Sometimes you just get a hankering for good pancakes. You can head out to a 24-hour joint or a favorite breakfast place, or you can whip up your own using one of those shake-and-pour mixes from the grocery store.
You can also harvest and mill your own ingredients to make wholesome and organic pancakes. It's easier than it seems—really.
Since 2003, Tucson-based Desert Harvesters has hosted the Mesquite Milling Fiesta and Mesquite Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser. It promotes the harvesting and preparation of foods indigenous to the desert, and money raised at the event will help Desert Harvesters continue its education and milling events.
"Mesquite" and "pancake" are not two words commonly seen next to each other for most of us, but for Desert Harvesters, its commonplace. So, what exactly is a mesquite pancake? At Saturday's event, mesquite flour and organic wheat from Crooked Sky Farms in Glendale will be used in the pancake mix.
One of the event's organizers, Amy Schwemm, describes what goes in to harvesting and milling a mesquite pancake: Take dry, brittle mesquite pods (generally from the velvet mesquite tree; it's the most common tree around Tucson, according to Schwemm). This can be done as early as June, ideally before the monsoon starts. Keep them in a paper bag until they are very dry, and make sure they are clean of debris (like dirt and bugs). By this time of year, they are ready to mill. Use a mortar and pestle to grind them, in a pounding action, and then sift the pods to get rid of strings and beans.
The more-efficient hammer mill (which will be used at the event) does the grinding and sifting action at the same time. It has little metal teeth that spin around, and a screen that sifts. Edible meal, or flour, comes out. It saves hours (compared to the old mortar and pestle).
The shake-and-pour mix from the grocery store might hold more of a user-friendly appeal right now. But this weekend, you don't have to grind your own pods to eat pancakes; you'll be able to enjoy already-made mesquite pancakes. And if you have some dry pods ready for milling, volunteer desert harvesters will grind them up for you, with three on-site hammer mills.
Schwemm says pancakes are one of the easiest desert foods for new desert harvesters to make, because mesquite pods are so readily available.
"This experience is good for beginners," says Schwemm. "It gets people hooked, and if you like this, you will try more (harvesting)."
The nonprofit group provides information on other desert foods, like prickly pear fruit, cholla buds, ironwood seeds and others. The idea of planting, maintaining and harvesting your own local produce sits at the heart of the group. They hold the pancake event in the Dunbar/Spring Community Garden, where velvet mesquite trees have been planted over the years. Many of the pods picked for the milling come from those trees.
Another organizer of the event, Dana Helfer, says the idea of Desert Harvesters is to have "good, local food."
Yeah, yeah, but let's get to the important matter: What do mesquite pancakes taste like?
"They have a sweet, nutty flavor," says Helfer. "It's a unique, distinct flavor you can't find anywhere else."
"Earthy and nutty," says Schwemm.
Prickly pear syrup, mesquite syrup, agave nectar and other tasty toppings will be available to add to the flavor of the pancakes. Other educational organizations and local food vendors will be around, too, offering teas and organic coffee, all locally made or roasted. You can purchase mesquite flour or mesquite pancake mix, prickly pear syrup, harvested plants and even Desert Harvesters T-shirts. There will be live music, too.
If you have pods for milling, be sure to bring them in sealable containers with your name and phone number on top. Milling is $3 for three gallons or less, and $1 for each additional gallon. The ready-to-eat pancakes are $1 each, and that includes a raffle ticket for gift certificates and other items.