10/27/2013

Adventures with Mesquites

We left a yard of maples, pines, and an elm tree in New York for a yard of mesquite trees in Arizona. In fact, we have three acres of mesquite trees.  The mesquite is a tough, drought tolerant small tree. Famous for its wood that smokes meat to a delicious flavor, the tree averages about 20 feet in height. Its leaves are delicate and lacy looking, but watch out! Most mesquite varieties have thorns--along the same lines as thorn apples Back East. They are deciduous and when they leaf out in April, it's about the only green we have until the monsoon.

There are several varieties of mesquite and the ones most plentiful in our area are the honey mesquite. The tree flowers out in May with a long, fuzzy yellow bloom, and then long pods form once the flowers are gone. Unbeknownst to us, these pods are sweet and have been used in the Southwest for a long time. Our local farmers market has been milling the dried pods for a few years to make flour, so we decided to take a crack at collecting a bunch this summer.  If you purchase the flour online or in a store, it runs from $7-9 per HALF pound. It was worth our time to harvest some pods.

Here's the process we followed to collect the pods:

1. We picked dry pods from the trees and NOT off the ground. Using beans that have resided on the ground is not a good idea because of bacteria. Pods with black mold are to be avoided for obvious reasons.

2. We tasted the beans before picking from individual trees. Only those with a sweet, pleasant flavor were the ones we picked. Not all trees are equal.

3. We dried them in the sun to get every bit of moisture out of them over a period of a few days. There are bugs who bore into the pods, so you keep the buckets of pods outside. If you take them in too soon, you'll have a buggy house. The pods are really dry when they snap easily in half.  If you want to kill off all of the bugs, spread the pods on baking sheets and bake at 175 degrees for an hour or two. We decided that drying and sorting over several days got rid of the majority of bugs. A little extra fiber never hurt anyone.

4. We stored the pods in airtight food safe plastic buckets to await the milling day which was last week. The pods had been in the buckets for a couple of months, so we spread them out in the sun one more time to make sure they were good to go.

The farmers market had a line of folks waiting to have their pods ground into flour, but the wait was worth it. Each year, mesquite milling gets more popular. A lot of time is spent in the final sorting by market volunteers, who are looking for things that shouldn't go through the milling machine, like rocks, sticks, moldy pods, etc. Our little harvest yielded a little over seven pounds of beautiful mesquite flour from seven gallons of pods.  I'll be experimenting with pancakes, breads and maybe some cookies. Substituting a small portion of regular flour with mesquite seems to be the way to adapt recipes. So, a recipe that calls for a cup of flour adjusts out to 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of mesquite. The flour is sweet and nutty. It's actually a bit sticky, attesting to the sweet pods from our trees.

 For those who may be interested, the flour is gluten free and is full of good stuff for us.  It does need to be mixed with other flours since gluten is what makes bread, well bread and not just a pile of crumbs. It has a strong flavor, so some experimentation is required for the correct ratio for your taste buds.

Since it is so pricey, I'm tempted to package it up in small bags and sell it out my car. Well---maybe not.

Cooking with mesquite flour link:  http://www.desertharvesters.org/mesquite-in-the-kitchen/cooking-with-mesquite/


Milling at Sierra Vista Farmers Market
Finished Product


1 comment:

Cindi A said...

Thanks for sharing such an interesting story. I learned a lot from your article. Living in Pennsylvania, I never knew about the mesquite trees or the flour made from the pods.

Positively encouraging

10/27/2013

Adventures with Mesquites

We left a yard of maples, pines, and an elm tree in New York for a yard of mesquite trees in Arizona. In fact, we have three acres of mesquite trees.  The mesquite is a tough, drought tolerant small tree. Famous for its wood that smokes meat to a delicious flavor, the tree averages about 20 feet in height. Its leaves are delicate and lacy looking, but watch out! Most mesquite varieties have thorns--along the same lines as thorn apples Back East. They are deciduous and when they leaf out in April, it's about the only green we have until the monsoon.

There are several varieties of mesquite and the ones most plentiful in our area are the honey mesquite. The tree flowers out in May with a long, fuzzy yellow bloom, and then long pods form once the flowers are gone. Unbeknownst to us, these pods are sweet and have been used in the Southwest for a long time. Our local farmers market has been milling the dried pods for a few years to make flour, so we decided to take a crack at collecting a bunch this summer.  If you purchase the flour online or in a store, it runs from $7-9 per HALF pound. It was worth our time to harvest some pods.

Here's the process we followed to collect the pods:

1. We picked dry pods from the trees and NOT off the ground. Using beans that have resided on the ground is not a good idea because of bacteria. Pods with black mold are to be avoided for obvious reasons.

2. We tasted the beans before picking from individual trees. Only those with a sweet, pleasant flavor were the ones we picked. Not all trees are equal.

3. We dried them in the sun to get every bit of moisture out of them over a period of a few days. There are bugs who bore into the pods, so you keep the buckets of pods outside. If you take them in too soon, you'll have a buggy house. The pods are really dry when they snap easily in half.  If you want to kill off all of the bugs, spread the pods on baking sheets and bake at 175 degrees for an hour or two. We decided that drying and sorting over several days got rid of the majority of bugs. A little extra fiber never hurt anyone.

4. We stored the pods in airtight food safe plastic buckets to await the milling day which was last week. The pods had been in the buckets for a couple of months, so we spread them out in the sun one more time to make sure they were good to go.

The farmers market had a line of folks waiting to have their pods ground into flour, but the wait was worth it. Each year, mesquite milling gets more popular. A lot of time is spent in the final sorting by market volunteers, who are looking for things that shouldn't go through the milling machine, like rocks, sticks, moldy pods, etc. Our little harvest yielded a little over seven pounds of beautiful mesquite flour from seven gallons of pods.  I'll be experimenting with pancakes, breads and maybe some cookies. Substituting a small portion of regular flour with mesquite seems to be the way to adapt recipes. So, a recipe that calls for a cup of flour adjusts out to 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of mesquite. The flour is sweet and nutty. It's actually a bit sticky, attesting to the sweet pods from our trees.

 For those who may be interested, the flour is gluten free and is full of good stuff for us.  It does need to be mixed with other flours since gluten is what makes bread, well bread and not just a pile of crumbs. It has a strong flavor, so some experimentation is required for the correct ratio for your taste buds.

Since it is so pricey, I'm tempted to package it up in small bags and sell it out my car. Well---maybe not.

Cooking with mesquite flour link:  http://www.desertharvesters.org/mesquite-in-the-kitchen/cooking-with-mesquite/


Milling at Sierra Vista Farmers Market
Finished Product


1 comment:

Cindi A said...

Thanks for sharing such an interesting story. I learned a lot from your article. Living in Pennsylvania, I never knew about the mesquite trees or the flour made from the pods.