My goal this past year was to make flour from Mesquite pods and I did meet this modest goal. To do this I planned ahead and I was able to purchase an old hand crank meat grinder and a hand crank grain mill. Both were used but appeared to be in excellent shape. The all-metal grain mill looks much like the old-style meat grinder but has two flat plates between which the milling takes place. New hand meat grinders and new grain mills like what I bought are still made and readily available. Many can be found on eBay and other online sites. Thrift stores also often have these items. The ones that I bought were found used at yard sales and I ended up having only a $12 total investment for two items. (Yes, I am thrifty!)
On the Internet I had read about how people ground mesquite and they used many different means to do so (some quite expensive). This was something I wanted to try because the land here has plenty of mesquite trees and they produce an incredible amount of seed pods, even in very dry years. While the desert in the American southwest does contain many edible wild plants, it is still a desert and all plants are sparse. Except for Mesquite that is, at least in my general area.
The Mesquite pods are green and when they ripen they turn cream-colored and get dry and hard. The pods look remarkably like regular string bean pods. And they are about the same size too. Like all natural growing things, the pods even on the same tree ripen at slightly different times. The trees have many thorns and even the pods are very sharp on the end when they are dry. Leather gloves are a good idea when picking the pods. A cloth bag or an old pillowcase makes a handy thing to use when gathering pods. As always when in the desert, be mindful of the weather, wear a hat an drink plenty of water.
The normal plan is to pick the pods from the trees just before they fall to the ground – once on the ground, they are quickly infested with bugs (which just adds protein!). Once picked, the pods then are further dried and after that ground into flour.
My Milling Plans
Once completely dry, the actual beans inside the pods become incredibly hard. So hard they resist almost all milling efforts. American Indians ground them between large coarse rocks using a lot of effort. Nowadays in many areas where Mesquite trees are common, there are traveling hammer mills that go from town to town to mill the very hard mesquite pods/beans. Obviously, most people do not own their own hammer mills.
I had a plan and I did this a little differently. I first picked the pods and then ran them through the meat grinder before any further drying as I anticipated that they would be too hard after they were fully dried. Oh, they felt dry on the outside and looked quite dry. But if you cut them open with a sharp knife, the actual beans inside were still relatively soft. I don’t think that once they are completely dry you could run them through a meat grinder, but I admit I’ve never tried it.
The meat grinder was in no way ever designed for this task but it did the job flawlessly. The only problem was the effort required to grind the pods. It was quite a chore. I suppose you could hook up a diesel engine from a dump truck or something to do this grinding but I did manage to do it by hand. One thing that could be done would be to make a longer crank, so you have added leverage to make it easier. I should mention that I am no longer a young man and no longer in my prime. A strong young man (or woman) would likely not have a problem grinding the pods. I looked but there were no strong young men or woman available at the time that I ground the pods!
After the meat grinder had ground the pods into what I would call crumbles, I put those grindings in my electric dehydrator for about eight hours to make sure they were very dry. I checked them a couple of times and by the end, the crumbles were noticeably lighter in weight and completely dry as far as I could tell. The true test of dryness was when I ran them through the hand crank grain mill.
The next step was running the dried crumbles through the hand grain mill. This operation went very easy and could have been performed by kids, if some were available. The hand mill I have is adjustable and I did fiddle with that to get it to where I liked the consistency of the resulting product. I see no reason a person could not run the product through the mill twice if you thought it needed it. I then sifted all the resulting flour. I then had my first ever mesquite flour.
The resulting Mesquite flour is up to thirty percent sugar. You can tell that right away when you get some on your hands because it is rather sticky. Keep that sugar content in mind when using this flour; obviously, you can cut back on adding additional sugar in your recipes. Also, that high sugar content of those Mesquite pods means that after TEOTWAWKI you could very likely make moonshine from them too. (For medicinal use only of course!)
After I had my Mesquite flour, I promptly went to the house and made some muffins to try out this flour and they turned out–well just okay. Keep in mind the flour contains a lot of sugar and no added sugar is required in most baking. Getting the flour on your hands, it becomes sticky just like you are handling candy or sugar. This ‘sugar’ also causes problems in some grain mills I have read where it sticks and coats the plates or grinding wheels (burrs). The flour even after it was sifted contained a lot of fiber but this did not in any way spoil the finished product–at least for me. Also, this Mesquite flour if totally gluten-free for those allergic or sensitive to gluten. The flour is light brown in color and end products made with this flour are a darker brown.
I found using Mesquite flour for baking very problematic. Most people that have used it mix it with regular flour and varying percentages. I think they all use mostly wheat flour and just maybe twenty percent or less of the Mesquite flour in the mix. The Mesquite flour I could not get to rise so my first cupcakes looked more like cookies. And it does have a very unique taste. Like any taste some might find they like it and some not so much. I rather like the taste.
Another serious problem I found when using pure Mesquite flour was baking it enough to get the center done. I admit it resisted all my efforts not to have the outside way over baked and still have inside baked thoroughly. Flat cookies or pancakes worked okay but anything I tried thicker would always end up uncooked in the center and overcooked on the outside. It is still a work in progress. That is why Mesquite flour is mixed with other regular flour. I so far have never tried mixing with other flour because my plan was to use the Mesquite after the end times when regular food products were unavailable or at least sparsely available.
With Some Tenacity…
I am a guy and baking is not my area of expertise. Someone with more baking experience would very likely have much better luck than just an old farm boy like me. But I am tenacious and I will continue to harvest the readily available Mesquite pods and work on making more and more recipes for our use. My wife is a trooper and does taste all my creations and sometimes offers suggestions to make a better end product. So far she has left all the baking using this flour to me but maybe in the future, I can entice her to get involved in the actual baking and recipe making experiments.
Overall I think this is a viable option for a source of flour in a SHTF situation for those living in the southwest. It can be totally done without the use of power (you could use the sun instead of a dehydrator) and requires no planting or anything like that. A solar oven could be used for the baking. Mesquite is a very common tree and yes the flour is gluten-free. I’m sure there are many ways to accomplish this task that are likely better than the method I used but I did it this way and it worked for me at a very modest cost. If you have regular flour available the locally harvested Mesquite flour could be used to greatly extend your normal flour supplies. Anyone living near Mesquite trees have seen just how full of pods each tree gets and it is a shame to let that valuable resource go to waste.
So, in closing, I would urge every prepper living in areas of the southwest where Mesquite trees are common to take full advantage of this natural resource.