Friday, September 24, 2010

Heirloom Foods: Harvesting Guajes with Daniel

Daniel harvests guajes pods in his backyard, September 2010.
Heavily pruned Leucaena tree in Daniel's upper yard.
My friend Daniel recently invited me over to his house to watch him harvest guajes.  What are guajes?  they're the seed pods from a Leucaena tree, or so Daniel tells me.  I'd never heard of guajes before this conversation, but I'd seen the trees in Daniel's yard many times without giving them a second glance.  This might sound unlikely unless you've seen Daniel's yard, which is jam-packed with fruit trees and vegetation of all sorts.  Turns out, Daniel has several Leucaena trees on his property and I just hadn't noticed them before.

Guajes are indigenous to the Mexican state of Puebla, but a number of years ago Daniel's partner José started guajes trees from seed and eventually planted them in their backyard.  José was a great cook and he used the guajes seeds to make salsa, as his family did in Puebla.

I'd never eaten guajes, which is surprising because Daniel is usually quick to invite his friends over to share his garden's bounty.  Now that I know more about guajes, I can see why.  It takes a lot of effort to harvest guajes seeds and they are only in season for a short period of time.  
Leucaena tree in Daniel's lower yard, 2010.
When I arrived at Daniel's house to watch the guajes harvest, he was already shelling pods on his front porch, so I took a few photos to make sure I didn't miss the action.  Daniel is an enthusiastic gardener, and for all I knew, these were the only guajes pods that needed to be shelled.  Luckily, Daniel was just thinking ahead and wanted to get a large bowl of them shelled so we didn't spend hours shelling guajes together.

Guajes aren't difficult to shell, it's just a somewhat time-consuming process.  The seeds are small and it takes a lot of them to make a single recipe of salsa.  I was excited about trying guajes for the first time, but Daniel informed me that harvesting guajes and cooking with them were best done on two separate days.  (Keep your eyes open for Part 2 of this report in the next day or two.)  Knowing that I'd have to wait to try the guajes, I happily chatted with Daniel and took photos while he shelled the pods.  

Shelling guajes is much like shelling any bean, and I've shelled a few beans in my day.  Like all legumes, guajes pods can be split into two halves and it is only the guajes seeds that are edible.  Shelling guajes isn't difficult, but it does require a certain amount of patience.

Daniel shells guajes, September 2010.
Daniel told me that it takes about an hour and a half to shell enough guajes to make one batch of salsa.  How much is that?  About a cup... or as many as you can shell before you get sick of it.  I tried shelling a few guajes, but it was much more fun to take photos of the process.  Daniel is also a potter and he shelled his guajes seeds into a beautiful glazed bowl he made last year.  (I should probably refer to Daniel as a ceramacist, but I suspect he would prefer the term "potter".)  In any case, Daniel's homemade bowl was the perfect backdrop for my guajes photos.  Daniel is not only an accomplished photographer, potter, and gardener-- turns out he's a pretty good stylist when he feels like it!
Daniel shells guajes into his handmade red ceramic bowl, Sept. 2010.


  1. Parents had a Guaje tree in the backyard of their home in Los Angeles. My father was Nahuatl indian so we ate the leaves too. We would use our finger tips to pull the leaves off the branches and place them in a home made corn tortilla,squeezed some lemon juice, lemons from our lemon tree, and last season it with salt. As for the seeds from the pod we would cook them with our scrabble eggs.
    It was great! dad lived until he was 102 years old.

  2. We live in Farmersville, California. My mother and two oldest brother's have about five Guaje tree's each on their property. My mother would add them to a green salsa or in a red salsa with fried pork. Or just by itself with tortillas. My four yr. old niece's eat guajes too. It's great to learn more of the history of Guajes.