As we are sequestering, we Sonoran Desertofiles should all be out harvesting juicy tunas, ok more on that later, because….
It’s also bellota time! In mid-August, we went on a bellota quest. Three of us set out, socially distanced, up into Arizona’s oak woodland near the border. Two inspiring foodie-pals, Dr.Letitia McCune “BotanyDoc.com” and Mission Garden mover-shaker Emily Rockey, y yo–Tia Marta–were on a treasure hunt to relocate the wonderful, giving trees where my Tohono O’odham mentor Juanita Ahil used to gather wi-yo:thi. Our quarry: the little acorns of Emory oak.
Yes we found them, with thanks–Ah such plenty! Fruit of Quercus emoryi are the only acorns I know of in the world that don’t need to be leached of their tannins before eating. You can eat them fresh off the tree.
Bellotas are increditbly nutritious– full of complex carbs that help balance blood sugar and almost 50% rich oil similar in quality to olive oil.
But they require some work, and can be difficult to de-hull to extract each little morsel of goodness inside–the nutmeat.
There are lots of ways to crack the shell. I like to crack them ever-so-gently when placed longitudinally between opposite molars, then manually remove the shell. Jesus Garcia, the Desert Museum’s primo ethnobotanist, demonstrates the “traditional Sonoran” method using his incisors to cut a “waistline” around the midriff of the acorn so two perfect half-cups of shell release a perfect nutmeat. Experiment to find your own favorite method.
…A tedious process no matter what. Hey, try shelling bellotas while listening to audiobooks or good music.
This easy recipe combines sweets, like mesquite pod flour and piñon nuts, with the excitingly bitter notes of bellotas. Bellota Bars, with chocolate, are a decadent dessert served with ice-cream. Without chocolate (less melt-able), they are an energizing bar great for hikes and picnics.
RECIPE — Tia Marta’s Peanut Butter Bellota Bars —
1/2 C chunky organic peanut butter
1/3 C butter
1 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 C flour (any flour combo works–I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour & 1/2 cup barley flour)
1/4 C mesquite flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 C shelled pinyon nuts. (optional)
1/2 C high cacao chocolate morsels (optional)
Topping: 1/4 C shelled bellotas (Quercus emoryi acorn nutmeats)
Recipe Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Cream peanut butter and butter. Add sugar and brown sugar. Beat in eggs. Add vanilla and beat until smooth. Separately, sift flours, baking powder and salt together. Mix these dry ingredients into wet ingredients thoroughly. Add optional pinyones and/or chocolate morsels according to your “richness palette.” Press dough into a 8×8″ greased pyrex pan. Sprinkle bellotas as “topping”. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool, then cut into delectable chewy energy bars.
If you can’t harvest your own bellotas, you can buy them this time of year, before Dia de San Francisco in October, at most Mexican markets or along the road to Magdalena, Sonora. They will keep a long time in your frig or freezer for future joyful cracking. Nature’s wild bounty is so diverse in our borderlands desert!
Find many of our Southwest traditional foods respectfully captured in my artwork at www.flordemayoarts.com for all to enjoy.