Eating From Our Desert Backyard

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aYou may remember that we have citrus trees in our yard and have enjoyed the bounty in whole, juice and liquor forms.

64744ED9-05E2-443B-A7CF-BA4926B7E36F_1_201_aWe also have a mesquite tree with lots of seed pods. 

CCD9D5EC-3A45-4DCC-8490-B8B128511CE3_1_201_aI knew native peoples used mesquite as a food source so I studied it. There is a wide variance of flavor in the seed pods of mesquite trees.  The resulting flour has a strong flavor and needs to be mixed with other flours to neutralize it.   Assuming I liked the taste of our seed pods,  I would have to find a place to mill it.  Since I do almost no baking I’m not going to pursue it.   If COVID-19 still has us home this time next year, I might rethink that decision for a new experience.

C1BA8FF7-5E7C-4F87-AA33-DA0F7E2D794F_1_201_aThis year I chose to learn about harvesting the fruit given by our prickly pear cactus.   There are dozens of varieties of prickly pear and we have these two in our yard.

fullsizeoutput_534fThis one has lovely yellow blossoms.  It had fruit last year but didn’t develop any this year.  

7CB37F0D-57D2-4CBF-939F-EF4D9C49C557_1_201_aI don’t know if skipping a year is normal or if it is because we have water sprayed this cactus several times to reduce dactylopius coccus, a scale insect.  This parasitic insect is useful in making red dye.

F6495789-12BE-406D-BC71-388A07690656_1_201_aThe first step was to pick the magenta fruit, also called “tuna.”  That is no easy task given that prickly pear cactus have tiny hairlike prickles called glochids that stick to  everything, especially skin.

5C806945-61E1-4E62-A2AA-FEA1F699C63DEven using the precaution of metal tongs and gloves I still got some prickles in several places on my body!  (Twenty four hours later I think they are finally gone.)

98593D53-4C68-4FAB-9CD9-EBF247350A48_1_201_aOnce gathered, I used a culinary blow torch to burn off the glochids.

ADAB07AD-1BCF-4C44-8253-CDC0FF176644_1_201_aThen I passed the fruit back and forth between bowls to knock off any remaining prickles.

CEA5D6E7-47D9-4D96-A88E-7D12D480E50E_1_201_aI boiled the fruit and then let it steep for several hours.

7AF5D36E-A353-40F4-944A-DCD27C6102D7_1_201_aThe directions said to mash and then strain but the skin was too tough.  I resorted to puncturing the skin and then kneeding the juice out.

F019BB04-0626-4164-9967-09A64A8CC06C_1_201_aFrom four and a half pounds of fruit I got four cups of prickly pear juice!  An equal amount of sugar goes into the pot to simmer and then cool.

7CD3542D-497D-4D07-A142-AEAFA2E71AE0_1_201_aWhile we were waiting for it to cool, we tried some fresh prickly pear fruit, eating only the insides.  I thought it tasted like watermelon.  Randy, who doesn’t like watermelon, thought it tasted bitter and didn’t like it.

F77C871A-93BB-4DDC-B27E-C50190FF20AF_1_201_aA couple hours later we bottled our prickly pear syrup and enjoyed prickly pear margaritas!  I don’t like plain margaritas but thought the added syrup made it taste good!

98F3EF2F-F456-4FA8-A5B3-4D9DBF99A5C3So what else might we be eating from our backyard?  Not this cute little bunny enjoying the cool mulch under the grapefruit tree.

13196B89-5990-4679-91B3-DBB86CBF26C4_1_201_aNot our favorite quail parents and babies!   The babies start out like ping pong balls with hair.  As they grow, the family seems to shrink from 15 babies down to 5 or 6.  They have a high mortality rate.  Even though both parents are always present and seem to do their best to keep track of the brood some must get left behind in the constant movement.

5BFF974D-50C0-42A9-A68E-7A9628BAF8A4_1_201_aWe won’t be eating this guy either. Does anyone eat lizards unless it is absolutely necessary?  He is fun to watch as he does his push-ups each day.

FD1F7805-C4FC-424B-8242-FFAAC05550BB_1_201_aWe haven’t checked whether the seeds pods on our pineapple palm are edible.   Pineapple palm is indicative of the appearance, not the fruit.

8B925EB3-A823-46E2-B88B-681861BF7866These palms have nothing for us – no coconuts, no dates – nothing!  What’s up with that?

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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4 Responses to Eating From Our Desert Backyard

  1. Mark P McClelland says:

    Ouch on those little spines! So annoying. There is a rich history behind Cochineal and the amazing red color that it produces. At one time it was the second most valuable product for the Spaniards, after silver. There are a couple of interesting books about the history and culture associated with it. Maybe a project there?

    • Serene says:

      Sounds like there should be! We see a few cacti around that have been so covered with the white coating that they look dead. We don’t want that to happen in our yard! Maybe I could play with it a bit and have something else to write a blog post about. Good idea! Maybe in a couple weeks….

  2. You are a very brave woman to bring those prickly pear tunas into your house! I would be afraid those little prickles would fly all over the place.
    Around here they also sell nopales (the prickly pear pads) in the grocery stores.

    I love the maroon color of the cochineal. Mark and I often scrape some off when we see it. It’s pretty amazing to get that rich maroon color from white fuzz. If you ever want to try dyeing your own yarn it would be a beautiful color.

    Enjoyed seeing all your critters!

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