What to do with all those acorns?

They make for some really crappy coffee and hog food….

Photo by Luis VIELSA SORIANO on Pinterest.

“The course of the weariest river
Ends in the great gray sea;
The acorn, for ever and ever,
Strives upward to the tree.”
- Lincoln Progress, April 5, 1879

While every lowly acorn that falls to the ground may contain the blueprint for a mighty oak, I was reminded recently that most of us regard them as a nuisance to be raked or blown away today. However, that was not always the case. In the early 20th Century acorns were pitched as valuable produce for a “profitable industry” by Dr. J. T. Graves in Wilson County, North Carolina. According to Graves, you could “yield from one to six bushels to the tree” per season and they “are used for fattening hogs.”

Snip: Hickory Democrat, October 10, 1912 — via Newspapers.com.

In fact “[t]he Old English æcern (acorn), meaning “nut” or “mast of trees” is thought to be related to the Old English æcer (acre) in the sense of the “fruit of the open or unenclosed land,” but apparently the meaning was gradually restricted to “the most important part of the forest produce for feeding swine: the mast of the oak tree” (Online Etymology Dictionary). The “Farm and Garden Notes” section from a local 1894 newspaper supports this use for acorns in Europe at that time: “In England acorns mixed with grass are considered good food for sheep and pigs.”

However, in 1881 the Lincoln Progress (in Lincolnton, North Carolina) republished an article from the New York Herald, titled “A Point on Pork,” in which the author pointed out that “distillery-fed pork” was tasteless and that “[e]ven ‘mast-fed’ hogs — that is, those who have fattened themselves on nuts and acorns found in the woods — make flesh so soft that Western packers object to buying it, although no cleaner food could be desired for the animals than that shed by the trees. The corn-fed hog of America is as much the superior of most of his European relatives as the trout from a mountain brook is to his liver-fed cousin in a warm pool on a fish farm.” So don’t believe it when you hear that the only difference in the BBQ is the sauce!

During the war of Southern rebellion over the right to own slaves, a shortage of coffee led some people to roast and grind acorns to make an alternative to drink. And medicinal uses for acorns were, and still are, recommended by some. But growing up in the South during the 1960s, we never fed our hogs acorns. We gave them corn and oats and table scraps and our food by-products (apple cores, banana peels, melon rinds).

The “aroma of a Catawba County hog-killing” was well-known in North Carolina as early as 1918, when the Raleigh Times lambasted a writer at the Wilmington Star who “believes that everybody everywhere ought to be allowed to cook a pig’s tail on the rocks used for heating the water to take the hair off and to sit down at nightfall to a mess of brains-and-eggs.”

But as much as we like bacon, sausage, and ham from corn-fed hogs, we’re still trying to figure out what to do with all the acorns and poo. I’d really like to see our corn-fed hogs roam free-range in open pastures instead of crowded pens so nature can take its course. As for all those damn acorns, I’m not really sure what to do. Maybe take up crafting? Or sell them on Etsy?

Snip: The Lincoln County News, June 21, 1920 — via Newspapers.com.



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Wilhelm Kühner

Wilhelm Kühner


Pruning the “tangled thicket” of Kühner (Keener) Genealogie in Amerika and reflecting on its relevance to current events.