Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) still in flower!  This should be a good bean year for ironwood.

Known as hoh’it-kahm to Tohono O’odham, the Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) is still in flower! This should be a good bean year for ironwood as the flowers produce pods.

Hasn’t this been the most incredible, elongated spring in the Sonoran Desert ever?  Tia Marta here to celebrate this red-letter year for our desert legume trees–they are still coming on!!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde--thanks to St Mary's Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde–thanks to St Mary’s Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

We have had the joy of palo verde blossoms from mid-April thru May.  Mark Dimmitt’s amazing Desert Museum hybrid palo verde continues to grace public buildings and roadways with a glorious yellow glow.  Mesquites (life-giving kui wee’hawk to traditional Tohono O’odham) are still producing creamy yellow catkins and greening pods soon to ripen.  Red pod clusters are hanging from white-thorn acacia.  Dusty lavender ironwood blossoms still bedeck the foothills….Color and Beauty–the first of the gifts…

 

For wild-food aficionados and first time experimenters, this promises to be a bountiful bean year.  Bees are already going wild–they know the buzz.  I’m going wild just thinking about the desert’s gifts of nutrition for so many life-forms.  Humans are just a few of the happy recipients.  With the help of bacteria, the desert’s bean trees even feed the soil with bio-available nitrogen, hidden from our awareness in their root nodules.

Foothills palo verde pods   ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

This week is PALO VERDE TIME for sure!  We gotta get out there right away because this only lasts a few days!  If you want a sweet treat to pluck right from the tree, take a walk up almost any rocky hillside in the Sonoran Desert and find the Little-leaf or Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla–the green barked shrubby tree with teensy leaflets, actually no leaflets right now in June’s heat).  It will be covered with little hanging pods that look like paternoster beads, each seed making a bulge in the pod.  Say a prayer of blessing and thanks to the Koh’o-koh-matk Tree and to Nature for this food.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

If you find it at the right stage, you can snip the pod-covering with your teeth and peel it back to reveal the pea-like green bean–sweeter than any sweet pea you ever tasted.

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there's the delicious sweet "pea"

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there’s the delicious sweet “pea”

It can be eaten fresh right then and there. Most harvesters can’t help gorging at first, gathering later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variations from one palo verde to the next are interesting to see.   Some pods are all green, some flecked with red, some are even purple!

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods--Tucson's west side.

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods–Tucson’s west side.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you find palo verde pods that are really getting super-plump and the pods are turning slightly buff or straw colored, they may be a little beyond the sweet stage.  At that point it’s best to let them fully mature and to use them for grinding later.  Both the sweet soft green “beans” and the later hard stony seeds when mature are super nutrition for whoever eats them–both chucky-jam-full of complex carbs and high protein.

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Years ago in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I purchased snacks from a kid selling what he called “balled peanuts.”  The delectable treats had simply been boiled in a salt-brine.  Inspired by that treatment, I tried the same process on our desert legumes.  It works wonders on mature ironwood pods–watch for them to be ripening in the coming weeks.  Great also for prepping plump green foothills palo verde pods before they harden.  Quick brining produces a gourmet delight–Desert Edamame!–creamier and tastier than soy bean (and who knows now if any soy is  GMO-free?).   Just imagine….Sonora Desert sushi, tilapia caterpillars with a side of Palo Verde Edamame….

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Here’s a quick recipe for Desert Palo Verde “Edamame” Hors O’ouvres:

In a saucepan:

2 cups washed whole foothills palo verde pods

2 cups water

2 tsp sea salt or RealSalt

Boil for 5-10 min to desired “done-ness” or softness.

Chill and serve as snack, as a blow-em-away pot-luck offering,  or as a complement to any Asian cuisine.

Easier than edamame--and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

Easier than edamame–and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

As pods ripen further on our Sonoran Desert bean trees to become hard seeds, the cooking technology can adapt.  Parching and grinding the nutritious but super-hard seeds of palo verde, ironwood, and acacia can create unusual and delicious flours for baking–but that’s another story…

Contact http://www.DesertHarvesters.org for upcoming events like the mesquite milling at Mercado San Augustin, Thursday, June 25, and demos by some of the great Bean Tree harvesters like Barbara Rose, Amy Valdes Schwemm, and Brad Lancaster.  Also Google Bean Tree Farm for more harvesting ideas.  Hey, thanks to Barbara Kingsolver for spreading the idea of our “Bean Trees” to the outside world!

With such nutritious plenty surrounding us, delicious gifts from  hoh’it-kahm,  kui wee’hawk, and ko’o-ko-matk,  bean trees which the Tohono O’odham have known for centuries, we can taste–and experience–food security in our bountiful desert.

If you want more info on harvesting the desert or monsoon gardening, do come talk with me, Tia Marta, at our Sunday, St Philips Farmers Market booth–in the shade of the Flor de Mayo canopy–8am-12noon.  You can find more wild desert food products at our website http://www.flordemayoarts.com.   Also watch for announcements by Tohono Chul Park of our upcoming Fruits of the Desert class this August (www.tohonochul.org).

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