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.
Socially distanced bellota-rustlers under giant Emory oaks near the border
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.
Quick-wash the dust off your bellota harvest
…then quick-dry or “roast” your bellotas in the hot sunshine
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.
Always check for holes–We aren’t the only ones who eat bellota. Nature needs to feed all her creatures.
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.
Don’t use the rolling pin method unless your bellota shells are very brittle–or you’ll be hunter/gatherer once again, indoors.
…A tedious process no matter what. Hey, try shelling bellotas while listening to audiobooks or good music.
As with your molars, if you’re careful, cracking bellota shells with pliers can yield perfect nutmeats.
Ingredients you’ll need for Peanut Butter Bellota Bars (shelled bellotas to left, mesquite flour to right)
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)
As you sprinkle bellotas on top, pat the dough evenly into all corners of your pyrex baking dish.
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.
When cool, cut into small squares, as they are super-rich and energy-packed.
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.
Check our SavortheSouthwest blog archive for other bellota recipe ideas and anecdotes.