Mesquite Gardens: Pod Harvesting and Processing
Our mesquite gardens lie wherever mesquite trees are found. For an array of information on mesquites, see this link: mesquite trees.
Mesquite pods have served as critical food for indigenous people in our area. The pod has a thin skin, within which lies a mealy pulp (containing the seeds), which is quite sweet (about 20% sugars). The seeds (which are enclosed in a hard woody covering) are about 35% protein -- a very high proportion, making it a high-quality food indeed.
Not only is mesquite flour highly nutritious, it is also potentially valuable for conserving ecosystems in that it can be made into a kind of "bread" without baking (so that less wood need be wasted as fuel -- see Dimmit, Mark, "Fabaceae (legume family)", in Steven Phillips and Patricia Comus, eds., 2000, A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, pp. 236-38, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, Tucson, on this point).
Since mesquite pods can ripen anytime from late June through September or October, depending on conditions, they can be harvested anytime during this period if conditions are favorable. Ripe pods are dry and brittle. They come off the tree with little pulling. After gathering, rinse the pods, then dry them in the sun for 2-3 days. Store in a dry place until milling day. We don't worry much about bugs hatching out during storage, but the week before milling we do rinse and dry the pods again, which seems to mostly get rid of bugs that have hatched. [This information drawn from announcements by Pearl Mast and David Omick]
Historically, the problem with processing mesquite as a food is the difficulty in separating the seeds and pulp from their inedible woody covering. In Saguaro-Juniper we use a hammer-mill (see), which does the job nicely (but is not easy to come by -- in 2000 we bought one from a local rancher for $250 and reconditioned it). See Mesquite Bean Milling 2001 for an account of our initial efforts. Since that time we have conducted cooperative milling operations nearly every year, with each event drawing more people, processing more beans, and employing more sophisticated technologies. Click on this link to see a brief image report on our most recent milling, which will give a sense of the technological evolution of our work: Mesquite Processing 2006.
Mesquite wood is very hard and durable. O'odham used it for all kinds of construction where posts were needed, and contemporary builders and furniture makers regard it as a material of exceptional quality.