In the Southwest, mesquite pods are a tasty treat
Mesquite pods, once a staple of native Americans, are now being added to smoothies, breads, and pancakes.
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Before they start digging a hole, Lancaster urges tree planters to create simple earthworks that channel rainwater runoff to thirsty roots. Sunken, level-bottomed basins should be at least 12 inches deep. In drier climates, mesquites must be regularly watered for the first two or three years.Skip to next paragraph
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"After that, they will thrive on their own if planted beside or within a rain garden," says Lancaster.
Eric Clark, a horticulturist and landscape designer at Civano Nursery in Tucson, advises against topsoil and fertilizer when planting mesquite trees.
"Using native soil from your yard to backfill the hole will promote better root growth," he says.
Mesquites thrive in the Southwest partly because they are able to produce their own nitrogen naturally, so there's no need to add fertilizer, Clark says.
"October and November are ideal months to plant mesquite trees," he says.
If you're patient, Lancaster noted that mesquites also germinate readily from seed. After extracting the seed from the pod, the tough seed coat needs to be nicked or chipped (a process known as scarification) and soaked in water.
Foodies take note: The taste of the seed pod can vary from tree to tree, so some home gardeners choose seeds from trees they know produce sweet-tasting pods.
Mesquite trees produce seed pods between June and September. Young trees typically produce in their second year, but it takes a few more years for the trees to produce larger quantities of pods for harvesting.
Ripe pods — yellowish-tan in color — are best picked directly from the tree when they are dry and brittle. Collecting pods from the ground should be avoided, since they may have touched pesticides or animal droppings and are more prone to mold growth.
Carolyn Niethammer, author of "The New Southwest Cookbook" (Rio Nuevo Press), encourages home chefs to experiment with mesquite. Its flour does not contain gluten, she notes, so for baking, you need to mix it with regular flour. A recipe that calls for 1 cup of flour, for example, could combine ¼ to ½ cup of mesquite flour with the balance made up with wheat flour.
Clark says he knows one other use for mesquite flour: "I know people who make homemade dog treats with the ground seedpods."
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