Every month, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. Here, she finds a solution for a royal pain of the desert: mesquite pods.
Do you ever wonder what to do with all of those mesquite pods lining your lawn-less yard? This Fall, you might want to set aside your rake, and mill the mesquites instead. We promise that once your friends get a taste for some baked goods made out of mesquite flour they’ll be begging you for a sackful or a care package.
When to harvest: The best time to harvest mesquite pods is in the early summer, specifically the hot, miserable, dry days of June. If you miss out on this opportunity, there is a chance you can catch a second harvest in the early fall.
What trees to choose: Choose your culinary variety by sticking to the native mesquites such as Velvet, Honey, or Screwbean, because these are considered the most palatable in our region, offering up a sweet, nutty flavor. Also know that, if you’ve never stumbled upon the sophisticated, spiraled architecture of a Screwbean seedpod, it is stunningly beautiful, and you might find it difficult to consider crushing.
The sound: Hike through your yard or neighborhood and search for the pods. Ripe pods are cream-colored to light brownish and can often be found on the ground, but it’s best to shake them from a tree to avoid possible contaminants – they should release easily. Pick up a pod. Shake it. If you hear the interior beans rattle, then you likely have a good one.
The taste: Taste it. What you taste now is what your food will ultimately taste like – sweet and nutty or bitter. If it tastes bitter, you might as well just move on to the next tree, because who wants a bitter cookie or pancakes for that matter? And it’s likely that all the pods from that tree will taste the same.
Laying them out to dry: Lay the harvested pods out in the sun to completely dry out for about two to three days. Test their dryness by snapping one in half. Once they break easily, they are ready for storage. Store them in a container that will allow the pods to breath, such as a burlap sack. Any moisture will encourage fungal growth. (It is important to choose clean dry pods that have not been subjected to moisture, which can encourage the growth of a toxic fungus.)
The milling process: As the days of summer wane, let that be your sign that it’s milling time. Grind them yourself by placing the pods in a blender or a coffee grinder. This method requires a grind and sift pattern, meaning you will grind the pod, and then sift the fine flour out and repeat with the remaining material.
The less labor-intensive process involves a hammermill, which you can find – for a fee – at several Fall community millings across our region. Take your clean, dry pods to the festival where the hammermill is set up, where you’ll pay a $3 grinding fee per gallon (mesquite pods) with a minimum $10 fee. The splurge is worth it; a hammermill will grind gallons of mesquite pods into one pound of flour in about five minutes.
Hundreds of people turn out for the annual Desert Harvesters‘ Mesquite Milling and festival in Tucson’s Dunbar Spring neighborhood. That’s why it’s a good idea to get there early and claim your hammermill.
“The first year we had one mill and about a dozen folks showed up to get their pods milled. Now we have to have three mills running the whole time to keep up with the demand,” says organizer Brad Lancaster. He adds that the operation is more streamlined each year, so that more pods can get milled as quickly as possible. “That enables folks to enjoy all aspects of the event.”
The result: The fine flour is rich in nutrients, protein-packed and gluten-free, and can be concocted into an artisanal spread spanning each chapter of just about every cookbook. Brad suggests the cookbook Eat Mesquite! where you’ll learn how to make everything from moles to crackers to breads, pastries, and more.
* The Santa Cruz River Valley is abundant with knowledgeable mesquite milling hosts, such as Desert Harvesters, and The Tucson Audubon Society, who host milling events and community gatherings with native flare. The Desert Harvester’s 11th Annual Mesquite Milling and Fiesta is on November 24th from 11am-5pm in the Dunbar Springs Neighborhood.
Reprinted with permission: 3storymagazine.com