Forage Native Palm Fruit

Palm Canyon, Palm Springs, Date Creek, and more, you have heard the names. Our Southwest deserts are indeed riddled with palms. And these palms offer us their very sweet and nutrient rich fruits.

Nope – not those giant date fruits found in Old World palms. Ours are desert palms, not oasis palms – and are as unique as our corner of the world. Unique enough to have their own genus – the Washingtonia palms, also called Arizona or California fan palms.

Washingtonia Palm

Washingtonia is a genus of palms, native to the southwestern United States (in southern California, and southwest Arizona) and northwest Mexico (in Baja California and Sonora). There are only two species in the genus and both species are commonly cultivated across the Southern United States. They have also been taken to the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa for landscaping, because they survive on less water than their own native date palms (but that’s more of a story for Gardening With Soule).

Washingtonia filifera in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo courtesy T.Tuason.

Washingtonia Palm Fruit

The fruits of our palms are not large – but a mature palm that gets even a little rain will produce prolifically. This is a good thing because these fruits are about the sweetest thing out in the desert and can be easily foraged and turned into all manner of tasty products.

Ripe fruit is a rich black.

Forage Palm Fruit

Foraging our native palm fruit is a simple as cutting off the entire stalk they are growing on – just as soon as they are ripe. A pair of pruners will do. If these are on you own land – and you have a pole pruner – ideal!

I travel with a pair of pruners, a set of tongs, and some collecting bags under the seat of the truck (there’s an umbrella and first aid kit in there too). When I have time, I like to drive through neighborhoods instead of taking the main roads. Occasionally I pass people in their yards and wave to them. If they have edibles in their landscape, I may stop to chat. Since the javelina ate all our prickly pear I am very thankful to the random folks that let me harvest theirs.

Unripe fruit is creamy white.

Processing Palm Fruit

You can process your palm fruit just once, or you processes a number of times, for a wide variety of products. We endeavor to will post all of these on our YouTube Channel and also here on the website as time goes by and we create each product again.

But if you want to start today, here’s how we* do it, starting by washing the fruit.

First Pass – “Extra Virgin” Palm Juice.

Fruit processed with barely enough water to cover. This is the “extra virgin” palm juice that is incredibly tasty and naturally super sweet. It can be further turned into jelly, used in making fruit compotes, and makes a very tasty BBQ sauce (Uncle Smokey will share that.) Lasts about 3 weeks in the fridge. This juice can be simply canned like grape juice.

If you do not boil all the fruit, you can take this juice, add a handful of UNWASHED fruit, and let the naturally occuring yeast bacteria on the flesh of the unwashed fruit go into action to turn your juice into wine.  Note that this is not the USDA approved method, but it does work.

After the first pass you can pause and let the fruits dry for further processing later. They have lost their luster but are still sweet and tasty. Be sure to stove in vermin-proof jars.

Second Pass – Palm Juice.

Fruit boiled again, extra water 2 cups water to 1 cup juice.  Less minerals and nutrients, since many of those came off in the first pass. This is less sweet than the first pass but still flavorful. Makes a decent jelly. Good for making palm syrup which has a longer shelf life than the simple juice. Juice lasts about 3 weeks in the fridge or can be canned for longer shelf life.

The fruit yeilds ample seeds and little meal – but I do believe it is worth it. Chickens appear to like the seed.

Third Pass – Palm Meal

After two boilings, you would think the flavor is all boiled away – but you would be wrong. There is still flavor to be had in those fruits – and it is not so overwhelming at this point. Just a subtle sweetness with a hint of date.

Now I dry the fruits in the oven (110F) and rub them through a colander. The resulting palm meal is sweet and wonderful for baking. Stores well for at least a year –and then it was all gone. Might store longer.

The native Sonoran Desert tortise has to wait for the fruits to drop – but you don’t have to!

Palm Meal is awesome mixed half with mesquite meal for our OMM – One Minute Muffin. Or use it straight. Uncle Jack was allergic to beans, so I made him an OMM with date meal instead, and he was delighted with the result. Especially once he slathered it with butter.

* Come visit with us!

Savorists Monica and Jacqueline are out and about this Autumn – speaking –  selling our books, honey and more – and offering a wide variety of courses – some of these classes are free! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for a look ahead.

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