Though newcomers to the Sonoran Desert sometimes miss the abundant fruits, berries, mushrooms, and greens of wetter forests, one Tucson organization wants you to know the desert is full of food: You just have to know where to look for it. Desert Harvesters is a nonprofit grassroots group that promotes the harvest of native, wild, and cultivated desert foods and also advocates for the planting of indigenous, food-bearing shade trees (such as the Velvet mesquite) and understory plantings within rainwater harvesting “gardens” in the landscapes where we live, work, and play. Funds raised at these events support the group’s educational efforts in the community, including demonstrations, publications, and tasting events.
The group announces its summer season of harvesting workshops and activities, which aim to help the public learn how to plant, harvest, process, and prepare wild, native, and local food items, including mesquite pods, ironwood & palo verde seeds, and saguaro fruit. Currently the group is raising funds to support the publication of a revised and expanded version of its 2010 cookbook Eat Mesquite! This new cookbook will include recipes for mesquite and other desert foods, as well as information about how to grow, harvest, and prepare native and local foods. Desert Harvesters is also seeking volunteers to help with (and learn from) these and other events.
June 18 & 19, 2016
Workshops on Mesquite Pod Tasting, Inspection, and Ticketing and Hammermill Operation for those who want to become Desert Harvesters volunteers or staff, or others wishing to expand their mesquite-related skill sets. Visit http://www.DesertHarvesters.org or email volunteer@DesertHarvesters.org to learn more.
June 23, 2016
DESERT HARVESTERS’ 14th ANNUAL MESQUITE MILLING & WILD FOODS & DRINKS FIESTA Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market at Mercado San Agustín, 100 S Avenida del Convento, Tucson
Bring your clean & sorted mesquite pods to be milled with our hammermill (fee applies) and taste an array of wild foods.
Harvesters can have their milled mesquite flour tested for aflatoxins (see below) at our 14th Annual Mesquite Milling on June 23, 2016, in Tucson. The cost per test will be a special subsidized fee of only $5.
We will also be serving craft beers (Smoked Mesquite Apple beer as well as a beer finished with creosote flowers) from Iron John Brewing Co. with proceeds going to Desert Harvesters.
June 24, 2016
Desert Harvesters’ Happy Hour at Tap & Bottle
403 N 6th Ave #135, Tucson
Enjoy great regional brews, some infused with locally sourced native wild ingredients. A percentage of all happy-hour sales goes to Desert Harvesters! A local food truck will also be on site with delicious offerings including native wild ingredients.
BE IN SYNC WITH THE SONORAN DESERT’S NATURAL PATTERNS
To encourage harvesting before the monsoons, and to be more in sync with the Sonoran Desert ecology’s natural patterns, Desert Harvesters has shifted its annual harvesting and milling trainings, along with its mesquite millings and fiesta, to the month of June—BEFORE the summer rains. This is also when our native bean trees (mesquite, desert ironwood, palo verde) are ready to harvest (they produce before the rains so their seed is on the ground ready to germinate when the rains arrive). Regularly check our Calendar of Events for more such event info.
FOOD SAFETY: Aflatoxin and how to avoid it
Aflatoxin is a toxic natural compound produced by certain molds; it can cause liver damage and cancer. Aflatoxin is found in many common foods, but only in small quantities is considered safe (U.S. ≤ 20 parts per billion (ppb), Europe ≤ 2 ppb). We at Desert Harvesters are specifically concerned with the invisible mold (Aspergillus flavus) that can produce aflatoxin B1 on mesquite pods, as well as on other food crops (legumes, corn, etc) that have been exposed to moisture.
HARVEST MESQUITE PODS BEFORE THE RAINS (at higher elevations, harvesting in dry autumn weather may be an option)
Desert Harvesters is now recommending that, as much as possible, harvesters collect mesquite pods BEFORE the monsoon rains. (This can be more difficult at higher altitudes due to later ripening. In these areas the best practice may be to only harvest in dry autumn weather.) The reason for pre-rain/dry-season harvesting is to reduce the pods’ exposure to moisture, and thus the risk of the development of an invisible mold (Aspergillus flavus) and the aflatoxin it can produce. Aflatoxin poisoning can have serious health consequences over the long term, so we want to harvest in a SAFE manner. To further avoid moisture issues with the pods we recommend you do NOT rinse or wash pods.
In the small number of batches of mesquite flour we have tested thus far…ALL mesquite pods we tested which were harvested BEFORE the rains have tested SAFE.
In other words, NO mesquite pods harvested BEFORE the rains had results with unsafe levels of aflatoxin. The U.S.-designated safe limit of aflatoxin is 20 parts per billion (ppb), so safe test results will be 20 or fewer ppb.
However, all test batches of mesquite pods that DID have results with unsafe levels of aflatoxin were harvested AFTER the onset of the rains. Again, in the U.S., safe aflatoxin levels of 20 or fewer parts per billion (ppb) are considered safe. However, many other batches harvested AFTER the onset of the rains tested SAFE.
We hope to continue to share more studies and best harvesting practices.
What to do with mesquite flour?
Here’s a truly classic recipe from the first EAT Mesquite! Cookbook.We’ve made hundreds of these cookies. The author of the original recipe is unknown. The ones in the photo below are topped with mesquite toffee.
.25 lb (one stick) butter
1 cup sugar (can be reduced to .75 cup sugar, plus .25 cup mesquite)
2 teaspoon vanilla (or local lemon extract)
2 cup corn tortilla meal (or whole wheat flour)
1 cup mesquite meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
.5 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)
Cream softened butter. Mix in sugar, egg and extract. Sift dry ingredients and add to the first mixture. Add nuts (optional) and beat until smooth. Roll dough into 2 inch balls and press onto ungreased cookie sheet. Or, roll dough into thin logs, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate or freeze. Slice cold logs into rounds and place on cookie sheet. (Doubled cookie sheets or Airbake prevent bottoms from browning too fast.) Place in preheated 375 F oven and bake 12 minutes or until golden. Cool on racks until crisp, or eat warm and soft. Makes up to 200 tiny (.75 inch) cookies.