On October 30, the Huhugam Ki Museum on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community hosted a mesquite pancake breakfast and milling event, with free milling of mesquite pods. People flocked to the Community from all over the Valley to use the only hammermill available locally that processes mesquite pods into mesquite flour.
As visitors walked toward the back of the museum, where the milling was going on, the grinding noise intensified, as did the smell of fresh mesquite in the air.
The hammermill crushes and grinds mesquite pods, removing the debris automatically and leaving fresh mesquite flour, which can be used in baking.
Richard Hero came out to the breakfast because he recently started an all–desert food diet after a former co-worker of his, a Hopi man, advised him to switch to traditional desert foods to help his gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach takes a long time to empty its contents into the small intestine. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, nausea, weight loss and vomiting. Hero said that before he went on this all-desert diet, he would vomit regularly anytime he ate. He said now he only eats foods such as mesquite, cholla buds, saguaro, ocotillo and prickly pear, and his symptoms have gone away.
“I feel better than I did when I was 25. It really does help [eating native foods],” said Hero.
Hero was not the only person who came out to take advantage of the hammermill. Lindsey Kohert came out from Phoenix; her son is a student at Madison Simis Elementary School, and his teacher is showing the children how to grow and eat food from their garden. This was Kohert’s first time seeing mesquite pods ground into flour; she wanted to learn more about it.
Mesquite beans were at one time an important staple for the O’odham and Piipaash people, said Huhugam Ki Museum Director Kelly Washington.
“Unfortunately, it has almost completely fallen out of use. For the past few years, we have begun to reintroduce mesquite beans to the Community by providing food samples, events and information about its traditional use and nutritional qualities.” He said that processing the mesquite bean can be very tedious and time-consuming. A hammermill like the one at the museum can grind the pods into mesquite flour much more easily than the traditional process of grinding the pods by hand.
The museum host events like this to get the word out on how culturally we have stepped away from eating traditional foods, and that these foods are very beneficial to health. Hero is a prime example of what the desert-food diet can do.
“Last year, we hosted an event and provided a mesquite pancake breakfast, but we did not mill beans for the general public. This year, we decided to include milling as part of the event,” said Washington.
He continued, “The event was a success on a number of different levels. We were able to successfully execute the event ourselves and learned that we are able to have a good turnout for such an event. Quite a few people attended, some of them specifically for the milling, some with an interest in eating a pancake breakfast. Others were simply interested in attending the event. Whatever the reason, we were able to share information and promote the use of mesquite flour.”
At the breakfast, vendors from the Community were out selling their handmade items such as blankets, baked goods, gourd ornaments and dolls. Community member and artist Ron Carlos artist displayed his gourd ornaments and sold many of them.
Carlos explained that some of the gourd crafts he makes are small, but even so they require time and great intensity to make. As one purchaser asked him questions about his ornaments, he explained that he uses real gourds and has to pick them at the right time to get them that small. He paints them with acrylic paint and then adds clear enamel for the shine. The purchaser picked up an ornament for her son back home, she said.
If you have any questions regarding mesquite, contact the Huhugam Ki Museum at (480) 362-6320.