Not Just For Squirrels

(by Susan Rodgers, reprinted with permission from the October issue of “A Walk in the Park” magazine)

Terrace Park residents love their trees. Last August, when Duke Energy began a drastic pruning program, a sense of outrage gripped the village as residents watched their trees under assault.

Perhaps it was not just the beauty of these trees that was behind this huge wave of sentiment. Perhaps, there is also a sense that they have a value beyond that of enhancing property values.

Long before James Covalt and his flatboat full of settlers arrived, Native American people made this land their home. There were lots of trees here because they hadn’t been cut down for roads and fields and buildings. So what did these people eat without cleared fields for crops?

One of their most reliable foods was acorns.

Acorns? Don’t laugh. Long before the introduction of maize, acorns were especially valuable to the Native Americans because of their abundance and high nutritional content. These were the people who created the astounding variety of earthworks and mounds all over the region.

Perhaps we should pay attention: Recent archaeological evidence has discovered that acorns were once THE staple food of a great many ancient peoples from the Middle East to the Americas. According to Scientific American (May 2014) “Balanophagy—the practice of eating acorns, has played an important part in the diets of many cultures around the world.”

Unlike grain cultivation, balanophagy is much less labor intensive and requires no weeding, plowing or fertilizer. In addition, trees provide a variety of other benefits including filtering rainwater, providing shade, preventing erosion, mitigating diseases, and generally creating a “halo of improved health around them” (The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins).

Inspired by these studies, this writer recently began a project to personally test their validity. In the fall of 2014 I collected a variety of acorns from the many oaks in both Terrace Park and surrounding areas. After shelling the nuts and soaking them to release the bitter tannins, I was pleased with the resulting product, which although bland, was an excellent replacement for wheat flour.

At this time in our village history, when our trees are under assault from both natural and man-made causes, the Terrace Park Historical Society’s mission to “understand and foster appreciation for our past” may hopefully be of value to our future.