Monthly Archives: October 2011

It’s Mesquite Milling Time


Desert Harvesters working the hammermill.

If you’ve been gathering mesquite pods, now is the time to schedule a visit to one of Desert Harvesters’ milling sessions if you live in Tucson or the surrounding valleys.  The charges are reasonable and the savings in time and energy over doing it yourself are substantial.  You’ll end up with lovely fine flour ready for all your best recipes.

Here’s a schedule:

Oct. 29 – Rincon Market, 2513 E. 6th St., all day

Nov. 5 – Tucson Audubon Center, Thornydale and Hardy, 9 a.m.

Nov. 12 – Cascabel (East of Benson, North of Pomerene) 9 a.m.-2 p.m., breakfast and milling

Nov. 20 – Dunbar-Spring neighborhood, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., bake sale also. 

Before taking my pods to be ground, I always spread them out on a piece of hardward cloth on my back brick patio and pick them over, discarding any dark spots.  Then I hose them off and let them dry.  Mesquite pods pick up moisture, even from the atmosphere and get gummy, so do your washing several days in advance to allow them to get really dry.  Then I put them in a pristinely clean five-gallon paint bucket with a lid. The mill operators will return the bucket to you with the pods magically transformed to fine meal.

Once you get home with your beautiful mesquite meal, you’ll be anxious to use it in something delicious. Try adding just a quarter cup to any of your favorite baked goods.  Or if you want some ideas and more precise direction, pick up a copy of my new cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. There you will find recipes for Mesquite Carrot Dinner Rolls, Mesquite Banana Cake, Mesquite Ginger Cookies, Holiday Bars and many more.  The picture below is of one of my favorites, Mesquite Apple Coffecake. Good for a brunch or a get together with girlfriends over coffee or a bookclub meeting.

Mesquite Apple Coffeecake



A 5-Minute Demo

It’s lovely to be asked to go on television with a new book, but these magazine-style segments give you only five minutes to make your case.  I practiced this 10 times before I went on, setting my kitchen timer to bring it in under five minutes to leave room for chitchat. I had to leave out a number of steps which I managed by precooking the marinade and the chicken.  The link starts out with a short promo for the television station, but that’s how they pay the bills.  Please always feel free to comment on ways that you have used prickly pear syrup or juice in your cooking.

Cooking the Wild Southwest

If you live in the Southwest and  enjoy foraging for edible wild plants in the deserts or mountains,  my newest book, Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants was written for you.  I discuss 23 easily recognized plants and  tell you where to find them, how to harvest and store them, and give you recipes for incorporating them into tasty dishes that will please your family and friends.  For a light meal, try French Bean and Cholla Bud Salad or Quinoa Pilaf with Pinon Nuts and Cranberries. Meat lovers will enjoy Saguaro Barbecue Sauce for Ribs and Cheri’s Mesquite Brisket.  Got a sweet tooth? How about Mesquite Pumpkin Pudding or Elderflower Citrus Cake or Prickly Pear Plum Ice Cream?

The book is available in bookstores and through on-line distributors. (But’s it’s nice to patronize your local booksellers when you can.) 

If you have gathered plants already, you are ready to go.  But if not, Martha Ames Burgess can sell you what you need through her company Flor de Mayo. She sells her foods and much more at farmers markets and will be the featured vendor at the new Saturday farmer’s market at Maynard’s in Tucson.

Chiltepins: Tiny and Powerful

Chiltepins are tiny chiles, about half the size of a pea. Believed to have originated in Mexico, they have been used to spice foods for at least 8,000 years.  Chiltepins are sometimes called “the mother of all chiles” because they are the closest living relatives of the early domesticated chiles. They like to grow under trees or bushes — the shade provides protection from the summer sun and winter frost.

Slow Food USA has listed chiltepins in the Ark of Taste, a catalog of delicious foods in danger of extinction.

Most people consider chiltepins very very hot. The spiciness of chiles is determined by their rating on the Scoville Scale.  The long green Anaheim chiles that come in a can are rated from 500 to 2,500 Scoville units.  Chiltepins clock in at 70,000 units.

The trick to using chiltepins in cooking is to use just a little to add zip to anything that seems  little bland.  When preparing them, use gloves and grind them in a little mortar and pestle.  The finer you grind them, the more widely the heat will be disbursed int he food. To cut down on the heat, pick out the seeds.

If you have some good ideas for using chiltepins,  please share by adding a comment below.

Early harvest from my chiltepin plant