder wrote about acorns, which ancient Romans used to make flour that was used for bread. Here is an excerpt from his famous Natural History:
“Nowadays for many peoples acorns are their wealth, even in peacetime. Furthermore, when corn is scarce, acorns are dried and ground into flour; the flour is then kneaded to make bread.”
According to him, acorns were quite crucial in times of scarcity. They were the one food that could provide flour and bread to Rome, the most populated city in the world at that time.
Deep Roots: Acorns in Native American Cultures
According to experts, “Acorns represented life for Indigenous Peoples, figuring prominently in the diets and daily lives of countless generations—gathering acorns, processing them, cooking them, storing them, and ultimately, eating them “.
In North America, Native Americans used them abundantly in their food chain. They cooked acorns in baskets over hot stones to make soups.
One advantage Native Americans saw in acorns was that they could store them for long periods instead of being processed for consumption immediately. It’s believed that they stored them away as “investments” for any potential lean seasons.
While acorns are usually seen as decorative “harvest” foods by most people today, there are still some spots in North America where people honor the life-sustaining food of their ancestors. They keep these sacred traditions alive by continuing to use them for both cuisine and ceremonial purposes.
The “King’s Food” of the Apaches
The Apaches in Arizona seek out acorns under the title of “the king’s food” each year when they drop during the rainy month of August. The ones that are collected are ground into a paste that is used for soups and gravies.
The Apaches also enjoy acorns as shelled nut snacks. Finally, they are also used ceremonially in the Apache female coming-of-age ceremonies known as sunrise festivals.
Acorn Coffee During Wartime
Of course, acorns didn’t stay in antiquity. They have been used regularly as a coffee substitute during times of war. During the American Civil War, coffee shortages caused confederates to turn to readily available substitutes. While roasted chicory root was the most common coffee substitute, plenty of people turned to acorns for the sake of getting something brewed up.
When coffee became unavailable due to the Allied blockade of German ports during World War I, Germans began brewing with acorns instead to make something called ersatz coffee.
Germans used ersatz coffee again during World War II, also due to shortages caused by blockages.
Some people in Europe and North America still enjoy making acorn coffee. If you also want to make it, have a look at our post on how to make acorn coffee.
Acorns in The Modern Age
These days, people around the world enjoy acorns in different ways.
All over the world, people still use them to make flour, bread, milk, pasta, etc. In Korean cuisine, a popular food called dotori-muk is nothing more than acorn jelly, which is made from acorn starch, and molded into different shapes. Enjoying acorns doesn’t always have to be fancy.
Finally, people have started using them for decoration in the last decades, especially in North America. From little dolls with hats to Christmas tree decorations, acorns are here to satisfy the creative minds of children and adults.
Acorns also play a significant role in animal feeding, and I’m not just talking about the several wildlife species that take advantage of them for survival. Some farmers use them to feed their livestock.
Acorns have a long and varied history. They have been used as a food source for centuries. They provide a good amount of nutrients and can be roasted or ground into flour to make different foods.
It’s incredible how acorns helped many tribes, ancient civilizations, and even modern societies. Acorns have indeed been a gift from nature.