Oak trees in our area seem to be particularly ambitious and I have a few avid acorn collections living in my house so we always have plenty of acorns about. At first Benjamin wanted to collect 100 acorns for our 100th Day of School celebration (which I think we should hit around December 8), but when he collected well over 100 acorns on one little walk he decided that perhaps he should collect 100 x 100 acorns, or 10,000 acorns!
This last number proved to be a little too ambitious because that's a lot of acorns and a lot of counting.
Still, we have a sizable bin of acorns sitting around our house, which we figured we'd just chuck outside for the squirrels every now and again over the winter. But the kids wanted to do something with them.
At first they wanted to make acorn flour, which is possible. Acorns themselves are too high in tannins to be healthy for humans. They have to be soaked (sometimes more than once) to leech the tannins, and then they have to be baked, and then they have to be ground up. And that just sounded like a lot of work for something that I wasn't sure was going to be very tasty (otherwise I'm sure we would eat acorns regularly because they are plentiful).
After a bit of searching around for ideas we settled on making acorn ink.
It seemed easy enough. You just have to crush the acorns, which is easy enough if you have an eight-year-old around who enjoys crushing things (which I do). Then you soak the crushed acorns in water, boil them for a bit if you want, strain them, and add some "rust garden" vinegar (which we began a few weeks prior to preparing our acorns—for that you just put a rusty bit of metal in vinegar and let it go to town). All in all a very passive project. The hardest part was just waiting for things to be ready, waiting for things to rust, waiting while the acorns soaked.
We started our rust garden about three weeks ago and started soaking our acorns sometime around October 9. We just let them sit and sit and sit, partly because we forgot about them altogether when the basement flooded and partly because they just needed to sit for a while. I strained the ink once a few days ago, discarded the acorn chunks, and then boiled it down to make it thicker.
It was a rich brown and, I'll be honest, I was skeptical it would ever turn black.
Today I strained our ink once more and then we added some of our "rust garden" vinegar to the ink and it magically turned a deep black! It was rather amazing!
Our next step was to make some quill pens (because if you're into a project this deep you may as well go all the way). We watched a few tutorials (like this one) before attempting things on our own. I was a little nervous to try it with a handful of kids, but they did great (ie. no one chopped off their finger or anything)!
First we used sandpaper to scrape the membrane from the feathers. I thought this would be easier (ie. safer) than handing everyone a knife. This way even the littlest among us could feel like they were contributing to the finished product even if Mommy ended up doing most of the cutting later on.
It was a fun afternoon project. Our quill pens weren't spectacular, so we'll have to refine our quill-pen-making skills. That or get some actual dip pens with metal tips. Or just use paint brushes. Or something. I mean, as fascinating as they are, there are reasons our pen technology has moved away from quill pens. But I bet we'd get better at it if we tried (that's generally how things work).