by Rose Marie Licher
There are many foods available to us right here in Pine Valley, just for the gathering! Prickly pears come to mind first–both the pads and the fruit. In mid July there will be big green fruit right outside my kitchen window but it will be late Auust before they are red ripe. From them you can make a punch, or jelly, or even pickles. Call me if you would like some recipes. The young green pads are collected in the spring and cooked to be used many ways in salads, casseroles or scrambled with eggs.
You may have noticed the javelina, and even your dog, eating mesquite pods late in the summer. When they are ripe, pick one and chew on the pod and you will find a sweet taste.
The mesquite tree grows in desert regions throughout the world, areas not suitable for most agriculture. The nutrition supplied by these trees is amazing. The pods can be harvested and ground into meal or flour which is between 11% and 17% protein. It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. The meal is low carbohydrate, low glycemic and low in fat. Mesquite is a food that helps balance blood sugar. Though naturally sweet, from fructose, it does not require insulin for digestion. Native Americans did not suffer from diabetes until they replaced their native foods with “modern” grains and white sugar. The flour can be used in baking, replacing 1/4 or more of wheat or other flour, or as a seasoning on food and in drinks.
Last summer I collected about 7 gallons of dry pods at the close of the monsoon season. If you want to collect your own mesquite pods, it is recommended that you collect only dry beans on the trees away from areas of pesticide spraying. If you must collect off the ground, pods soaked or damaged by water cannot be milled. No stones or sticks can be mixed in as they will damage the milling equipment.
Once collected, the mesquite pods should be dried, for a minimum of two hours at up to 160 deg F, to kill any bugs infesting the pods. Use a solar oven or spread on a tarp out in the sun. Store the beans in airtight containers until ready to use them.
Prescott College owns a hammer mill and in late October or early November will process mesquite pods and beans; they usuallly bring the machine to the Verde Valley one weekend in the late fall. A five-gallon bucket of pods will make about one gallon (two pounds) of sweet-tasting high-protein flour which can be mixed in with other flours in baking. Let me know if you are interested in participating in harvesting these pods. The flour can be incorporated in your recipes by replacing about 1/4 to 1/3 of the flour with mesquite meal.
There are other plants around us, such as the squawbush (3-leaf sumac) and wolfberry that have edible fruit and other plants that provide salad greens. And the pinon pine has those great nuts, if you can beat the wild critters to them! Just for fun, or to save on the food bill, we can investigate the food growing all around us for the taking.
© 2008 Rose Marie Licher