The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension (reg)

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  This Issue:
    Calendar of Events
    Things to Expect & Do
    Trees for Special Areas
    A Date with History
    Annuals in the
    Buzz; A Book Review
    Velvet Mesquite
    Computer Corner
    Ask a Master Gardener
    How Herbicides Work
    The Unappreciated
          Smell of Rain
    East Valley Escape
    Word Wise
    Garden Insects of
          North America

    Is Your Gardening
          Library Complete
    Citrus Clinics
The Master Gardener Journal

D I D   Y O U   K N O W ?

Velvet Mesquite: Great for Cooking and Eating
by Sue Hakala, Master Gardener

The Velvet Mesquite tree, Prosopis velutina, has one of the best tasting pods of all mesquite trees. The pods can be ground up or, soaked and used to smoke and flavor foods while cooking. This tree only grows naturally in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Deciduous, it can grow to 55 feet tall, known to put out roots to a depth of 160 feet and in a radius of 50-60 feet in a never-ending search for water. Most of the roots are in the upper three feet of the soil, where water and oxygen are.

Living up to 200 years, Velvet Mesquites grow up to elevations of 5,000 feet. Researchers that have re-photographed the exact same vista in the Sonoran Desert from 50 to 100 years ago, have discovered that the mesquite tree is overtaking the land by out-competing other species as they have deep water-seeking roots. Mesquites lately are retreating to large washes and flood plain areas as the water table drops.

Prosopis alba

Bees pollinate the tiny flowers of the Velvet Mesquite, and the resulting bean pods are up to eight inches long, with three distinct parts. The pods are most abundant during times of drought when they are most needed, saving the life of many animals and travelers in the past. Mesquite seeds/beans are scattered by animals that ingest them. Passing through the gut actually enhances germination. If not ingested, the seeds need to be tumbled in a wash flood to scarify the seed or weathered so that it can sprout. Mesquite trees, as with all members of the Legume family, put nitrogen back in to the soil that is starved by drought or over-grazing. Deer, quail and a wide variety of birds find shelter and hiding places within and under the mesquite. Mesquite wood is very hard and is quite attractive in furniture: the sapwood yields a yellow color, the heartwood a reddish-brown color.
Prosopis chilensis

Cooking with Mesquite

Native Americans and chuckwagon cooks have loved the long-lasting coals and sweet smoky flavor that the mesquite tree gives when burned. There is nothing like mesquite to impart a delicious flavor to foods from vegetables to beef. The smell of poultry basted with tequila, roasting over glowing mesquite coals is fantastic.

If you have cut down a mesquite tree save the wood, dry it, and use it for cooking. It is best to use mesquite with stronger tasting foods that can stand up to the assertive flavor that the wood will impart. Make a wood fire in a barbecue grill, allow it to burn down creating glowing coals which will transmit a savory flavor to any of the following: pork ribs or chops, shrimp, salmon, quail, potatoes, corn, eggplant, squash, wild game, leeks, red pepper, steaks, burgers, chicken, and duck.

Soak dry mesquite chips or pods in some water for at least 30 minutes. Spread them over your barbecue coals to impart a smoky taste to pork, turkey, quail, beans, and salmon or, anything you'd like. Experiment with using the soaked chips or pods in a metal container placed on your barbecue to get a different flavor. Collect and save the pods for this purpose if you can, as they are a renewable resource, the wood isn't.

Prosopis pubescens

Green and juicy pods of the Velvet Mesquite simmered taste like snow peas or cherries. Not yet dry pods can be mashed and soaked in water to produce a nourishing drink. Ripe pods of the Velvet Mesquite are tan streaked with a reddish-purple color. Use a pole to bring down branches so that you can reach the pods to pick them off. Rinse pods to remove dirt. Pat them dry. Place pods on a cookie sheet. Bake at 150 degrees for 3 hours to kill the beetle larva inside, until pods are dry and crispy. Cool then whirl about 15 at a time in your blender for just a few seconds, and then sift twice to remove the fibers and seeds. Keep in an airtight container. Use the flour to make bread or, add to stews to thicken them and provide a protein punch. It is best to take a little taste test of the pods that you might want to use, as some trees produce very bitter tasting pods akin to burnt coffee or molasses. If you want to store the pods for smoking, be sure that they are oven dried, then store them in the freezer.

Up to 1/3 cup of mesquite flour can be substituted for regular flour in cookie, bread, cake and muffin recipes adding a touch of sweetness. Here are some of recipes from Ruth Greenhouse formerly of the Desert Botanical Garden:

Mesquite Cookies

Cream 1/2 cup margarine with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and mix well. Sift together 1/2 cup mesquite flour and 1 1/2 cups regular flour. Mix well. Bake at 375 degree for 8 to 10 minutes.

Mesquite Tea

Grind 2 cups dry mesquite beans in a blender. Add everything to 2 cups boiling water. Mix and strain through a fine sieve. Add 2 cups cool water. Chill or serve warm.

Photos by Candice Sherrill

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated November 21, 2004
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
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