In October, the Desert Harvesters are setting up a mesquite tree pod "hammermill" at Oracle State Park, allowing people to turn their tan mesquite tree pods into nutty-sweet mesquite flour for pancakes and cookies.
Beforehand, the Harvesters are putting on a mesquite pod-harvesting workshop at the park this Saturday, Aug. 1, from 9 a.m. to noon.
The how-to workshop is $5 per person, in addition to the park admission fee of $5 per vehicle. Space is limited, and advance registration is required by calling the Oracle State Park office at 520-896-2425. Samples of mesquite flour goodies will be available for tasting.
Pod harvesting is as simple as picking ripe pods off mesquite trees. Yet there are some important procedures for drying and storing to assure top-quality flour, a release said.
Milling is planned during the Fiesta de las Calabazas at the park on Saturday, Oct. 3, when people are invited to bring their three- or five-gallon bucket of clean pods for milling. The 10-minute process should yield about three or five pounds of mesquite flour. Cost of the festival is $10 per vehicle and there is no additional charge for milling.
Mesquite pods are a good source of calcium, fiber, manganese, iron and zinc. The seeds are 40 percent protein. The flour gives traditional baked goods a distinctive flavor, slightly sweet and somewhat like graham crackers.
"Cookies or pancakes are sure to impress guests, amaze kids, and build a connection with the desert we share with native plants and animals," the release said.
Tips on harvesting mesquite pods
• Tan-colored pods are ripe when they are brittle — they break in two with a "snap" when you bend them. Do not harvest from trees that are near possible contaminants (highway runoff, sprayed pesticides, treated utility poles), and do not harvest off the ground (bugs, animal droppings). Do not gather pods that have black mold spots;
• Pick ripe pods from the tree. Taste first to judge pod sweetness; if it's not sugary sweet, try another tree. Pull gently; if you have to pull hard, the pods are not ready to harvest;
• Clean them by swishing in a pail of water. Remove all sticks, dirt, or other debris that could damage the hammer-mill or degrade your flour. Dry them naturally laid out on a cloth on the hood of your car or metal roofing for 2-3 days, or dry them in the oven on a tray at 170-175 degrees for 40 minutes. They are dry when they break in two with a snap;
• Store them in a bag in the freezer, being sure to thaw several days before milling day.
More information about mesquite pod harvesting is also available on the Tucson-based Desert Harvesters website: www.desertharvesters.org.