Desert ecologist Dr. Tony Burgess enjoying the glow of Oam Mashad — “Yellow Moon” in Tohono O’odham is the lunar cycle or “month” when so many desert plants are blooming yellow.
Massive bloom of foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), in spring 2019, extended beyond the normal Oam Mashad, making it the longest lasting and dense-est flowering in botanical memory! (MABurgess photo)
THIS WEEK in early June is a narrow window of opportunity–one of those Manna-from-Heaven moments we are blessed with in our colorful and productive Sonoran Desert. Tia Marta here, encouraging you to get out into the desert right away to enjoy this pulse of plenty! What an experience it is, eating fresh sweet peas right off a tree! No fuss. No kitchen cooking. It’s an easy outdoor treat that grandparents, little kids, even overactive entrepreneurs can all enjoy, along with our feathered and four-legged neighbors.
To ID our most directly-edible and flavorful bean-tree–the foothills, one of many palo verde species–note close-up that the top petal of its butterfly-shaped pea flower is WHITE, and its pinnate leaflets are teensy. (MABurgess photo)
Palo verde flowers, once pollinated by buzzing helpers, shed their petals and morph in May into clusters of bright green seed pods. Foothills paloverde pods are not flat–check these photos. Rather, they look like beads on a short string.
Not to be confused with foothills palo verde, the flat pods of blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have no constriction between seeds, and a bitter taste to my palate–not nearly as flavorful as foothills. [Avoid Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) with its orange petal and potentially toxic seed.]
Imagine each seed of a foothills palo verde (Kuk Chu’hu-dahk) pod inside a long green sheath, a constriction between each like beads on a necklace. (MABurgess photo)
My Tohono O’odham harvesting teacher and mentor, Juanita Ahil, taught me that Kuk Chu’hu-dahk kai is its best when eaten in the green stage, as the pea-size seeds are just swelling. She told me, “Don’t wait til they are real fat, or the seeds will get a little tough and lose some sweetness.” These sweet green peas are chucky-jam-full of legume protein, complex carbs and sugars, and phytonutrients in active mode.
In a short few days when temperatures soar, the soft green seeds shrink into hard little brown “stones,” which can be used in a totally different way, as a protein-rich flour (but that’s another story!)
With the gift of our cool wet spring of 2019, there is a good chance our sweet pea harvest season may extend into June beyond the “normal” first week. But don’t hesitate! Go browse with a basket or canvas bag to bring some home to share or prep into salad or snacks. Long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses are suggested, as branches of foothills palo verde are sharp-tipped. [A voice of experience: In your enthusiasm to look up and reach for handfuls, don’t forget to look down for rocks or rattlers in your shared space.]
Note the structural similarity of a peeled foothills-palo-verde pod to edamame at your favorite sushi bar. They do look like botanical sisters. For a great “desert edamame” recipe go to my June13,2019, savorthesouthwest post (link below).
Beyond the simple pleasure of eating directly from the tree, you can also make “desert edamame” with palo verde pods. They make a wonderfully unexpected hors d’oeuvre or potluck finger-food. Click on my June 13, 2015 post Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees for fabulous recipe ideas and helpful photos. More sources are at Bean Tree Farm’s website, and desertharvesters.org.
To peruse and purchase my traditional Southwest foods and watercolor artwork, visit my website www.flordemayoarts.com or several special shops in Tucson: NativeSeedsSEARCH, the Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop. Next fall-winter season, sign up to learn more about traditional Baja Arizona foods in our City of Gastronomy downtown tours at Tucson Presidio Museum. I also teach timely hands-on wild foods harvesting workshops through Tucson’s Mission Garden.
Foothills palo verde pods plump and ready to pick for a sweet desert treat
Now…grab a pal and go ye into desert foothills to browse palo verde pea-pods –mindfully, joyfully, gratefully!