Oak trees can be found across the world, flourishing in nooks and crannies of almost every continent. The oak genus Quercus, contains some 600 species of oak trees that are each unique to the location and landscape with which they live. In the Santa Clara Valley, four such oaks can be found: Valley Oak, Coast Live Oak, Blue Oak, and Black Oak. Of those oaks, the Valley Oak produces the largest acorn and the Black Oak produces the sweetest acorn.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in California the native Ohlone societies favored acorns as a supplemental source of food in their diet, harvesting the dark brown nuts for their rich fat and carbohydrate content. After the acorns were harvested from oak trees, a multi-step process was necessary to leach out the tannin content and prepare the acorn for consumption or storage. Records of this process indicate it was performed by women who worked together to grind the acorns into flour with a mortar and pestle. Once the flour was ground, it was placed in a lined basket and boiling water poured over to initiate the leaching of tannins. The prepared flour was then used to make gruel and bread, or put into granary storage for the winter.
In this modern agricultural era of California with commercial farms of walnut and almond trees, it can be hard to picture that once upon a time the beautiful and majestic oak was the main producer of consumed nuts. Our grocery stores are full of products containing almonds or walnuts, while the humble acorn is left to history. This project hopes to open the curiosity of others to the wide wonder of oaks and their bounty.