The Tree of Life
August 28, 2019 8:24 AM   Subscribe

“We’re making this food because it’s our umbilical cord to our past, to our ancestors, to everything,” she says. “I was always taught it was the tree of life. I want people to respect it as important.” Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, a traditional healer, chef, and indigenous foods activist, uses many parts of the mesquite tree for a variety of purposes, including the pods for food. “Most people think of it kind of as a nuisance,” she says. “For me, it’s an ancestral food, a food that has nourished my family for thousands of years.” Spreading the Love—How to Plant Your Very Own Mesquite Tree - start planning now, as late fall is the ideal time to plant.

Hot on the tail of a number of different ancestral superfoods, mesquite flour is starting to make a name for itself in Mexico.
Food uses include: Grinding, adding water, and letting the mixture ferment; pods used as a sugar substitute (they’re 16% sugar); the tree’s white resinous secretions used to make candy or chewed like gum; fresh pods pounded and juice drank like milk; pounded beans mixed with sea lion oil; pods rotted in a hole for a month then ground into a flour to make a beverage; beans boiled, cooled then pressed into cakes; catkins sucked for sweetness; toasted seeds ground and added to coffee; flowers eaten raw or roasted, often formed into dumplings then stored.
Texas Baker Rekindles Interest In The Mysterious Mesquite Bean
How to Forage and Harvest
Recipes for Mesquite Molasses, Tortillas, and Cornbread
Mesquite Meringue Cookies
Making Mesquite Bean Syrup: Mesquite combines hints of malt, mocha, cinnamon and vanilla with a definite woody background.
posted by stoneweaver (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool! More info on growing and using mesquite from Desert Harvesters.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:48 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you're somewhere with the right climate, they're super easy to grow. They're not picky about soil or water, and can be mostly ignored. And if you don't want to grow a tree from seed, plenty of nurseries carry saplings.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:04 AM on August 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Mesquite honey is also pretty great. Rich and dark and full of flavor.
posted by wanderingmind at 9:45 AM on August 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

:glances at extremely scratched up arms from trimming the front yard this past weekend:

Yes, they do grow easily in the right climate. And volunteers sprout at the drop of a hat pod. But there are a few ... downsides ...

Mesquite honey (readily available at Trader Joe's yays) is by far my favorite type. I can't say mesquite flour is my favorite alternative to wheat, though -- even in pancakes, the texture doesn't sit right in my mouth.
posted by Quasirandom at 10:04 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Excess mesquite trees and prickly pear cactus are also great indicators in most of the dry southwest that you have seriously overgrazed your land.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:07 AM on August 28, 2019

Which is why they aren't a very popular tree.

If you buy into land with excess mesquite trees, it's a clear indicator the land is currently awful and you have years of work to do.

If you are the cause of it, then it's an indicator that you have no idea what you are doing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

They're a nitrogen fixer. And a source of sustainable food for many people. I hope that you read links and are able to change your view of them. They're healing for the land and for people.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:13 AM on August 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Here is a fantastic chocolate chip cookie recipe using mesquite flour. Everyone loves them.

Make ‘em, y’all!
posted by theperfectcrime at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

They're a nitrogen fixer. And a source of sustainable food for many people. I hope that you read links and are able to change your view of them. They're healing for the land and for people.

No, I didn't mean to imply that I personally dislike them, and also meant to specify an 'excess' of them, which means one every few feet, like a scraggly monocrop mesquite forest, which is not what the southwest looked like originally.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:19 PM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love them, but I spent my childhood pulling the very painful thorns out of my feet, sometimes through the soles of my shoes. Just be careful!

I love the way they look when they lean down and run parallel to the ground for a ways.
posted by usedsongs at 11:30 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

What's the deal with the shrub version? Discussion seems to pass over it. Not worth messing with for food purposes? Seems like distance from the ground is desirable to avoid the toxic mold problem.

I don't have the space to plant a large tree but could plant a shrub with a creeping habit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:37 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Grew up with a few mesquite trees in Central Texas. The beans they grow are pretty bitter; it was a revelation to have some very juicy beans during a visit to West Texas. My father grew up chewing some sort of resin out there as a kid; I'm betting it was from mesquite.

I'd definitely like to try some in atole. I bet nixtamal and mesquite make a complete protein.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:33 PM on August 29, 2019

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