Acorns Are Not Only for Squirrels
by Lauren Ockene
As part of our study of seeds, we gathered acorns! When students started to crack them, they discovered that larvae enjoy acorns and many were not edible. Of those that were, we kept them in the refrigerator for a week, only to discover that now many more had larvae; we inferred that they were there all along and ate more while living in the refrigerator. Next time we’d have to use the freezer to store them!
Students learned to see larvae holes in acorns, and Haniyah told us a great trick for discovering other rotting acorns – put them in water, and the rotting ones float.
The next steps were cracking them open and then breaking them into smaller pieces with a mortar and pestle. We then ground them in a wonderful old-fashioned grinder, until they looked like a coarse flour. The last step is to soak the meal in water and to rinse it many, many times to take away the bitter tannic acid. This is called leaching and Lauren did most of it at home in between JP Green School sessions.
Finally, we made acorn/oat porridge with maple syrup in the JP Green School kitchen. All of the students who tried it liked it!
Winnowing, Threshing, and Tasting Amaranth
Lauren had grown lots of amaranth, an ancient Incan grain, at home. We did not have quite a big enough amount to thresh in the traditional way so we scrunched it up in our hands, over bowls, to separate the seeds from their big red seed heads. Then each student brought a bowl of seeds outside and we winnowed them with a gentle breath, separating the fluffy chaff from the slightly heavier seeds. It was magical! Students tasted the seeds and some enjoyed eating them raw.
Bulbs, Tubers and Seeds
Our big theme this fall was seeds. We asked questions about how they are dispersed, and simulated the ways in which they get around, like being blown by wind or carried along by animals on fur, or eaten and “pooped out” by birds. We learned about squirrels hiding acorns away, and then we gathered many ourselves. We processed them and made delicious porridge out of them. We also looked at some other ways plants reproduce when we dissected and planted bulbs like garlic and tulips, and harvested and ate the rhizomes of Jerusalem artichokes. One seed investigation highlight was when we separated tiny amaranth seeds from their big beautiful seed heads and then winnowed them to remove the chaff.