CAVE CREEK — Sweet red fruit rests on the arm of a prickly Saguaro. Yellowing pods are ground into meal. Spiked bright-green pads are roasted over a crackling fire pit.
You can replicate meals made more than a thousand years ago from plants growing in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. To learn more, take an early morning nature walk in the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek. (Maricopa County park ranger Kevin Smith reminds visitors not to pick desert plants on government property unless you’re on a guided tour.)
Here are nine desert fruits and legumes that you can turn into a snack or meal.
From ice cream to candy to margaritas, prickly pear makes the rounds in many Southwest kitchens. This bright, magenta fruit with a texture similar to watermelon is known for its delicate flavor and versatility. Carefully pull out the spines first. And yes, you have to spit out the seeds.
Eating mesquite pods allow you to enjoy Christmas in July. The greenish-yellow pods can be ground into a coarse meal that can be incorporated into staples such as tortillas, tamale masa, and cookies. Mesquite tastes spicy, similar to gingerbread. Check out a recipe for making your own mesquite flour and cookies from the Arizona Historical Society.
Pick up a bottle of lotion and you may recognize the name of this oily plant. Known for its moisturizing properties, Jojoba (pronounced ho-ho-bah) can be found in cosmetic products. If you find this large bush in your area, you can also eat the nuts that are found on the female variety of the plant, containing seed pods. The nut has a bitter flavor similar to an almond.
Saguaro are an Arizona native and a protected species, so don’t pick them from a park or other government-protected area. If you find one of these desert rarities on your property pick the fruit once the rind has turned from a pale color to a deep green. Then comes the hard work. The fruit has a built-in “pick ax” at the top; twist it off and then hack at the fruit to create a small opening. Then scoop out the pulp, to taste sweet fruit similar to a strawberry. Saguaro fruit can also be fermented and preserved.
It takes a lot of work to harvest the Saguaro fruit. The fruit usually rests high up on the arms of the cactus and a long, custom-made tool is needed to reach it. (Photos by Elizabeth S. Hansen/Cronkite News)
Though ironwood looks similar to the Mesquite tree, ironwood’s brown, shiny seeds taste similar to piñon nuts…………….