Monthly Archives: September 2011

Last Chance for Mesquite 2011

This is your last chance to gather some mesquite pods this season. While all mesquite trees fruit in the summer, some of the native species have a second fruiting in the fall and you’ll still find a few trees that still have pods.  My South American mesquites fruit only in June which is fine with me — the pods taste rather chalky, not sweet like the natives, so I don’t gather them.  In Southern Arizona, we are lucky that come November, Desert Harvesters will haul out their hammer mills and grind mesquite pods for a very modest fee.   When I first started gathering mesquite in the very early 1970s, this option didn’t exist.  I tried a hand cranked grain mill, but it gummed up quickly.  If the pods were very dry, a blender ground everything up, but then it had to be sifted and still the meal was very coarse.  The hammer mill automatically grinds everything up, sifts out the unuseable fiber, and  produces a product that is as fine as whole wheat pastry flour. It also grinds up the true seed where the protein is located. I will post the Desert Harvesters schedule when it comes out.

Stored mesquite  pods frequently have holes in them where the bruchid beetles have eaten their way out.  If you want to avoid the holes, freeze the pods.  I’ve also heard that microwaving them works as well.  Once you have your delicious mesquite meal, you can try adding a quarter cup of mesquite meal to your favorite pancake recipe.

Healthy Prickly Pears

There are so many reasons to make prickly pears a part of your seasonal diet.  Beyond the fact that they are free, abundant and easy to gather, they are also very healthy.  Since the plants are wild and the growing conditions vary, the exact nutitional value varies.  But all fruits are about 85 percent water with from 10 to 15 percent carbohydrates, 6 to 8 percent glucose and fructose,  and abut 25 to 30 calories in a quarter pound.  They also offer substantial amounts of calcium and vitamins C and A.

For persons with diabetes, drinking even small amounts of prickly pear fruit juice (even a few teaspoons a day) can be beneficial for controlling their blood sugar.  Recent medical studies done on student volunteers have shown that drinking prickly pear juice before a night of drinking can prevent a next-day hangover.

For even more exciting ways to use prickly pear juice, check out The Prickly Pear Cookbook (Rio Nuevo Press). It is available through Amazon and your local bookstore would be happy to order it for you.

It’s Prickly Pear Season

It’s prickly pear season! That makes September the perfect time to start a blog focusing on southwestern food,
particularly wild foods.  Prickly pears are native to Mexico, but now grow throughout the warm parts of the globe, spread initially by Spanish explorers. The Spanish weren’t so much taken by the fruits as by the cochineal beetles that feed on them. When crushed, the beetles produce a red dye that doesn’t fade, something that Europeans really needed.

Prickly pear fruits and juice are one of the easiest wild foods to enjoy. They are abundant, easy to gather and prepare, and delicious. The Prickly Pear Cookbook (Rio Nuevo Press) gives 60 recipes for delicious dishes using prickly pear fruit and pads. If you are a curious cook, you’ll want to take a look.  But here’s an easy way to get started with a smoothie:

Make sure you have some heavy rubber gloves (supermarket kind is fine) and a good tweezers. Pick the fruit with tongs. When you get home, don the gloves, transfer the fruit to a colander and give them a good rinse. Cut into quarters and put in a blender jar with a little water to get it started.  Whirl until all is liquefied, then strain through a fine sieve. Discard the seeds.

Combine in the blender jar some of the prickly pear juice with fruit chunks of your choice (try peaches and
banana), a little fruit juice such as orange or pineapple, some yogurt and a couple of ice cubes. Whirl until liquefied and enjoy.  You can store any leftover juice in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for months.