BY: ANNA BROWN, EXECUTIVE PASTRY CHEF & DEBBY LARSEN, TUCSON LIFESTYLE HOME & GARDEN EDITOR AND CONTRIBUTING WELLNESS GUIDE.
Ancient Sonoran Desert Dwellers: Hohokam Indians
The beautiful land that CIVANA now resides on was once inhabited by ancient Native American tribes. On one of the included guides hikes, guests can climb Sears Kay Mountain where they can see ancient ruins of the Hohokam tribe that first occupied the Carefree area in 1500 AD. The Hohokam were prehistoric North American Indians who lived for hundreds of years in the Sonoran Deserts along the rivers of Southern Arizona. The Hohokam originated as hunters and gatherers who lived primarily on a diet of desert plants that was supplemented by native wildlife. These desert dwellers adapted to the harsh lifestyle by utilizing their natural resources.
Mesquite Trees – Unique Source of Protein
One of those resources was the prolific mesquite tree. This drought-tolerant tree provided wood for building materials for shelters or “pit houses.” These structures provided protection from the elements as well food storage. A round pit was dug in the ground and ringed with stones. A mesquite log frame was constructed and covered in layers of native shrubs and finally sealed with mud. Remnants of these ancient homes have been found near Civana as evidence of the Hohokam existence.
For these ancient desert dwellers, the mesquite tree not only provided fuel, it also produced a yearly crop of nutritious beans. The Hohokam dried these tan-colored, seedpods into nutritional flour that was utilized in a variety of ways. Today, many chefs use mesquite flour in their recipes. It digests slowly, has a high fiber and protein content and is low on the glycemic index. Mesquite flour is gluten free and can be used as an ingredient in savory dishes, sauces and marinades. Its sweet, nutty flavor makes it a component for other tasty dishes.
Harvesting Mesquite Pods
All three native mesquite trees produce an abundant crop of pods. In spring clusters of long, green pods appear. The pods then ripen and change from green to yellowish tan, tinged with red. They become dry and brittle. It is time to harvest when the pods come off easily when pulled. Avoid pods with black mold spots or holes. (Do not use pods that have fallen to the ground.)
It is recommended that the best time to harvest is before the summer rains begin or long after the rainy season ends in early fall. This lessens the risk of the development of an invisible mold and the aflatoxin it can produce.
To avoid the moisture issue, it is recommended that the pods not be washed after harvesting. To further ensure that the beans are very dry, they can be left on drying racks in the sun or roasted in a conventional oven at 275 degrees until golden. This heat treatment is enough to kill any bruchid beetles that may be in the pods. (Small holes indicate that the beetles have left.)
A great deal of the pod is indigestible fiber. The edible portion is the pith between the brittle shell and the hard seeds. Break the pods into small 1-2 inch pieces. Pulverize them in a coffee grinder, blender or food processor. (There will be a lot of fibrous bits remaining.) Press through a sieve to remove the remnants. Run through a strainer retaining only the fine flour.
A serving size (2 tablespoons) contains: 2 grams protein, 14 grams total carbohydrate, 1 gram fat and 6 grams fiber.
When in season, join Pastry Chef Anna Brown in her Bake Shop 101 culinary class to learn how she has harvested and processed these unique beans to make a unique flour that she bakes delicious treats like the examples below.
Mesquite Pancakes (V/GF/NF)
• 3 tsp egg replacer dissolved in 4 Tbsp of water*
• 1 C. gluten free AP flour
• 1/3 C. mesquite flour
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• ½ tsp. baking soda
• 1 ¾ C coconut milk**
• 2 Tbsp olive oil***
• 1 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar
Whisk all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add in wet ingredients and stir just until combined (lumps are okay). Pour 1/3 C of batter on a hot greased griddle or skillet. Flip once bubbles begin to pop on the surface. Repeat until all batter is used. Note: *2 shelled eggs can be substituted for egg substitute but it won’t remain vegan. **Any choice of milk can be substituted if not vegan/gluten free/nut free ***Any oil can be substituted.
Mesquite Oatmeal Cookies (V/GF/NF)
• 1 ½ C. GF rolled oats
• ¾ C. GF AP flour
• ¼ C. Mesquite flour
• 1 C. shredded dry coconut
• 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
• ½ tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1 C. brown sugar
• ½ C. vegan butter
• 3 T. maple syrup
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 2 T. coconut milk
• 1 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar
Combine milk and vinegar in a cup set aside. In mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Add in all remaining ingredients starting with dry. Mix until combined. Using a cookie scoop or approximately 1 Tbsp heaping, scoop onto a baking sheet. Flatten slightly with palm of your hand. Bake @ 350 Approx. 9-11 min for soft cookies.
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