Barrel Cactus Provide Ample Seed for Cooking and Baking

Today’s post is by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Back in November 2014, I introduced you to the pleasures of using barrel cactus fruits (Lovely and Lemony – Barrel Cactus Fruit), and I think it is time to revisit the topic.

Barrel cactus is the generic term for a number of species of large barrel-shaped cacti.  The one with the most edible of fruit is the fish hook or compass barrel (Ferocactus wizlizenii).

Ferocactus wislizeni and zeph JAS 06

This species of barrel cactus is unlike many other species of cacti in that it often blooms two or even three times per year, thus providing you, the harvester, with ample fruits, often several times a year.
Ferocactus wislizeni fruit

You can eat the lemony flavored fruit, but only in moderation.  Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems.  But the seeds are just fine to consume in quantity.  They are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds.  They can also be cooked in with quinnoa or amaranth, or even eaten alone.

ferocactus fruit 1118

Barrel cactus seed are very simple to harvest in quantity because the seeds are easily removed from the fruit.

The average barrel cactus has 12 to 24 fruits ripe at once (unless the animals have been busy).  24 fruits yield roughly 1/4 cup of seed.

ferocactus fruit 1090
Prepare.  (10 minutes for 24 fruit).

Rinse the fruits.  This does two things.  First, this removes dust and contaminants (bird droppings etc.).  Second, the water softens the former flower petals on the top of the fruit, rendering them  gentler on tender fingers as you process them.

Cut tops off the fruits.  The seed filled chamber is surprisingly far down away from the flower petals.
ferocactus fruit 1099
Cut fruits in half.

ferocactus fruit 1105
Scoop seeds into a terra cotta saucer.  Leave them 24 hours to dry.  This will help dry any bits of flesh clinging to them before you store them.  Alternatively you can put them right onto a baking sheet to toast them if you want to use them toasted.  I also keep a number untoasted and throw them in when I cook quinnoa or amaranth.

ferocactus fruit 1114

Processing tip:

ferocactus fruit 1091

Sometimes you find an empty fruit.  This is why we need our native pollinators!

I like to make an assembly line and cut all tops off first, then cut all fruits open, then scoop all the seed. Why?  because the seeds inside the fruit may be gummed together and you want to leave the seed scooping to last, else you get sticky seeds everywhere and lose a portion of your crop all over everything.

ferocactus fruit 1095

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If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my many free lectures.  Look for me at many branches of the Pima County Library, or possibly Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, and more.  After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, (due out in September 2016) “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona,  Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Leave a comment

Mole Negro Grilled Burgers and Veggies

mealAmy here on a cloudy monsoon afternoon with a bounty of summer produce like long green chiles, Shishito peppers, okra, yellow squash and great tomatoes. It makes me want to grill and eat outside.

But my new friends want to try Mano Y Metate Mole, and the last thing I want is to make a formal meal. I wondered if burgers seasoned with mole powder would work…meat mix

Local pastured beef pairs well with the smoky, spicy, bold flavors Mole Negro in other forms, so that’s what I chose. I mixed the mole powder with not too lean meat and sent to the grill.

grilling burgers

cooked burgers

The juices from the cooked meat were infused with Mole Negro flavors. It exceeded my expectations.


I was thinking of a nice leaf lettuce to top burger, but that’s definitely not in season. Oh, tomatoes!

complete burger

Charred spicy meat, tomato, and a slice of sourdough whole wheat from Barrio Bread. Salt on tomato.

Without lettuce, I wanted something green in the meal. Wait, August means green chile!!!!!!

long green

And Shishito peppers, too small for the grill but great in a grill pan. Most are completely mild, but about one in 20, surprise! The skin is so thin no need to peel, and the seeds so small no need to clean. Too easy and great flavor.


Also, I rolled some beautiful fresh okra in a splash of olive oil and Mole Negro powder.

grilling okra

cooked okra


Grilled squash is one of my favorite foods in the whole world. I can’t grill without making some. First time with Mole Negro powder, though. It worked really well. Just toss with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle on mole powder to taste.

raw squash

grilling squashgriled squash2








cuke salad

For raw contrast, a quick cucumber salad with goat queso fresco, olive oil, black pepper and fresh basil.

Enjoy with prickly pear lemonade. Happy picnicking!


Categories: Cooking, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mmmm….Ihbhai–the Marvelous Monsoon Prickly Pear

Prickly pear fruit in August monsoon ready to harvest

Prickly pear fruit in August monsoon—ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Welcome the late summer monsoon time of plenty!  You can feel life burgeoning.  The desert is vibrant with productive greenery.  Its birds and mammals are foraging in delight.  Spade-foot toads are up and singing their sheep-like song again!  It is time to pick prickly pears and put up their bounty for another year.

Tia Marta here to share encouragement for those who want to venture into desert harvesting (and an idea for  veteran-harvesters too.)

De-spining tunas with tongs and scrubbie

De-spining tunas with tongs and scrubbie

Be not afraid!  Just be aware.  When walking among spiny prickly pear cacti, don’t wear loose clothing or it is sure to pick up spines that return to haunt you in the oddest ways.  Use long, accurately-grabbing tongs for picking prickly pear fruits (aka “tunas”).  Go for the darkest purple fruits, leaving ones with a greenish base to harvest later, or for the wildlife.  Polkadots on the fruit (called areoles) are each covered with tiny hairlike spines called glochids.  Needless to say, they are a real  nuisance and pain.  Veteran harvesters get used to pulling glochids out of their skin with their incisors, which can be more accurate or faster than tweezers.  [For better or worse, I’m resigned to having a few festering little glochids in my fingers during the entire harvest season–like oh well, it’s worth it!]

I de-spine my tunas under running water with a scrubby (such as Scotchbrite) dedicated to that sole purpose.  I’m careful to only use one side of the scrubby while cleaning all my fruits, then, when done, it’s into the trash.  Some people swear by using heavy rubber gloves.  I prefer not to destroy gloves, preferring rather to have control that unfettered hands with tongs afford.

Scooping out seeds from prickly pear fruit cut in half

Scooping out seeds with back of thumb from prickly pear fruit cut in half

De-seeded half prickly pear fruit

De-seeded half prickly pear fruit–You can sieve good juice from masses of seed.

Peeled and de-seeded half tuna

Peeled and de-seeded half tuna

After de-spining, cut your tunas in half and scoop out the little hard seeds.  My Tohono O’odham mentor taught me to just use the thumb, as it can feel where the seeds are hiding.  Make sure ALL seeds are washed out, as you do not want to encounter them with your teeth in a pleasant bite of your coffeecake.

Inspired by Carolyn Niethammer’s Prickly Pear Cookbook (Univ. of Arizona Press), I’ve designed a Sonoran Desert prickly pear muffin and coffeecake recipe that celebrates the additional flavors and nutrition of mesquite meal and heirloom white Sonora wheat flour.

Prickly pear fruit chunks prepped for baking

Prickly pear fruit chunks prepped for baking

RECIPE:  Prickly Pear,-Mesquite-White Sonora Wheat Muffins and Coffeecake

                                                         (Ihbhai c Kui Wihog Pas-tihl)


1/4 cup mesquite flour or meal

3/4 cup heirloom white Sonora wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup butter melted, or oil

1/4 cup sugar OR agave nectar

1 lg or 2 small eggs

1/3 cup milk or almond milk or soy milk

1 cup fresh prickly pear chunks

Directions:  Prepare fresh prickly pear chunks according to visual instructions above.   Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease and flour a small baking dish or 8-10 medium size muffin cups.  Sift all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, cream butter; add sugar or agave nectar; beat in egg(s).  Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Fold in prickly pear chunks and any juice into batter.  Spoon batter into baking dish, patting gently, or into muffin tins filling to half.  Bake 20 minutes or until turning golden on top.  This coffeecake is not super-sweet.  It can be served hot with jam for breakfast and tea, or cool with a little scoop of vanilla yogurt or ice cream for dessert.  Great nutrition and natural flavors!

Into the batter go the tuna pieces!

Into the batter go the tuna pieces!

Prickly pear mesquite muffins (with purple mesquite pods)

Prickly pear mesquite muffins (with purple mesquite pods)

Prickly pear-mesquite coffeecake (Ihbhai Wehog Pas-tihl) ready to serve

Prickly pear-mesquite coffeecake (Ihbhai Wehog Pas-tihl) ready to serve


Gilding the lily?--No Way!--This Prickly pear coffeecake loves prickly pear jelly on top!

Gilding the lily?–No Way!–This Prickly pear coffeecake loves prickly pear jelly on top!

What a wonderful way to celebrate the season with desert wild-food gifts!  Enthusiastic thanks to Tohono O’odham families for sharing their traditional food ideas.

Luscious tunas washed by monsoon rains and ready to pick--carefully!

Luscious tunas washed by monsoon rains and ready to pick–carefully!

It’s up to YOU to harvest your own fresh ihbhai.  As for finding mesquite flour and heirloom white Sonora wheat flour, go to NativeSeedsSEARCH or;; San Xavier Coop Association;;;  or







Categories: Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

On Anchoring and Expanding

Linda here. Rain fell this week in the Old Pueblo.   Intermittently gentle and torrential, it made sweet sounds as it hit the earth, and life here now feels anew.


Two hummingbird eggs discovered – July 15th. 2016.


Hummingbirds construct their nests with spider webs both to anchor their nest securely to X or Y-shaped branches, as well as to allow the nest to expand without breaking, as the hatchlings grow.

(Check out March 6th & April 3rd, 2015 posts for more on spider silk and nest construction).


These baby hummingbirds, have just hatched. The top one hatched one day before the bottom one. The bottom one hatched just hours before I took this photo, July 19th, 2016. You can still see the remnants of the egg shell. Note all the space they have at this point in time.


July 30th – the nest accommodates their rapid growth.


The very same hatchlings (can you see both beaks?) and the very same nest; this photo taken August 1st, 2016.  Spider Silk elasticity allows for  such nests to expand without breaking. And the nest is still well anchored –  able to handle the weight and movement of these robust and thriving birds.

It is funny what can anchor. And expand without breaking.

A superficial glance at a spiderweb and it appears deeply delicate.


Without much substance.

Nearly etherial.

Yet, as the photos show, spider silk anchors the hummer nests, so that they can ride out the tougher aspects of life, like wind and storm. The qualities of the webbing woven into the walls of the nest protects them from themselves – and the robust antics  of their gorgeous growing selves.

Paradox seems at play here:  that the qualities of flexibility and elasticity offers such strength.


August 2nd, still expanding and going strong.

It is funny what can anchor us. And expand us.

A few months ago I subscribed to a meditation app called Headspace (  . During my practicing this week, it occurred to me that the qualities of mind that meditation offers, function much like the webbing woven into a hummingbird nest. Again, at first glance, we can  easily miss the power of meditation to anchor and expand the mind. The practice of breathing. The practice lightening up. Of letting go.

Again, it is the very quality of lightness that has all the strength. By freeing the mind up a bit; by not taking every thought Oh-So-seriously;  or even ourselves so seriously, we are both anchored and expanded.  We can get down to the serious business of life a bit more playfully.  And perhaps, play our part in the web of life a bit more joyfully.



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The Best Mesquite Brownies

Carolyn Niethammer with you here today talking about one of my favorite subjects, mesquite meal. The first crop of mesquite pods ripened early this year on the lower desert. Here in Tucson, Desert Harvesters sponsored a milling in June. (A milling is this miraculous process of putting whole pods in a hammermill and getting lovely, silky flour at the end.) Because of the early summer rains, there is a huge second crop of pods ripening on the trees now(see the photo above). If you missed the first round, there will be opportunities to get your pods ground in communities throughout Arizona later in the fall after the weather has dried out.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

So what to do with all that mesquite meal after you have had your fill of pancakes?

I have been cooking with mesquite pods since the early 1970s and have published in my cookbooks lots of recipes using the ground pods. But until now, I’ve never been completely satisfied with a mesquite brownie recipe. But this one that I made for a potluck at Native Seeds/SEARCH earlier this summer is close to perfect. I used pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) because I think the flavor goes well with mesquite, but pecans would work too. If you cannot bear to bake anything without chocolate, feel free to toss in some chocolate chips and maybe a little cocoa powder as well. The familiar warm flavor of mesquite will still come through.


The recipe has a considerable amount of fat and sugar, but those are the ingredients that make up what we consider a proper brownie. Just go easy on how many you eat.

If you aren’t up to making your own mesquite meal, you can purchase it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store or order on-line from NS/S or Flor de Mayo. Mesquite meal is also available at farmers’ markets throughout Arizona.

Ummm, don't these look good?

Ummm, don’t these look good?

Best Mesquite Brownies

2/3 cup melted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup mesquite meal

2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup pepitas or chopped pecans

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine mesquite meal, flour, baking powder and salt if using. Set aside.
  3. Combine melted butter and oil in a large bowl. Stir in sugar and add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Stir in mesquite and flour mixture. Add chocolate chips if using.
  5. Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. When cool, cut into squares.


Cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

Mesquite brownies cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.


Want more recipes for mesquite meal? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants available at Native Seeds/SEARCH or from Amazon or B&N.  There you’ll find my favorite recipes for Apple-Mesquite Coffee Cake and a killer Banana Mesquite layer cake.

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I can’t eat a whole watermelon!

You got a beautiful watermelon, cut it with anticipation…and it is mushy. Sweet but mealy. Or maybe someone “helped” you harvest melon from the garden before its ready, and it tastes more like a cucumber. Or the only watermelon available at the farmers’ market is the size of your entire refrigerator. You took it to a potluck, but there is so much left.

Amy here this week with aqua de sandía and watermelon gazpacho!


Trim the green and white parts off the watermelon (or any other melon), mash the fruit in the blender, seeds and all. Liquify. Strain and/or let it sit for a few minutes, allowing the seed bits sink to the bottom. Then it is easy to decant the the liquid off the top.

For aqua de sandía, just serve in a glass over ice with a squeeze of lime and garnish with salt and red chile powder. Or Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder.

To make this into a meal, I ate it with the rest of my CSA share as gazpacho. I diced the garnishes to make each bowl, even each spoonful, a custom blend to suit each diner or my whim. Sometimes I toss all the would-be garnishes in the blender with the soup. It is fast and perfect for traveling.


The Armenian cucumbers are huge now, so I removed the seeds and peeled them. If the cucumbers are young, just dice. Also dice green onions, my favorite.


I also diced  a small red pepper, but any color sweet or hot pepper is perfect. This makes it taste like gazpacho to me, so bought these, from a store! A few tomatoes are best used as a garnish rather than getting pureed in a sea of watermelon. Slices of bread are optional. I have eaten them whole on the side, cubed in the bowl, or blended into the mix. If you have fresh herbs, use them. Nothing is more summery then basil.


Preserved from a few weeks ago, fermented carrots and radishes and a nice tang and saltiness. To make, simply submerge veggies, ginger and garlic in a brine of 4 cups water to 3 tablespoons salt in a jar. Let sit on the counter for a couple days or until sour, then store in the refrigerator.


Drizzle with olive oil and plenty of prickly pear or red wine vinegar. Be generous with salt and black pepper. The key to this dish is balancing the sweet melon with salt and sour. Yum!



Categories: Sonoran Native | 3 Comments

Promise, Preparedness, Present Fulfillment–with Fruits of the Desert

small fishhook Mammillaria microcarpa celebration the monsoon with a promise of future fruitlets (MABurgess photo)

Fishhook Mammillaria microcarpa celebrating the monsoon with a promise of future fruitlets (MABurgess photo)

Crowns of Mammillaria flowers make pink arches like miniature 4th of July fireworks now suddenly visible among desert rocks and under greening bursage.  They are rain celebrations–the PROMISES of fruits to come!  In a few weeks the little fishhook pincushions will sport a crown of shiny red fruitlets.  Keep watch for them.  Known in Sonora as pitayita de raton (little mouse’s pitaya), each long red droplet will give you a sweet tangy zing– like a mini-organpipe-cactus fruit.  Tia Marta here to share ways of enjoying the cornucopia that is beginning to spill out flavorfully all around us in town and out in the desert in this monsoon time.

Late fruiting prickly pear--still green and full of promise

Late fruiting prickly pear–unripe green but full of promise this week (July 8)

Opuntia lendheimeri alba barely turning pink--more promises...

Opuntia lindheimeri alba barely turning pink this week–more promises…(July 8)

Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening...

Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening…not yet (week of July 8)

All around the desert and through every neighborhood, I see the promise of a good prickly pear harvest, inspired by our elongated spring and nurtured by good monsoon rain.  Each prickly pear seems to march to a different drummer.  Right now you can see every shade of color–unripe to ripening tunas–very green, to rosy, to deepening red.  These are PROMISES so don’t jump the gun!  They are not ready quite yet–but this is the signal to get your kitchen PREPARED.  Stay tuned–There will be more blog posts to detail prickly pear ideas in coming weeks.  Make space now in your freezer, and make time on your calendar for the August TUNA HARVEST.


Opuntia engelmannii in full ripening fruit--but not ready yet!

Opuntia engelmannii full of ripening fruit–But don’t salivate yet (week of July 8)!  Wait for a dark maroon color to extend all the way to the bottom attachment of the tuna AND through the tuna‘s entire interior before they are fully ripe and ready to eat or cook.

What a glorious monsoon our Sonoran Desert has enjoyed over the last couple of weeks!  The explosion of life in such a short time is astounding on the heels of record-breaking heat and drought.  This is when the desert shows its tropical heritage with a surge of energy, fecundity, productivity.  Isn’t it interesting that the “outsider’s” view of the desert is of hazardous scarcity?  More interesting instead is to understand and appreciate the waves of nutritious plenty that can erupt suddenly here in the Sonoran Desert.  Native People know how to rally, to harvest in the times of plenty and to store short-lived fruits of the desert against lean times–lessons worth exercising.   Plentiful foothills palo verde seeds (Parkinsonia microphylla) are a case in point.

Mature dry pods of foothills paloverde--They have potential for making flour!

Mature dry pods of foothills paloverde–with potential for making nutritious flour!

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Seeds of foothills palo verde dry and hard as little stones

Seeds of foothills palo verde– dry and hard as little stones


At PRESENT, lasting perhaps through July, there are copious “fruits-of-the-desert” hanging on foothills palo verde trees (aka little-leaf paloverde) covering desert hillsides.  In early June, palo verde pods were offering soft sweetpeas for fresh picking (described in the June13,2015 Savor blog on this site).   Now in July, palo verde pods are rattling with shrunken stone-hard seeds.  When ground, or when toasted and milled, these little dry seeds can produce two fabulous gluten-free flours for adding to baked goods, hot cereal, gravies etc.

Dry foothills palo verde seed milled raw on L, toasted and milled fine in center, toasted coarse-milled on R

Dry foothills palo verde seeds:  milled raw-Left; toasted and milled fine-Center; toasted & coarse-milled-Right

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

Oh how I wish that technology could keep up with our needs for scratch, sniff, and taste in this blog!!  The distinctly different flavors and textures of these two flours are so pleasant.  Desert People traditionally parched and ground these seeds in bedrock mortars.  I used a coffee mill to grind them.  The raw flour has a wonderful bean-i-ness bouquet coming through.  Then I toasted (parched) a separate batch of seeds in an un-greased skillet before milling, and WOW the roasty aroma of this gluten-free flour is rich.  I am using it to add flavor –not to mention high protein and complex carbs–to multigrain breads and biscuits.  So FULFILLING!  A friend who tried these different preparations for palo verde flour even wants to use it as a spice or seasoning!

With the monsoon (and with the help of many hummingbird pollinators) has come another edible surprise to my desert garden–octopus cactus fruit–that I just have to share with you:

Stenocereus alamosensis with hummer- and perhaps ant-pollinated flower, June26,2016 (MABurgess photo)

Stenocereus alamosensis with hummer- and perhaps ant-pollinated flower, June26,2016.  Note happy ant on petal.  (MABurgess photo)

Fruit of octopus cactus Stenocereus alamosensis, ripe and splitting July 4, 2016

Fruit of octopus cactus Stenocereus alamosensis, ripe and splitting July 4, 2016 (MABurgess photo)

Sliced octopus cactus fruit on palo chino bowl (MABurgess photo)

Juicy sliced octopus cactus fruit (Stenocereus alamosensis) on palo chino bowl (MABurgess photo)

Years ago I collected seed for it near Alamos, Sonora, and grew it out in Tucson.  Surviving frosty winters, and flowering in previous years, it never bore fruit before.  This year, fertilization happened at last, and voila–there are sensational, gently sweet delicacies to eat right off the cactus.  The fruit’s fresh crispy texture is like watermelon and its seeds are tiny protein crunches.  [Light bulb idea]–With climate change, this flavorful cactus fruit–and others like it–could become an appropriate specialty food to grow locally.

Keep your eyes peeled and prepare for more harvests from the latest new “promises” blooming for multiple times this season in the desert…..Check out these potential edibles:

This is the third bloom of saguaros this season--with pollination may give another fruit harvest

This is the third bloom of saguaros this season–if  pollinated may give yet another fruit harvest

Green swelling Padre Kino fig--watch for preparing heirloom fruit ideas next month….

Green swelling Padre Kino fig–Young trees are available next week at the NSS plant sale!

A new wave of mesquite flowers and green pods promise a second harvest this season.

A new wave of mesquite flowers and green pods promise a second harvest this season.

Don’t miss the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale this next weekend, Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, 2016!  For your own garden-to-table promises and preparations, check out the many starts of NSS heirloom summer vegetables and monsoon wildflowers.  There will be tomatillo plants, heirloom chile varieties, cucumber, many squash and melon varieties to give your garden a jump-start.  A few 5-gallon  Father Kino fig trees propagated at Mission Garden will be available for sale, so come early.

For well-seasoned ideas for desert cookery, two fabulously useful books continue to inspire:    Tucsonan Sandal English’s cookbook from the 1970’s Fruits of the Desert published by the Arizona Daily Star, and desert-foods aficionado (& Blog-Sister) Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest published by University of Arizona Press.  Borrow or buy, and use them with joy.

I wish you happy harvesting as the desert’s present promises become a cornucopia of fulfilling plenty!

[For anyone seeking heirloom foods and products made with wild foods, check out and, or visit the Baggesen Family booth at Sunday St Philips farmers market.]








Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taste. Attention. Independence.

Linda here on this first day of July. How is it July already? Life seems to fly by these days. It feels accelerated. As if life is moving so fast that can I feel  wind on my face; but what is flying by is not in focus.

Ahhh. but food helps with focus.


As we approach July 4th, I seek another kind of Independence. One where I call my Attention back. Where I feel independent from distraction, whether internal or external. Freer from getting hijacked by some silly or compelling event, or thought, without my even knowing I’ve been taken hostage.

Taste is one way I call my attention back.

More specifically, tasting  food. While eating.

It seems so basic that it feels uncomfortable to even admit it: we forget to notice what is happening inside our very mouths. So often the flavors inside our mouths go unnoticed, even in the act of eating, chewing, and swallowing.

Certain foods have a way of calling us back to flavor and sensation. We find that our mouths are transformed into tiny universes of pleasure.  Like chile. And chocolate. Fresh picked fruit.

Today’s Recipe: Chocolate Chiltepin Mousse.

Ingredients: for 3-4 people.

1/4  cup honey – raw and local if possible.

2 ripe avocado’s

1 ripe banana

Seeds from a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla.

1/3 cup raw cacao powder.

1-2 crushed chiltepin chiles. Seeds included.

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until you have the consistency you like. If it feels too dense to you add some milk or coconut milk .. almond milk … until you like it. Place in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to “set”. Add the edible garnishes you like and enjoy.

For Edible Garnish: chocolate chips, or nibs, fresh fruit that you love. Chitlepin if you want more heat. Drizzle honey or add more fruit if you desire sweet.


raw cacao and avocado in blender


I like to remember where ingredients come from – honey is strained from wax comb …


…and both the honey and the peaches in this recipe come from the intimate dance between bees and flowers


Here you can see a baby nectarine with it’s flower still “on”.

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Desert Harvesters June Events

010Though newcomers to the Sonoran Desert sometimes miss the abundant fruits, berries, mushrooms, and greens of wetter forests, one Tucson organization wants you to know the desert is full of food: You just have to know where to look for it. Desert Harvesters is a nonprofit grassroots group that promotes the harvest of native, wild, and cultivated desert foods and also advocates for the planting of indigenous, food-bearing shade trees (such as the Velvet mesquite) and understory plantings within rainwater harvesting “gardens” in the landscapes where we live, work, and play. Funds raised at these events support the group’s educational efforts in the community, including demonstrations, publications, and tasting events.

The group announces its summer season of harvesting workshops and activities, which aim to help the public learn how to plant, harvest, process, and prepare wild, native, and local food items, including mesquite pods, ironwood & palo verde seeds, and saguaro fruit. Currently the group is raising funds to support the publication of a revised and expanded version of its 2010 cookbook Eat Mesquite! This new cookbook will include recipes for mesquite and other desert foods, as well as information about how to grow, harvest, and prepare native and local foods. Desert Harvesters is also seeking volunteers to help with (and learn from) these and other events.


June 18 & 19, 2016

Workshops on Mesquite Pod Tasting, Inspection, and Ticketing and Hammermill Operation for those who want to become Desert Harvesters volunteers or staff, or others wishing to expand their mesquite-related skill sets. Visit or email to learn more.


June 23, 2016

DESERT HARVESTERS’ 14th ANNUAL MESQUITE MILLING & WILD FOODS & DRINKS FIESTA Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market at Mercado San Agustín, 100 S Avenida del Convento, Tucson

Bring your clean & sorted mesquite pods to be milled with our hammermill (fee applies) and taste an array of wild foods.

Harvesters can have their milled mesquite flour tested for aflatoxins (see below) at our 14th Annual Mesquite Milling on June 23, 2016, in Tucson. The cost per test will be a special subsidized fee of only $5.

We will also be serving craft beers (Smoked Mesquite Apple beer as well as a beer finished with creosote flowers) from Iron John Brewing Co. with proceeds going to Desert Harvesters.


June 24, 2016

Desert Harvesters’ Happy Hour at Tap & Bottle

403 N 6th Ave #135, Tucson

5–8 pm

Enjoy great regional brews, some infused with locally sourced native wild ingredients. A percentage of all happy-hour sales goes to Desert Harvesters! A local food truck will also be on site with delicious offerings including native wild ingredients.



To encourage harvesting before the monsoons, and to be more in sync with the Sonoran Desert ecology’s natural patterns, Desert Harvesters has shifted its annual harvesting and milling trainings, along with its mesquite millings and fiesta, to the month of June—BEFORE the summer rains. This is also when our native bean trees (mesquite, desert ironwood, palo verde) are ready to harvest (they produce before the rains so their seed is on the ground ready to germinate when the rains arrive). Regularly check our Calendar of Events for more such event info.



FOOD SAFETY: Aflatoxin and how to avoid it

Aflatoxin is a toxic natural compound produced by certain molds; it can cause liver damage and cancer. Aflatoxin is found in many common foods, but only in small quantities is considered safe (U.S. ≤ 20 parts per billion (ppb), Europe ≤ 2 ppb). We at Desert Harvesters are specifically concerned with the invisible mold (Aspergillus flavus) that can produce aflatoxin B1 on mesquite pods, as well as on other food crops (legumes, corn, etc) that have been exposed to moisture.

HARVEST MESQUITE PODS BEFORE THE RAINS (at higher elevations, harvesting in dry autumn weather may be an option)

Desert Harvesters is now recommending that, as much as possible, harvesters collect mesquite pods BEFORE the monsoon rains. (This can be more difficult at higher altitudes due to later ripening. In these areas the best practice may be to only harvest in dry autumn weather.) The reason for pre-rain/dry-season harvesting is to reduce the pods’ exposure to moisture, and thus the risk of the development of an invisible mold (Aspergillus flavus) and the aflatoxin it can produce. Aflatoxin poisoning can have serious health consequences over the long term, so we want to harvest in a SAFE manner. To further avoid moisture issues with the pods we recommend you do NOT rinse or wash pods.

In the small number of batches of mesquite flour we have tested thus far…ALL mesquite pods we tested which were harvested BEFORE the rains have tested SAFE.

In other words, NO mesquite pods harvested BEFORE the rains had results with unsafe levels of aflatoxin. The U.S.-designated safe limit of aflatoxin is 20 parts per billion (ppb), so safe test results will be 20 or fewer ppb.

However, all test batches of mesquite pods that DID have results with unsafe levels of aflatoxin were harvested AFTER the onset of the rains. Again, in the U.S., safe aflatoxin levels of 20 or fewer parts per billion (ppb) are considered safe. However, many other batches harvested AFTER the onset of the rains tested SAFE.


We hope to continue to share more studies and best harvesting practices.


What to do with mesquite flour?

Sonoran Cookies

Here’s a truly classic recipe from the first EAT Mesquite! Cookbook.We’ve made hundreds of these cookies. The author of the original recipe is unknown. The ones in the photo below are topped with mesquite toffee.

mesq cookies toffee

.25 lb (one stick) butter

1 cup sugar (can be reduced to .75 cup sugar, plus .25 cup mesquite)

1 egg

2 teaspoon vanilla (or local lemon extract)

2 cup corn tortilla meal (or whole wheat flour)

1 cup mesquite meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

.5 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Cream softened butter.  Mix in sugar, egg and extract.  Sift dry ingredients and add to the first mixture.  Add nuts (optional) and beat until smooth.  Roll dough into 2 inch balls and press onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Or, roll dough into thin logs, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate or freeze.  Slice cold logs into rounds and place on cookie sheet.  (Doubled cookie sheets or Airbake prevent bottoms from browning too fast.)  Place in preheated 375 F oven and bake 12 minutes or until golden.  Cool on racks until crisp, or eat warm and soft.  Makes up to 200 tiny (.75 inch) cookies.



Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epazote and Garden Herbs Blend Into Delicious Mole Verde

This epazote plant has grown to over 6 feet.

This epazote plant has grown to over 6 feet. It was a volunteer in the lettuce bed and loved the rich soil.

Carolyn here this week. This spring I have had epazote sprouting between my tomato plants, epazote in the pea pots, epazote in the kale and in the I’itoi onions. I harvested the last of the chard today and there was an epazote plant hiding in that row. For fun, I left one in the lettuce patch and it has grown over 6 feet, thriving in the rich soil and organic inputs in that area. After taking a picture today, I’m going to pull it before it releases a couple thousand seeds and takes over my entire garden.

I bought my first epazote plant from a lovely Mexican woman at the farmer’s market. That one died, but I tried again the next fall. This time I was more successful and now I can supply epazote to anyone who needs it.

Healthy epazote plant earlier in the spring.

Healthy epazote plant earlier in the spring.

Epazote is a New World herb that originated in Central America and parts of Mexico and in the Nahuatl language is called epazo-tl. It has spread north to the U.S. and to the Caribbean. The scientific name was formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides but has been changed to Dysphania ambrosoides. Interestingly, it is related to quinoa, spinach and beets.

Epazote is used as an flavoring herb and its taste changes slightly as the plant ages. Chew on a leaf of a young plant and you will notice a light citrus-y flavor that starts on your tongue and spreads through your mouth. Leaves from older plants intensify the pine-y or eucalyptus flavor notes that underlie the citrus. Some say it tastes similar to tarragon.

In the Southwest, epazote is most frequently used in cooking black beans for flavor and also for its anti-gas effects. Add two or three sprigs during the last 15 minutes of cooking. If you have access to fresh epazote, feel free to try it in other dishes. A little chopped up in a corn relish adds a spritely flavor. If you make your own mole sauces, add a few leaves, particularly to a green mole. It also goes well in filling for tamales and sprinkled on the cheese in quesadillas

Another traditional use of epazote as developed by the native Mayans is as a tea, particularly as a remedy for intestinal parasites. Epazote includes 60-80 % ascaridole, which is toxic to several intestinal worms.

Herbs for Mole Verde from left: epazote, parsley, oregano, and cilantro.

Herbs for Mole Verde from left: epazote, parsley, oregano, and cilantro.

Here are the vegetables you will use: tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapenos.

Here are the vegetables you will use: tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapenos.

As with most leafy greens, epazote also provides some vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, B-complex vitamins (specifically folic acid) and vitamin C as well as calcium, manganese, copper,  potassium, phosphorous and zinc.

Mole Verde

Here’s a recipe for a delicious green mole with epazote. This is a chewy, substantial version due to the pepitas.  I served the sauce with sautéed chicken breast pieces and fresh nopalitos from my garden. Makes about 6 generous servings.


1 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

1 cup roughly chopped white onion (about 1 small)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and cut in eighths (about 5 large)

2 medium jalapeño peppers, roughly chopped (seeds removed for a milder sauce)

1 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh epazote

½ cup parsley leaves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided

Salt, to taste


Saute the onion, garlic, and tomatillos until soft.

Saute the onion, garlic, and tomatillos until soft.

  1. Prepare all your herbs first and set aside. In a medium heavy skillet over medium-high heat, toast pepitas until they start to pop and turn a light golden brown. Toss constantly so they won’t burn. Transfer to a blender and process until finely ground. You will have to stop the blender every few seconds to redistribute the contents.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onion until it starts getting translucent. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomatillos and jalapeno and cook, stirring frequently until soft.
  3. Transfer the sautéed vegetables to the blender jar with the pepitas and the herbs. Add one cup of the chicken stock and puree until well combined. This may take a couple of minutes.
  4. Return the blended mixture to the saucepan and put it over medium heat. Meanwhile rinse the blender jar with the remaining cup of chicken broth and add to the pot. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to let the herbs release their flavors and the flavors to blend. Stir frequently.
  5. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to 3 days, reheating before use.
Serve the sauce with chicken, fish, or vegetables.

Serve the sauce with chicken, fish, or vegetables.


You can buy seeds for epazote from Native Seeds/SEARCH.   They also carry a selection of cookbooks by Carolyn Niethammer. The books are also available online from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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