The Bounty of Mesquite

November 15, 2013 |

photo courtesy

Most people are aware of the smokey-flavor goodness grilling with mesquite offers, but the nutritional blessings of the tree go well beyond its wood chips in the grill. Native to our desert environment, the tree’s pods are oft regarded as a yard-raking nuisance, a mess to clean up and throw away.

Indigenous residents of the Sonoran Desert, however, knew differently and there is plenty of archeological evidence that shows these pods were processed and incorporated into their diet.

Now this tasty and nutritious ingredient – comprised of sweet, nutty deliciousness – is coming full circle and has been re-discovered by localvores and foodies. Mesquite meal is a versatile ingredient that can be included in French toast batter, in mole, and adding it to smoothies or coffee equates to oh-my-goodness palatable delights. If you have never tried pancakes made with mesquite meal, you are missing out!

You can remedy this culinary hole in your dietary life by attending the 11th Annual Mesquite Milling Pancake Fiesta on Sunday, Nov. 24. The event takes place at the Dunbar/Spring Community Orchard & Mini-Nature Park, located on the northwest corner of 11th Avenue and University Boulevard. It is presented by Desert Harvesters, with help from Watershed Management Group, and runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Dunbar/Spring neighborhood, located between Stone and Main Avenues (on the east and west) and between Speedway Boulevard and Sixth Street (on the north and south), has been connecting Tucsonans with mesquite and other local wild plant foods education for eleven years now.

If you are a harvester of mesquite, and need your pods ground down into its glorious flour, this is the most convenient milling event for the downtown Tucson community.

This summer, as I was shaking out the limbs of healthy looking mesquites of various types so I could rain down its pods onto my battered blue tarp, I was approached by several neighbors. All were interested in what I was doing, had some inkling of what I was talking about, and asked how I got our mesquite milled and what we did with it.

I asked Desert Harvesters founding member Brad Lancaster if they too had seen an up swell in interest in and participation in native plant harvesting. Lancaster concurred. “When we started eleven years ago, only the Cascabel Hermitage Association and ourselves were offering mesquite milling. Now, about a dozen groups are.”

If you are a newcomer to the wonderful offerings of mesquite, and are curious, this event provides you sampling and knowledge-gathering opportunities galore. Mesquite pancakes will be available to purchase and consume from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Calendars showing dates for harvesting, workshops on how to harvest and prepare mesquite and other native foods, a food swap, puppetry, live music, and other information will be also available in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

Lancaster stresses that the event is about far more than mesquite. “The goal of Desert Harvesters was to use mesquite as bait to lure people into trying, growing, and using many more native foods.  There are well over three hundred native food-bearing plants in the Sonoran Desert. Let’s tap the bounty!

“The idea is to expose more people to a greater diversity of juicy offerings, while also encouraging more interaction between the organizing bodies. As we strengthen our awareness, ties, and collaboration – we strengthen each other and the greater community.

“And, I want to make clear that mesquite foods are not the end, they are just the beginning. From the start, but also to grow the bounty by growing these plants in our own yards, and along our neighborhood streets within water-harvesting earthworks. This way we much more richly reconnect with the ecosystem in which we live, and the many cultures and wildlife that have evolved with it, in a way that enhances our shared present and future.”

In addition, starting at 3 p.m. and continuing until 5 p.m. on Nov. 24, the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood will offer Porch Fest, welcoming visitors with live, local music on various porches at homes throughout the neighborhood.

Get more information at, and check out Porch Fest information at

Category: Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Events