Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Robert Morris 1927 NNGA Address Continued... Finally

A few months ago I started posting excerpts from the address of Mr. Robert T. Morris to the 1927 annual meeting of the Northern Nut Growers Association (with heartfelt thanks to reader David Olsen for supplying this amazing archival material).

To see the previous posts just enter Morris in the search box above.  To resume:

"We know that even from seedling oak trees the crop of acorns exceeds in food value the crop of corn which may be raised by tillage upon good land. When we come to making selection, hybridization and grafting, the history with the oak trees will presumably be almost precisely that which has applied to other fruit and nut trees.  Furthermore, some of the trees will produce heavy crops of mast upon rocky (soil) and upon soil that is too poor to grow crops of annual plants with tillage.

"Cattle, horses and fowls will eat acorns that are distasteful to man because of tannin, berberine and other extractives, but there are a number of species of oaks bearing so-called sweet acorns which are all ready for roasting and boiling or for being made into flour for man's uses.  Many of the species of oaks which bear bitter acorns are already used by man after artificial preparation which removes the elements interfering with the good taste of the acorns of this sort as well as sweet acorns are made into cakes and porridge.

"A well flavored oil is extracted from several species of acorns and in others the acorn cups alone produce such a high percentage of tannin and of coloring matter that the cups pay for the cost of gathering the harvest of nuts which have their own special value.  (Get your tannin for nothing and your nuts for free!)

"In the absence of extended study of acorns for food for man and his farm stock, I had thought best at this meeting to start the ball rolling by writing a number of authorities and obtaining reports which might be assembled.  I have learned, however, that Dr. J. Russell Smith has very complete and important notes relating to acorns, in manuscript form.  These will appear in a new book entitled Tree Crops, to be published shortly."

And so it was.

Do acorns really contain berberine?  I had never heard this before - in part because I had never heard of berberine before.

According to the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (is that an encyclopedia with just one eye?) edited by the wonderfully named Liberty Hyde Bailey, "Acorns, while rich in protein, fat and starches, contain in addition disagreeable elements like berberine or tannins in excess."

Get your berberine for nothing and your food for free?  Geez, you learn something new about acorns every day... but are left to wonder even more why I keep driving past field of corn and soybeans on my way to soccer games in the evenings, and not field of oaks.

Next time I'll quote from Morris's correspondence with other 1927 oak enthusiasts.  Our old friend Helge makes a cameo appearance.

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