Er...What IS THIS on my house? It's tiny. It's weird. It's got this snout and heart-shaped feet. It is WEEVIL!!!!
What is a weevil?!!
Curculio glandium is a beetle with a long snout called a rostrum. There are boll weevils, potato weevils, acorn weevils... This is an acorn weevil, and in this mast year for acorns, it is very happy. It will bore into acorn shells to feast, as well as lay eggs. The eggs are laid after the female bores a hole into the acorn's center, then the nut heals over the hole. By the time the acorn falls from the tree, the tiny larva is ready to bore its way out and dig as deep as a foot underground to live up to five years before pupating into an adult. More info here and here.
Weevils aren't the only ones who eat acorns. So do gray squirrels, blue jays, black bears, chipmunks, ruffed grouse, deer mice, and people. I have two oaks in my yard and plan to harvest some of those acorns for some yummy pancakes and brown bread. There are approximately 58 species of oak trees in the United States, with white and bur varieties producing the biggest acorns. A single tree can yield over 29,000 acorns in a good year. But acorns don't come ready to eat...
Acorns are high in tannins, which naturally occur in many plants, including grapes. Tannins are bitter-tasting and too much will interfere with kidney function. Red and black oak have the highest tannins, white oak the least. Not coincidentally, red and black oak acorns take two years to sprout, thus storing well for animals, while white oaks sprout quickly and being sweeter, are quickly eaten up by animals fattening up before winter. But all are edible with this process: water soaking.
The squirrels figured this out by burying acorns for later and letting the rains soak and resoak them. By the time winter arrives, they are a lot more tasty! Native Americans stored them in baskets they weighted down in rivers and streams, letting the current do its work over several weeks. Today, we can boil the nuts and change out the water. First, crack the shells with nutcrackers, discarding nuts with holes, rot, or visible larva. Place in a large pot with clean water. Bring to boil. The tannins will turn the water black. Drain the water and replace with fresh water. Repeat boiling and draining until the water stays clear. The acorns are now ready for roasting. Roast in oven at 375 until aromatic. They have a taste similar to hazelnuts.
Once roasted, they can be ground as flour, added to batters, or baked into bread. Here's the recipe from my new cookbook, Around the World in 100 Miles:
Mercy Brown Bread
Taste of Old New England
Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 2 hours Makes 3 loaves
1 cup processed acorns (see page 134) or raw hazelnuts
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
Combine nuts and buttermilk and run through food processor to make a thick paste. Mix paste with yogurt and molasses. Stir in washed and picked over cranberries, removing stems and soft berries first. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually stir flour mixture into wet mixture. Grease three coffee cans and divide batter between them. Seal cans with foil and rubber bands.
Place cans in large stock pot with at least two inches of water. Cover and bring to gentle boil. Steam breads two hours, adding more water as necessary. Allow to cool before removing foil. Slice and serve.