Sunday, April 17, 2011

Living off the Land: Texas Ebony Beans

Human migration across the globe was ultimately a quest for food. Whether following grazing herds or combing landscapes for edible plants, people wandered the earth in order to sate their hunger. But imagine what it must have been like to enter an area where no other human had ever set foot. No roads or corner stores; no medical facilities or hotels to spend the night; no restaurants to serve the weary and no way to communicate ones needs or dreams or findings other than to those who walked the silent paths at your side. In years past I have camped in places where the nearest road was six hours away, the closest telephone a day’s journey, the chance to obtain medical aid a torturous thirty hours of nonstop traveling. But at least we could get help if needed. In a land heretofore unknown, opportunities for assistance were solely dependent on fellow travelers. Even then the ability to survive was as much a matter of luck as on what knowledge the collective group harbored.

Early humans quickly learned the need for a balanced diet. Through trial and error as well as a burgeoning ability to reason and calculate, people constructed their lives to revolve around the presence of food.

In deep South Texas and on into northeastern Mexico we find a plant that provides an abundant source of protein even in the driest years. Surely the discovery of what we now call Texas Ebony was for the first inhabitants of the region a miracle of sorts. Ebony beans were easily harvested and prepared. They arrived at a critical time when other food sources might have been low. And most of all they were scrumptious.



Texas Ebony (Pithecellobium ebano; syn. Pithecellobium flexicaule) is one of the bigger trees of the region growing to a height of 15 meters or nearly 50 feet. The trunks can measure up to ten feet in circumference. In pre-Columbian times Texas Ebony trees were in such abundance that some areas were choked with tens of thousands of these Brushland monsters. Rampant clearing for agriculture destroyed most of the ancient ebony groves leaving only sparse remnants of the land the way it existed before Europeans arrived.         


Texas Ebony Beans (Photo By: Dean Moss)


Green Texas Ebony pods are cut in half revealing the beans.


Remove the capsule around each bean to expose the tender “meat” within.


Here’s a picture showing the meaty portion within the capsule as well as the capsule that enclosed the edible portion. You can eat the meaty portion which is full of protein and vitamins.


Some people boil the beans for about five minutes in order to open the pods.


Here you can see the pods opened after five minutes of boiling.


A bowl full of the beans after they were removed from the pods.


The beans can then be dry roasted. Afterword, you simply squeeze the beans and the meaty portion pops out easily. You can eat the roasted beans or add them to salads. Some people mix the beans into picadillo or ground meat cooked with tomato sauce and a variety of spices.

10 comments:

  1. The beans are also used to make a good hot drink. Roast them as described, then ddry and grind them before brewing.

    Drigo

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    1. In my novella, The Trail, I have a scene where they are drinking "coffee" made from ebony beans. In Mexico it's a popular drink in the outlying areas.

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  2. I have a bunch of dried beans from the Texas Ebony I planted last year in my yard in Tucson. Are these beans useful in the kitchen?

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    1. If the beans are still in the pods you can open the pods and check each bean to make sure no weevils have bored into any of the beans. Discard those beans that have holes in them. Then wash the beans and allow them to dry. Then fill a pan or cast iron skillet with Canola oil and heat it. Place the beans in the hot Canola oil turning them after two or three minutes. Take the beans out and let them cool down. Then use a nutcracker or some other device and crack open the shell. You might add a little salt to suit your taste or just eat them as is. Some people will clean the dry beans as above and then boil them in water until the water takes on a coffee color. They'll drink this "tea" with some added sugar.

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  3. Hello,
    Very useful information and historical background.
    I am thinking besides being used for human consumption, animals, cattle, sheep, pig could find this a useful food source. Can you verify this? Much Thanks, David V.

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    Replies
    1. Deer love them just as much as I do.

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    2. Sorry its taken so long to get back to you. Somehow I missed this comment. In places where the ebony grow in thickets (the trees get quite large) there will be mats of fallen pods. The javelina, deer and hogs will eat them as will the coyotes and raccoons.

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  4. I heard Jewelrey can be made from the pods. Has anyone done this and how?
    Thank you
    Jane

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    1. I've not heard of anyone making jewelry from the pods. Perhaps the beans could be made into a necklace or bracelet but I've not seen it. The ripe beans are rock hard so I assume they'd have to be drilled into or something along those lines.

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  5. With the mature seed, you can you actually pop them like pop corn. Put them in a skillet with a lid. Cook under low heat for 10 minutes. Shake now and then and after awhile they will pop.

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