One tree that is unaffected by our two-year "exceptional" drought is the mesquite, an important tree in the ecology of our area. So many different species depend on it, from insects (especially bees) that thrive on the nectar of the flowers to raccoons, deer, coyotes, rabbits, and more that eat every ripe mesquite bean they can find. The other day, our neighbor noticed a fox under one of our mesquite trees. Pausing to watch, he saw another fox jump out of the tree, and the two foxes trotted off together. I love the story: I didn't know that foxes can climb trees! There's more about the mesquite here, but I want to tell you about my own adventure with this remarkable tree.
Yesteray afternoon I went out to the garden and collected a basket (about two pounds) of ripe mesquite beans. I picked them up inside the fenced garden, where they littered the ground, safe from the deer and other animals that have cleaned them up around the other trees. I dried the beans in the solar oven (2 hours, about 180 degrees). (Click on the photo for a larger view). Then I snapped them and ground them in my small metate, using a mano. I also tried grinding them in my blender and in the coffee grinder (I don't own a food processor), but stuck with the traditional hand-method, which seemed to me just as fast and considerably more satisfying.
This is what the grinding process looked like. The pods ground readily, to a fine, sticky, sugary meal. The seeds were much harder. With a great deal more effort, I might have been able to grind them too, but I gave it up: everything I've read suggests that the protein and sugars are mostly in the pods. The grinding itself was extraordinarily interesting. The tools--the metate and mano--are ancient, and as I was working with them, I felt a wonderfully strong connection to the uncounted and unnamed women of past times who have used these same tools to perform this same vitally important task: making meal of their wild-gathered or gardened seeds and grains--mesquite, maize, amaranth.
The result of an hour's work: about two cups of fine mesquite meal. It's surprisingly sweet to the taste and sticky with sugars. (As a medicinal, mesquite is under scientific study as a possible control for diabetes.) I've refrigerated it and will make some muffins with it in a few days, when Bill gets back from his trip to New Mexico. I'll let you know how it tastes.
I've been involved with gardening and food-raising most of my life, and I'm always impressed by how much work it takes to make anything "from scratch," whether it's growing and cooking our own potatoes or corn or green beans or chickens or other meat. Making mesquite meal certainly belongs in the "lots of work" category. But while I was working, I was thinking about how dependent we are on our extraordinarily complex, fossil-fueled food production system, and how little capable most of us are at the task of producing our own food, "from scratch." It was sobering thought, and a sobering experience.
I'll let you know how those muffins turn out.
Reading note I don't think we're looking for a single model [of food production]--one size fits all. The problem with our current food system: it is a monoculture economically, as well as on the ground. We have to let a thousand flowers bloom. We want to have many different food chains in this country because some of them are going to fail. We want to know that if there's a problem with organic, that we have local. And if there's a problem with local, that we even have conventional. We’re not looking for the right answer, the single answer for all of us, in all places. It's going to have to be locally adapted. And the more different food chains you have, the more resilient your food economy and the less likely you are to go hungry.--Michael Pollan, NPR, "Science Friday," Aug 21, 2009