Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 3, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

The other day Don Gonzalo ambled past my door nibbling on a thin, flat bean pod. You can see the whole thing below:


The Don flashed that big smile of his and asked me if I knew what he was eating. I surprised him by saying, "Sure, that's Guaje (GWA-heh), grows all over the place." I only knew this because Guaje, LEUCAENA LEUCOCEPHALA, was one of the most common roadside trees back in the Yucatan, where the Maya called it Uaxim (WA-sheem). In English it has a host of names, including Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind.

This is the very season for nibbling Guaje beans, for the full-size beans are soft only for a brief time. Most of the year the trees with their twice-compound (bipinnate) leaves bear neither flowers nor fruits, or have only flowers, or else the fruits' matured seeds are too hard to eat. Now Guaje trees are heavy with soft-seeded, semi-mature legumes, as you can see below:


That picture also gives a good idea of the ragged appearance of many trees in our area right now, here in the heart of the dry season: Mostly leafless, but with a few old leaves, and a few new leaves, and often loaded with brown fruit pods.

Semi-mature Guaje seeds such as Don Gonzalo is eating have a sharp, almost bitter taste you need to be in a particular mind to enjoy. A kid wouldn't bother with it. However, good cooks know how to use the pungency when preparing special soups and sauces. On the Internet I find a gourmet site praising a meal of "Gunthorp duck breast with guasmole (Pueblan mole of roasted tomatillos and guaje seeds), bacon-studded sweet potato torta and cava-dressed Bayless Garden spicy greens."

I'll bet Don Gonzalo would sniff at such fancy fare, preferring his Guaje beans straight from the pod, and I have to say that I'm of the same mind.