The Oak Gall Ink Project
During the hike over the weekend we found a large collection of oak galls. I decided to baggie up what we could find so I could attempt to make some oak gall ink. With my re-found love of quill pens, fountain pens and lettering (see my Instagram account for that wackiness), I figured combining some outdoors foraging with making ink might be a fun thing to do.
One of the most intriguing things I found in researching the ink was that not only are the galls made by wasps but that the ink created from them has recorded most of European history. Stop and think about that for a moment and let that perspective sink in. Tiny little wasp. Most of written history before 1800’s. All because of how a tree forms around some wasp eggs? Yeah…
After researching on the net, I found a few recipes I liked and decided two things about the entire process. 1.) There were numerous and varied ways to make oak gall ink, from simple to complex. 2.) I was going to take all I read and just make up my own. I wanted the fun of experimentation and not a rote process. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be successful but that’s part of the suspense, right? The recipe I came up with is a bit slapdash and we’ll see how it all goes. At the bottom of this page I’ll link a few sites that were good resources for me. I encourage everyone to do your own searching, however. Do a couple of searches and lose a few hours in research. It’s fun!
My first step was to take the galls and with my “highly specialized equipment” break them down. I used an old towel to keep the remains all in one place on the concrete. I placed these in a spare glass jar for storage while I could get the rest of the recipe sorted out.
Most of the recipes I could find were based in large quantities and I failed at the math involved. (I warned you: slapdash.) At first I had assumed clean water and heat would be used and I was right on my first skim of websites. However, I started digging a bit deeper and I found information for fermenting the galls and it seems the older recipes also called for using white wine or even beer. Being a past brewer I liked the idea of my ink fermenting in some white wine. In proper slapdash fashion I found an unused bottle of cooking wine in our cabinet and figured out the proportions of what I would use. This is what I came up with.
1 cup of crushed Oak Gall
1 cup of clean water (I used bottled drinking water.)
1 1/2 cups of white cooking wine
I poured this all in an empty jar, covered it with seran wrap and then placed on the lid.
The plan moving forward is this. I’ll let the container sit for approximately 12 – 14 days. I’ll shake the container once a day. (Some recipes called for the mixture to sit for 2 months and although I do want to try that angle, I want things a little faster for the first time.)
At the end of the 2 weeks I’ll reassess and if things look dark enough, I will draw off the liquid and give it a solid boil, condensing things a bit. I’ll add in the iron sulfate and the gum arabic that all the recipes I could find called for using and, well, play with things from there.
One of my initial concerns is that the galls we found were very hollow with very thin walls. They smashed quite easily. I’m guessing they were quite old and perhaps do not have the full amount of tannins I would get from a more solid, fresh gall? All part of the experiment and as I find fresh galls this year we may just try this all over again!
Here is how things look after 5 days. Not much change!
After looking at the two pics, I’m thinking I’ll add what’s left of the crushed galls (about 1/2 cup) to see if I can’t get the solution to darken further. I may also add about 1/4 more water as it appears the galls have soaked up some of the liquid. On the other hand, things might change once the iron is added and the solution is cooked down a bit.
I’ll post an update as things go along!
If anyone has any thoughts or experience with this don’t hesitate to chime in on the comments.
Iron Gall Ink Website – http://irongallink.org/igi_indexd7ce.html
California Live Oak Iron Gall Ink Recipe –– http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/234759-california-live-oak-iron-gall-ink-recipe/
Travelling Scriptorium – Iron Gall Ink – http://travelingscriptorium.library.yale.edu/2013/03/21/iron-gall-ink/
A very nice SCA related site for Iron Gall Ink by Ian – https://sites.google.com/site/ianthegreen01/ian’sinkmakingpage