In Arizona and the desert southwest we have some incredible things to eat in the desert. Prickly pears, nopalitos, saguaro cactus fruit, ironwood and palo verde beans and the growing more popular every day mesquite bean. In an utshell the mesquite bean is high in protien and fiber, harvestable throughout the summer, easy to pick and preserve for the highly anticipated mesquite bean millings in late fall.
For those of you that are interested in the entire process, keep reading as I outline how to pick, process, preserve and mill your harvest of mesquite beans.
The height of mesquite (and carob for those that are adventurous) bean picking is upon us. Woohoo. Mesquite is native to the deserts southwest and I have been watching and mesquite beans are thick in the trees and some just a few days away from being ready to harvest. It is best to get your beans picked before the monsoons hit. Additionally, the beans need to be picked from the trees when the beans are dry. So it is a tight window to get them before they hit the ground. The milling will come in November so we have some things to consider between now and then.
First of all, we've had several people inquire as to what we're talking about when we say mesquite milling. Milling is a process by which the mesquite beans are pulverized into a protein rich powder very similar to flour. We mill the entire bean - the brown husks where the flavor is and the hard seeds inside which are protein rich. Mesquite is very tasty and can be used for cookies, breads, breading for meats, as a seasoning and in drinks like protein powder. It is really good stuff and once you are hooked you won't want to miss a year.
Start gathering your mesquite beans now. Once collected there is a process by which you preserve the beans until the milling in November (see below). I have been asked why we wait until November...simply put, there is too much moisture in the air until after October. Too much humidity = gummed up hammermill.
Desert Harvesters down in Tucson a few years back received a grant for a hammer mill to grind the beans into a flour for use in cooking (it is more the consistency of a meal). This is where we are renting the mill from. For more information regarding them see http://www.desertharvesters.org
This year the Phoenix event will be held on Saturday November 3. We may host a pancake breakfast and sponsor other vendors, depending on the amount of effort our community wants to put into this event. interested in taking on one aspect of the event? Let me know.
If you want to begin collecting the mesquite beans here are the specifics.
1. Collect only dry beans.
2. Collect only beans that are on the trees (spread a sheet on the ground and shake the branches.) DO NOT collect beans from the ground as you son't know what kind of pollutants or other contaminants have gotten on them.
3. Some caveats:
* Beans presented for milling MUST contain only beans. Any beans presented that have stones, sticks or other debris CANNOT be milled. These other items damage the mill.
* Beans soaked, damp or damaged by water cannot be milled. We will do a snap test to determine that they are dry enough.
* Make sure that no pesticides are sprayed in the area where the beans are collected.
4. Once you collect the beans they need to be dried. We suggest using your solar oven to lightly toast the them. This dries them out and kills any of the bugs that like to inhabit the beans.
To dry and to rid beans of bugs it is suggested that you heat the beans for a minimum of 2 hours at 160F. This dries the beans and kills any pests that might be inhabiting them.
Other Solarizing options: spread on tarp on driveway (but beware of rain), use a regular oven and add batches of beans when you cook other things.
5. Store the beans in airtight containers. Once you have dried the beans get airtight bags or we suggest 5 gallon buckets with airtight lids and store them.
When you bring the beans for milling:
1. All beans milled are for home use.
2. We will do a snap test. The bean needs to snap in half with a crack rather than bend. Any beans that bend cannot be milled as they can jam the mill and that slows everything down.
3. We may limit people to three five gallon pails of beans, mainly if the turnout for the milling is so great we may have a hard time getting everyone through. We will do this as a starting point to make sure that everyone gets a chance to mill. Then toward the end of the day or in the case of gaps in the line we will allow others to mill their extra beans. Typically carob beans are milled at the end of the day.
4. You are encouraged to bring at least one 5 gallon pail as it will grind down to about 1 gallon of flour.
5. To support this process (the cost of renting the mill is about $400) there will be a minimum $5 charge (donate more if you like) per 5 gallon bucket of beans.
Milling Yield and other specifics
A 5 gallon bucket of beans = 1 gallon flour 1 = about 2 lbs. In the store one pound of mesquite flour sells for $7 to $15. There will be a charge of $5 per 5 gallons of beans for milling. This goes to pay for the mill and mill operators plus hauling the mill from Tucson. Flour should be frozen to preserve until use. Carob milling also will be possible at end of day.
Here are two interesting articles about the history and health benefits of mesquite that I recommend: