For thousands of years, mesquite pods were the primary food of people who lived on the Sonoran Desert. It’s Carolyn here today recalling that when I first started researching and experimenting with mesquite in 1972, hardly anybody was eating this sweet nutritious food. Although a few Tohono O’odham kept up with the old ways, it was on the verge of being forgotten.
Until recently, it wasn’t easy to process mesquite pods. Early Native women made mesquite meal by pounding the pods in bedrock mortars. By the 1970s it hadn’t gotten much easier. But fortunately for all of us someone (I recall it was at the Desert Museum) figured that the pods could be crushed and sifted by a hammermill, a common piece of farm equipment. After some years, Desert Harvesters took up the challenge and offered to grind the pods of all comers for a modest fee. Getting a beautiful, smooth tasty flour was now easy. And the world of mesquite baking opened up.
Bodie Robins of Big Skye Bakers is one of the folks who have brought mesquite baking into the twenty-first century selling mesquite baked goods at farmers’ markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.
Bodie, an architectural designer, began baking with mesquite as therapy in 2008 when construction took a dive with the recession. His first experiment produced some dog biscuits that he shared with his neighbors. He decided there might be a future in mesquite baking when his neighbors admitted they were eating the dog biscuits themselves. With salsa!
Bodie took his product to a farmers’ market. But it turns out not enough people were willing to pay for high-end mesquite dog biscuits (many dogs are willing to just chew the pods, unbaked), so he began to experiment with other baked goods, trying various combinations of flours until he produced a version he liked.
Today he sells pies with mesquite crust, cookies, and cupcakes. Many of his customers are attracted by the gluten-free nature of Bodie’s mesquite pie crust. One very grateful middle-aged customer was thrilled to find a pie crust he could eat and told Bodie he hadn’t been able to eat pie since he was 15 years old.
A perfect loaf of gluten-free bread eluded Bodie until recently when extensive experimenting has finally led to a mixture of mesquite meal, brown rice flour, tapioca and sweet potato flour that turns out a delicious loaf.
“My customers are particular about the foods they buy and eat,” he says . “They like to learn about mesquite. There’s a romance to it – an arts and crafts movement about food. I get everything from savvy young college kids to the elderly.”
Bodie gathers the mesquite pods he uses himself and has them ground at the Baja Arizona mill at the Sierra Vista farmers’ market. He goes through up to 200 pounds a year and if he runs out, he can grind a few pounds in his Vitamix. He produces his goods in his home kitchen under the home baker cottage industry law.
You can find Bodie and his Big Skye specialty baked goods at the Rillito Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m
Here’s a delicious recipe for waffles that Bodie developed. This recipe includes wheat flour, but if you are gluten sensitive, experiment with some other flours to find a mixture that works for you.
Cinnamon-Pecan Mesquite Waffles
2 eggs separated
2 1/2 cups milk
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup mesquite meal
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
- Lightly oil and pre heat waffle iron.
- Separate eggs reserving the whites in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl mix egg yolks, milk and oil.
- Mix all dry ingredients together
- Add liquids to dry ingredients. Gently mix until smooth.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Fold in the egg whites to the waffle mix.
- Place 1/2 cup of batter onto hot waffle iron. Close lid. Bake until golden Repeat with remaining batter.
Want more mesquite recipies? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. You can buy it at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store at 3061 North Campbell Avenue, in Tucson, or order it off the NSS website or from Barnes&Noble. If you need mesquite flour, buy it from Martha Burgess’s Flor de Mayo stand at the St. Phillip’s Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sundays or order it here.