What do the elves eat? Elves traditionally aren’t shown as great master of large-scale agriculture in most fantasy settings. Elves are often shown as hunters and gatherers and could surely support small mysterious populations in that manner but else’s are also shown being able to raise the occasionally army and to build great fairy castles, hunter and gatherers don’t tend to do either such thing because they can’t produce enough food to feed enough people to field armies or build castles. “So just what are the elves eating if they aren’t hunter and gatherers”? I asked myself.
Hunting is a lot of work and many forests lack enough game to support size able populations. Gathering is likewise challenging for large groups outside warm climates. Elves mayhaps can eat mushrooms and vegetation we can’t but there is also vegetation we can eat but don’t exploit on a widespread agricultural scale: the Acorn. Elven societies can harvest acorns as the means to have enough food to raise armies and build castles.
As a wild foodstuff acorns from common oaks need to be leached for upwards of 5 or 6 days to remove the natural tannin and the associated bitter flavor (and possible digestive issues and tooth damage). Elves either don’t have to worry about that, don’t mind all the work, or have learned to cultivate acorns that take much less work to process. Humans haven’t turned much attention toward cultivating oaks and hybridizing them to produce ideal acorn crops as it can take 20-30 years for an oak to start producing acorns. Humans are too short lived to put in the work to optimize food production in domestic oaks. Elves have plenty of time in a single elven life (in most settings) to hybridize and produce oaks that create a decent, fairly regular, and plentiful yields of acorns.
Just an acre of natural oak forest is said to be able to produce 6,000lbs of acorns, some varieties of mature oaks can produce 2,000lbs of acorns alone. These production figures may be high and unusual in the wild but if possible in the real world for wild crops they are surely possible to achieve in reasonable fashion as a plant cultivated by a species that can live many hundreds if not thousands of years (again depending on setting). I'm going with these yields as typical for shelled acons from cultivated Elven Oaks.
Food yield and Calorie talk: 110 calories from a ounce of acorns. 140 calories from an ounce of acorn flour. That’s real world calorie counts. With a 6000lb yield from an acre of cultivated acorns we are going to be able to feed 14 elves for a year (if adults with 2000 calorie a day diet). Medieval cereal grain yields weren’t as productive. Acorn eating elves are going to able to sustain their “hidden” populations able to field the occasional army and build fairy palaces.
For fantasy campaigns I propose 4 varieties of Elven Oaks. The varieties of elven oaks are used to produce lumber, oil, and foodstuffs.
Ironwood- the most fanciful of all is first worth mentioning, it’s timber produce wood if carefully fire treated is as hard as hammered iron. This allows the elves to produce amazing craft goods and durable tools without needing to mine. Ironwood oaks are the rarest of all and are grown for hundreds of years until they are ready to be (difficulty) cut.
Butter Nut- this variety of oak produces good-sized acorns that can be used to make flour but can also be pressed to harvest a plentiful supply of oil. The acorns of this variety are the mildest tasting. Butter Nuts acorns are mostly used for their oil but are also used to produce flour and paste (similar to peanut butter).
Honey Nut- this variety of oak produces a modest sized acorn that is sweeter than other varieties. The syrup of these oaks is also collected and processed to manufacture a sweet syrup similar to that of maple syrup. As a food stuff the must themselves are popular roasted to crushed up to make a sweet paste.
Meal Nut- this variety of elven oaks produces large acorns. They are the nuttiest tasting acorns of the cultivated oaks and are generally processed flour.
Someday I may decide to breakdown the different yields possible from different eleven oaks in different regions if I get struck with the desire for such madness but as above I'm going to go with 6,000 lbs a year per acre on average.
Products of Cultivated Elven Oaks
Ironwood- wood as hard as metal. Once properly processed a carved implement will be as tough as bronze or soft iron. Edges weapons can be produced from this material but it works best for thrusting weapons and is typically used for arrow shafts and arrowheads.
the price for ironwood goods will vary wildly depending on contact with elves but is recommend to coast 3-5 times as much if of human manufacture from supplies of the wood to maybe 20 times as much for items of elven manufacture.
Oak Butter- a nutritional paste storred in jars.
Applenut Butter- Oak Butter mixed with apples to produce a very sweet and nutrious form of apple butter.
Oak Honey- processed oak sap that is surgery sweet.
Elven Waybread- these long lasting loaves of elven bread are light and tastie which makes their long keeping nature even more wondrous. Elves keep the recipes of rite highest grades secret. Elven Waybread will last as long as 5 years and this property as well as it’s flavor gives it a high price at 10 to 20 times more than mannish made breads of the same general quality.
Oak Milk- light oil processed from the Butter Nut acorns mixed with water. Used as a beverage. Oak Milk will usually fetch price equivalent to common beer, it’s not alcoholic but it is tasty and keeps well.
Flash Oil- this flammable liquid is used to make incendiary weapons and as an means of lighting. This fetches the same prices other flaming oils will.
Elven NutMead- theirs mead is a hearty cousin to the delicate meads which are actually made from honey. Elven NutMead is made from different pressings of Butter Acorns, Honey Nut Acorns and Oak Honey itself. This mead fetches a price comparable to fine wines.
Elves may or may not keep their Acorn/Oak Cultivation as secret from men but this will much depend on the nature of the campaign and the relationship between men and elves.
In my Riperia campaign there is widespread knowledge among mankind that elves eat acorns but the true nature (and abundance)of their cultivation is unknown south of the Thornwall or much beyond the Isles of Ulthion and Arru. A few groves of the cultivated oaks can be found here and there throughout the lands and are used by local elves or are sure indications a now extinct elven people once laid claim to the land.