Monthly Archives: June 2013

It’s Mesquite Gathering Season

Yes, it’s that time again.  The mesquite pods are nice and tan, hanging from the trees and dropping to the ground.  If you want to have some pods to grind into meal in the fall, you’ve got to gather them now. (There may be another smaller harvest in the fall depending on the monsoons this year.)

Our friends at Desert Harvesters have been doing research on the best way to harvest and store your pods between now and grinding. Here is their advice:

Harvest BEFORE the first rain of the summer, or long after the rainy season in the dry conditions of late summer or fall. Rain on mature or nearly mature pods can cause a common soil fungus to grow on mesquite pods and many other crops. However, pods that were collected last year before the monsoons tested safe to eat. Avoiding visible mold DOES NOT insure safe pods. Dry the pods well before storage, and do NOT wash the pods.

IMG_0257This basket has both pink stripped and plain brown mesquite pods.  I am not sensitive enough to taste any difference.

Holes made by bruchid beetles.

Holes made by bruchid beetles.

If you dry your pods and store them in a nice dry place, perhaps your shed, you’ll come back in a couple of months and find them full of little holes.  We used to think that they had been infested. Nope.  The eggs for the bruchid beetles were laid on the mesquite flowers and the beetles are eating their way out.  Soo… here are the options. Freeze the pods and kill the beetles — at whatever stage they are. Or let them eat their way out, leaving behind the odd antenna or leg.  Hey, it’s all protein.

You’ll want to harvest from the native mesquite trees.  I planted South American mesquites on my tree lawn years ago and one of them produces the most gorgeous fat pods that look truly delicious. But, alas, they taste chalky so I just have to rake them up and toss them in the garbage.  Kills me — wish I had planted natives.

If you’d like to read more about mesquite,  check out Jacqueline Soule’s blog on mesquite here.

********

Get ready for prickly pear and mesquite season with some fabulous recipes for the bounty you have gathered.  Check out my cookbooks Cooking the Wild Southwest and The Prickly Pear Cookbook for delicious and inspiring ways to use these delicious wild treats.

I’itoi Onions: Desert Savory

I finally decided it was time to put my vegetable garden to bed for the summer.  This involved pulling out the remaining I’itoi bunching (or multiplier) onions.  I’ve been using them all spring, but they are very prolific. One little onion that looks like this:

IMG_0725

A few months later, will have multiplied to this:

IMG_0723

I’itoi onions were brought to the Southwest in the 17th century by Spanish missionaries, but have become such a part of the Tohono O’odham biology that they are called by the name of their creation diety, Elder Brother, or I’itoi.  These little gems were beginning to die out when they were brought to Native Seeds SEARCH by a Tohono O’odham woman.  They are one of the plants in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. 

I’itoi onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are easy to grow — just plant each bulb about an inch below the surface and at least eight inches apart.  They will send up chive-like greens first that can be used until you decide they have multiplied enough and pull them up for use.  When you harvest the last clump in the summer,  put aside a dozen or so bulbs in a paper bag and set aside on a cool shelf to await fall.  (I find it amusing that the onions “know” when to start again — if I don’t get around to putting them back in the ground until later in September, I sometimes find that they have begun to sprout in anticipation.)

To prepare onions for cooking, first separate and clean off the dirt,  then peel.

Cleaned onions on the left, peeled on the right.

Cleaned onions on the left, peeled on the right.

Like most onions, these contain potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B6. Onions contain substantially the same amount of vitamins and minerals when cooked.  I’itoi onions can be substituted for onions or shallots.  You can find them at farmers’ markets and from Crooked Sky Farms in Prescott and the Phoenix area and from Native Seeds SEARCH.

Cooked sweet and sour I'itoi onions

Cooked sweet and sour I’itoi onions

Here’s my recipe for sweet and sour I’itoi onions.  You can use red wine and red wine vinegar or white wine and white wine vinegar. Makes a great topping for grilled fish or chicken or mix it into steamed vegetables to add flavor.

1 cup cleaned and sliced I’itoi onions

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

2 tablespoons wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar or agave syrup

1/2 cup water (again)

In a large heavy frying pan, cook sliced I’itoi onions and water covered over very low heat for 10 minutes until soft.  Add wine, wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar or agave syrup.  Cook over very low heat for another 10 minutes.

Jacqueline Soule wrote a column about I’itoi onions for the Explorer and finished with a recipe for I’itoi onion and goat cheese scones. You can see it here. 

**********

If you are interested in wild and heritage foods of the Southwest, check out my cookbooks Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook,   and the Prickly Pear Cookbook. For inspiration and directions on what wild plants are available in what season, watch a short video here.