Tag Archives: mesquite

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.

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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.

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Mesquite Log Cake for a Birthday

Mesquite Log Cake

Mesquite Log Cake

While we wait for spring and little green things to pop up on the desert, we can turn, like our foremothers, to our stored foods.  For me, that is me that is the mesquite meal that I had ground by the Desert Harvesters big hammermills last fall. When a friend was going to celebrate her birthday dinner at my home, a mesquite log cake seemed like the perfect thing.  It is one of the recipes that I repeated in Cooking the Wild Southwest from the earlier out-of-print Tumbleweed Gourmet because it is just so darned delicious.  It’s easy to make, but the first time you read the directions, you might think “this can’t be right.”  So I made a series of photos to demonstrate.

First, line an 11-by-17-inch jellyroll pan with foil. In a small saucepan or bowl in the microwave, melt 1/4 cup butter and spread evenly over the foil. Spread one can sweentend condense milk on top. Like this:

Butter and sweetened  condensed mil.

Butter and sweetened condensed milk.

Next, evenly sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of flaked or shredded coconut and 1 cup chopped nuts on top.

Layered butter, milk, coconut and nuts.

Layered butter, milk, coconut and nuts.

In a blender beat 3 eggs at high speed.  When frothy, add 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup mesquite meal, 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking sodea, 1/3 cup water,  and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Blend and pour on top of the coconut mixture.

Pour batter on topping and spread evenly.

Pour batter on topping and spread evenly.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully so the corners don’t get overbaked.

IMG_0449While the cake is baking, spread a clean, nonterrycloth dish towel on a flat surface and sprinkle with 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon cocoa or carob as at left.

 

 

 

 

 

Tip cake onto the tea towel so cake is on bottom.

Tip cake onto the tea towel so cake is on bottom and the coconut is on top.

When the cake is done, invert it onto the tea towel, and using the towel, begin to roll it. Do this right away before it cools.

 

 

 

 

Roll into a cylinder

Roll into a cylinder

Cut into two on a slant

Cut into two on a slant

 

Happy birthday!

Frost with chocolate frosting swirling it to look like mesquite bark.  Decorate with mesquite leaves. If it is a birthday, add candles and singing.  Interested in more mesquite recipes?  Check out my book Cooking the Wild Southwest for delicious mesquite recipes as well as recipes for 22 other easily recognized and gathered southwest plants.  For a short video on some of the interesting plants you can gather, click here. 

Mesquite Ginger Folk

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No one would ever confuse me with Martha Stewart, nor can I produce those crafty little items you see on Pinterest, but I think these Mesquite Ginger Folk are pretty cute and they taste wonderful.  I used good quality margarine rather than butter or Crisco because I like the eventual texture and the flavor is good. This recipe makes a spicy cookie. If you want more of the mesquite flavor to come through, cut down on the spices. The dough must be well chilled before you roll it out, so this is a two-step recipe: mixing first, then later rolling and baking.

Mesquite Ginger Folk (makes about 3 1/2 dozen rolled cookies)

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour,  1/2 cup mesquite meal, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.  Stir and fluff with a fork and then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat 1 1/2 sticks margarine  with 1/2 cup packed brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in 2/3 cup molasses and one large egg. Then gradually add the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. You may need to give up the mixer for a wooden spoon.  Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled, about three hours.

When you are ready to bake, take one disk from the refrigerator .   You’ll want the dough just warm enough to roll without cracking.  While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350 F. and put out brown paper or wire racks to receive the baked cookies. You’ll also need lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking when rolled.  So get a small bowl of flour, take part of the disk, and roll it in the flour before you roll out with the rolling pin.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll out the dough about 1/8-inch thick on flour-dusted surface. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and roll out again.  When you fill one cookie sheet, bake it for about 10 – 12 minutes while you prepare another sheet.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

If you wish, you can use raisins and dried cranberries to make eyes, a mouth and buttons.  Chop the dried fruit into tiny pieces.

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Sometimes it is difficult to position those tiny pieces on the cookies. But remember those tweezers you keep in the kitchen to deal with cactus stickers?  Perfect for placing the eyes and buttons.

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To further decorate the cookies, perhaps make some shoes or pants, mix up some white frosting using powered sugar, a little butter and a few drops of milk.  If you have a decorator bag, use it to pipe out some decorations or just draw the decorations with a flat-end toothpick.  Either way, you’ll love your Mesquite Ginger Folk and you’ll love sharing them.

For more great mesquite recipes, check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.  You’ll learn how to make Mesquite Apple Coffeecake, a fabulous rolled cake with mesquite and coconut, and a dozen other delicous recipes.

Kids Help Kids Learn About Native Plants

Nate Whitthorne demonstrates mesquite grinding on metate to elementary students

Nate Whitthorne demonstrates mesquite grinding on metate to Ventana Vista elementary students.

I was in junior high when I first picked prickly pears with my parents and in my mid-twenties when I joined in the hippie-era enthusiam for learning about wild plants and trying to live off the land.  All of us from that time are getting a bit gray now, so it was with great excitement that I learned that Nate Whitthorne and his younger brother Sam were not only learning about native uses for wild plants, but also teaching what they know to younger children.

Nate and Sam live with their parents Elizabeth and Perry on a beautiful piece of Sonoran Desert on Tucson’s far east side. Right outside their back door are mesquite and palo verde trees, barrel, cholla and saguaro cactus, and even a wolfberry bush.  Their mom and dad originally learned about native plants from a class at the Desert Museum. They also bought my book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest on native uses of desert plants  and tried some of the old-time recipes they found there.

Sam and Nate Whitthorne in their desert backyard.

Sam and Nate Whitthorne in their desert backyard.

In October, Nate and Sam took their knowledge on the road as they represented Tucson Botanical Gardens at the Ventana Vista Elementary School Plant Science Family Night.  Inspired by the Botanical Gardens Native Plants-Native Peoples curriculum, they showed the younger children how to grind mesquite pods on a metate, how to make fiber from agave leaves, and how to dye cloth with crushed cochineal beetles from prickly pear cactus.

Pounding agave to make fiber.

Pounding agave to make fiber.

native foods display

No one expect folks living in the 21st century to exist on wild foods — there are too many of us and it’s not the way we eat today.  And yet Nate and Sam understand that helping younger students learn  what fruits and pods are edible and the other uses of desert plants helps them appreciate the history of the people who lived here before us. Understanding the hidden wealth of the desert  helps all of us feel more connected to our environment.  By seeing not just thorns and stickers when we look at desert plants, but also delicious food and fiber and dye, we look at the desert landscape as something precious to be protected rather than bladed to make way for another shopping center or housing development.  How exciting that that the next generation is getting as much pleasure from learning about desert plants as we did when we were young.

Want more ideas for using desert plants in delicious foods?  Check out my books The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest. 

Mesquite: Dry and Wet

Desert Harvesters volunteers sort mesquite pods for twigs and moldy pods.

Last weekend Desert Harvesters held their last mesquite milling of the season in Tucson.  Dozens of folks lined up with their buckets of pods to have them ground into silky mesquite meal.  To protect their hammermills and ensure everyone gets at healthy product, volunteers check each bucket of pods before they are dumped in the mill to take out any twigs or moldy pods.

Mesquite pods go in the hammermill.

However, if you collected pods this year and didn’t get to the grinding, all is not lost.  You can still make some delicious foods using the wet method.  To do that,  put several handsful of pods into a pot, cover them with water and simmer them for about 45 minutes or until they are very soft.

Mesquite pods boiled until soft.

Now the fun part comes.  Afte the pods are cool, plunge your hands into the mass and wring and tear until all the good sweetness is released into the water.

Wring, tear and squish until the sweetness is released from the fiber.

 

When you have nothing but fiber and sweet broth, strain until you have….

….this broth.

Now you can use this in any number of delicious treats.  I love to make Mesquite Pumpkin Pudding for Thanksgiving, using mesquite broth and a little mesquite meal and honey as the sweetening.  You can put it in a bowl or fancy it up like this:

In a previous post I wrote about using mesquite broth to make a coffee drink.  Include your mesquite broth with some coffee and milk and top with whipped cream.  Yum!  I’ll repeat the photo here because it is so beautiful.

It isn’t hard to invent ways to use mesquite broth. For inspiration and other recipes using mesquite broth, take a look at my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.


Nopalpalooza: Phoenix Celebrates Cactus

Nopalpalooza shopping bag

Last week Phoenix veggie lovers and the veggie-curious came out for the Nopalpalooza to celebrate the launch of a new shopping bag featuring cactus pads.  The bag is the second in a series of veggie-themed bags from HipVeggies, the brainchild of Valley of the Sun dietitian Monika Woolsey.  The Phoenix New Times did a piece on her venture that you can read here.

The bag was designed by Phoenix graphic artist Joe Ray and some of the profits from the sales go to the Desert Mission Food Bank.  Monika is so into nopales that she even commissioned a Phoenix baker to make several dozen nopal cookies (just sugar cookies, but very cute.)

I was there, showing people how easy it is to clean nopales and cook them.  Also attending was a delegation from Ramona Farms with some delicious tepary bean dishes.

Steve Dunker and Steve Markt with their mesquite granola at the Nopalpalooza.

There to get feedback for their new venture of making commercial products from mesquite meal were Steve Dunker and Steve Markt.  Markt recently graduated from commercial baking school and had brought some mesquite granola and mesquite-based powerbars to pass out. He hoped to get feedback as he designs his product line.  He is purchasing his mesquite from Mike Moody, who is growing a mesquite plantation over by the Colorado River.

And speaking of mesquite, Tucsonans get ready for the Desert Harvesters (www.desertharvesters.org) annual mesquite grinding.  They will have their hammermill at the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market at El Mercado on West Congress on November 15 beginning at 3 p.m.  On November 18 they will move to the  Dunbar-Spring community garden beginning at 9 a.m. They’ve already been to Phoenix and Oracle with their hammermill and have conducted a couple of events in Tucson.  So if you still haven’t had your pods ground into silky delicious meal, this is your last chance this year.  In conjuction with the grinding, there will be a bake sale of fabulous mesquite-based goodies with the profits going to support Desert Harvesters. I’m still trying to decide what to take — ginger mesquite cookies? mesquite banana cake?  Or sweet, crumbly scones?  Come out and see!

And if you have your mesquite meal and are wondering about some ideas for what to do with it, check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.  For inspiration and directions on what wild plants are available in what season, watch a short video here.  

Another Way to Use Mesquite

Make a delicious brunch coffee drink with mesquite broth, milk and whipped cream.

If you’ve gathered your mesquite pods and put them aside to dry until  grinding in the fall, you might be anxious to try a little something with mesquite now.  This luscious drink that I call a Gila Monster is easy to make.  First boil some mesquite pods in plenty of water until soft.  After everything has cooled down, plunge your hands in and wring and tear the pods until all the sweet goodness goes into the water.  This is a great activity for kids.  Strain off the broth which I admit is going to look a bit like dirty dishwater. Discard the seeds and fiber.

Now you can use this sweet broth for drinks or pudding.  For adults, make a mixture of coffee, milk, and mesquite broth. Top with whipped cream.  A shot of Kahlua or hazelnut liqueur is a delicious addition.  For kids, you will probably want to omit the coffee or cut it back to a tablespoon or two.

It isn’t hard to invent ways to use mesquite broth. For inspiration and other recipes using mesquite broth, take a look at my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.