We at Mesquite Willie's Desert Products are dedicated to developing and producing high quality sustainable products by utilizing the extremely nutritious and flavorful resources found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of North America. Any plant Life that thrives in such a harsh "feast or famine" type environment has unique protective properties which make harvesting and processing somewhat more difficult than picking apples or cutting wheat.
It tends to be tough, spiny, bitter, thorny, poisonous, prickly, hard to get at, or any combination of the aforementioned.
Basically it will try to perforate you someway while you're harvesting something delectable and nutritious that might end up being unchewable, terrible tasting and possibly poisonous.
That having been said these same plants will offer extremely nutritious and flavor laden offerings under certain conditions to aid in propagation of the species. The Yucca has not only been a priceless food source for eons but has a multitude of medicinal purposes. It was also valued for providing the makings for soap, fibers for cordage, and as we like to call the stalks of some varieties “Desert Bamboo”.
The long fibrous spine tipped leaves will hug the ground making it difficult to dig the edible root which tends to grow in hard rocky soil. However when the first of the brief early rains come the plant will shoot out stems with large nectar filled blossoms, fruits, and seeds which are all edible and within easy reach as they grow above the protective spines. The nectar filled blossoms promote pollination not only from birds, bats, and insects but deer, javelina, and other small mammals who spread the pollen on their muzzles from one plant to another. The edible stems and fruit ensure wide distribution of seeds.
The Prickly Pear follows a similar game plan.
The Mesquite has long sharp thorns all over it. When enough moisture comes to promote new growth, all new stems and leaves are accompanied by smaller sharp green thorns containing toxins to deter those wanting to graze on the tender young sprouts. As the leaves mature and toughen up so do the thorns which lose most of their toxicity as it is no longer needed.
Mesquite are an indicator of when the summer rains are on their way, within a week, or a month, or two sometimes. Not exactly Accuweather but they will put out blossoms in late spring or early summer that are mostly pollinated by the wind and within a few weeks (usually) start producing small beans.
Depending on when the rains are going to hit these small beans can take what seems like forever to mature or do it in what seems like overnight. The trees seem to know and some of the beans will actually mature before the desert monsoon season hits.
The desert monsoon term can be misleading but is actually similar to monsoons everywhere except for amount of rainfall. In our area of West Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Southern Arizona we can range from about 5” to 14” of annual rainfall with the majority falling from late June to early September.
For thousands of years the indigenous people in this area would only harvest at the beginning of the rainy season in order to avoid molds and the toxins they can produce when not completly dried before being stored. When the rains became regular they would refrain from harvesting until the rains had subsided. After a week or so those mature beans will have fallen off and any new beans reaching maturity would become fair game. During favorable years there would be more than one harvest as the extensive root system of a Mesquite will continue to find moisture long after the rains have gone.
We have strict rules for the beans we accept for processing. They are to be picked before or many days after the heavy rains, when easily pulled from the tree or immediatley collected after a strong wind from a clean surface such as a tarp that has been staked down and dried immediatly. Anything that hits the ground, the vast majority of which land during violent monsoon thunderstorms, belong to the many critters which depend on the beans for a food source. Mice, rabbits, squirrels, javelina, deer, coyotes, cattle, and just about everything else living in the desert will eat the nutritious beans
Mesquite trees are very prolific and will provide for all when harvested correctly.
As a matter of fact Willie himself is a big fan of the flour and will lick up some of what is dumped outside the milling room during cleaning.