Fantastic Fennel

Jacqueline Soule here today to discuss an herb you can plant in your cool season Southwest garden any time in the next few weeks – fennel.


Some varieties of fennel form tasty “bulbs” that can be eaten raw or cooked.

Fennel has a long history of use, and why not? The entire fennel plant is useful! Leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seed are all edible. As a spice, the seed is used in beef dishes, sausage, or in breads and cakes, depending on nationality. Leaves, stems, and flowers can be eaten raw, steamed, or added to soups and stews. Father Kino brought seed to our area over 325 years ago. He no doubt ate fennel as a boy, the seeds in sausage and the bulbs as a vegetable.


Father Kino blessing food.  Art by Jose Cirilo Rios Ramos.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is so well-liked that there are a number of cultivars. First are varieties with an inflated leaf base which form a bulb-like structure popular as a vegetable, eaten either raw or cooked. This goes by the names: sweet fennel, Florence fennel, finocchio, and occasionally it is sold as “anise.” Another group of cultivars are grown for leaf and seed production and include the standard and bronze fennels. Note that “giant fennel” is a different species (Ferula communis) and is a large, coarse plant, with a pungent aroma, not feathery and fragrant like fennel.


Leaves can be enjoyed well before bulbs are formed.

Planting and Care. 

Fennel is a tall herb, reaching four to six feet tall. Leaves can be over a foot long and are finely dissected into filiform (thread-like) segments a bare one-eighth inch wide. Foliage comes in a variety of hues, from the bronze fennels that may appear almost purple to sweet fennel in chartreuse green.


Clusters of yellow flowers are attractive to pollinators.

In the Pimería Alta, start fennel in October in your winter garden. Local nurseries carry fennel seedlings, or you can start plants from seed. For eating, select sweet fennel, Florence fennel or finocchio, while for seed you can use any of the above or merely “fennel.”


The Pimeria Alta was under Father Kino’s care.

Like most herbs, fennel grows best in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. It is also easy to grow in containers. Use a container at least one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.

Fennel needs six or more hours of winter sun to do well. It is also important to choose a planting site that is protected from high winds because towards the end of the season (in March) the tall hollow stalks can be easily blown over.

Sow seeds a quarter inch deep in rows around eighteen inches apart. When seedlings are two inches high, thin them to stand around a foot apart. Or they also look nice planted in a dense clump in a flower bed.

Keep the soil evenly moist during seed or seedling establishment. Once well established, you can let fennel dry a little between waterings. Some people believe this makes the flavor stronger.

Fennel should not require fertilizer. If you amended your soil at the start of the growing season, the plants should do fine. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. In late February you could apply a general purpose fertilizer at half strength.

Harvesting and Use.

Fennel leaves are delicately flavored and can be harvested at any time. They taste quite refreshing in green salads or added to stir fry. I like to munch on them as I work in the garden.

Harvest fennel bulbs once they reach softball size. They make a crisp raw snack and individual leaf bases can be delightful used as a healthy dipper instead of potato chips. This vegetable can also be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or perhaps best of all – sliced and roasted with root crops such as potatoes, beets, and onion.


The “bulb” has easily separated leaf bases that are perfect for scooping up dip.

Harvest seed of fennel by cutting stalks and tipping the entire mass into a paper bag. Let dry for several weeks before cleaning and storage. Store such herbs in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.

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If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Southwest Food | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Broiled figs in peach sauce and Plum almond cake


Hello, Amy here playing with the last of the summer fruits. My mom’s Black Mission Fig tree, planted by my grandfather so many years ago, yields two crops a year, early and late summer. The flowers open and are self pollinated inside the developing fruit. This baby fig tree had its first two fruits this year.


We mostly eat them fresh, the entire fruit with skin, seeds and all, leaving only the stem. They dry beautifully on screens outside, or in a hot car.


I wanted to do something special with the figs, so I consulted Sweet Simplicity: Jaques Pépin’s Fruit Desserts. Broil the figs!


I halved the fruit and decided that they were plenty sweet. If they weren’t, I would have sprinkled with sugar as suggested. After a few minutes under the broiler, they were even sweeter and the flavor concentrated, but still moist and easier to eat than dried.


Jacques made a sauce with strained peach preserves, but I had a few tiny fresh peaches from higher elevation southern Arizona.


I seeded and chopped the peaches, skins included. So much color, nutrition and fiber is in the skin. Plus I like varied textures.


The peaches simmered with a tiny bit of water for a few minutes, until soft.


I pureed the peaches and seasoned with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of rum.


That worked! So when someone gave me a handful of little plums, I immediately consulted the same book to show off the little treasures.


Here is my version of the Plum and Almond Cake

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup almonds

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons butter, softened

2 eggs

1/3 cup heavy cream


14 little plums

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch or similar size baking dish. Grind almonds in a food processor until powdered. Add the rest of dry ingredients and process. Add the wet ingredients and pulse into a batter. Spread batter into prepared dish and nestle in the whole fruit. Bake for 55 minutes or until the cake is browned. Mix the jam and liqueur and brush on top of the cake. Warn the eaters of the pits and enjoy!

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Our Living Giving Heirloom Pomegranate

Brought by the Padres to Baja Arizona during the Mission Period, this desert-adapted Sonoran White Pomegranate can continue to feed us visually, nutritionally, esthetically (photo MABurgess)

Brought by the Padres to Baja Arizona during the Mission Period over 350 years ago, this desert-adapted Sonoran White Pomegranate can continue to feed us visually, nutritionally, sustainably  (photo MABurgess)

It is thought that the so-called “apple,” the fruit of knowledge of good and evil which Eve shared with Adam in the Garden of Eden, was actually a pomegranate.   Now, thankfully, since Eden, we are all “fallen” and can enjoy pomegranates with no guilt!   Tia Marta here, inspired deeply by the recent article in Edible Baja Arizona by Dena Cowan about the comeback of heirloom Sonora White Pomegranate being celebrated at Tucson’s Mission Garden.  (This is a must-read: .)

Heirloom Sonora white pomegranate blooms and fruits all summer at Tucson' Mission Garden (photoMABurgess)

Heirloom Sonora white pomegranate blooms and fruits all summer at Tucson’ Mission Garden at the base of   “A”-Mountain (photoMABurgess)

One of the first joys of pomegranates is esthetic, making pomegranate (particularly our local heirloom Sonoran White) a primo candidate for edible landscaping.  Its rich green foliage is cooling to eyes and spirit.  Its glorious, shiny red flowers decorate the trees all summer, followed by sensuous round beige fruits that become rosy as they ripen like Christmas ornaments hanging on the tree.

Sensational flower of Sonoran White Pomegranate--an extra bonus for edible landscapers (MABurgess photo)

Sensational flower of Sonoran White Pomegranate–an extra bonus for edible landscapers .  (Check out the shape of pomegranate flowers to see the design influence in Spanish silver work which in turn inspired Dine/Navajo  “squash blossom” jewelry.) (MABurgess photo)

Peeking over the wall of Cordoba House in Tucson's historic neighborhood is a double flowered pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Peeking over the wall of Cordoba House in Tucson’s historic Presidio Neighborhood is a double flowered pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

A "fallen star" --a pomegranate flower on the pavement continues as a radiant bouquet (MABurgess photo)

A “fallen star” –a pomegranate flower on the pavement continues as a radiant bouquet (MABurgess photo)


Prepare to share your plentiful crop of Sonoran White Pomegranate with other frugivorous creatures. True bugs can be pests. No prob--damage is limited. (MABurgess photo)

Prepare to share your plentiful crop of Sonoran White Pomegranate with other frugivorous creatures. True bugs like these leaf-legged bugs (Coreidae) can be pests. No prob–damage is usually limited. (MABurgess photo)

The structure of pomegranate fruits, with its separate juicy cells or arils, normally prevents insect damage from destroying an entire fruit.  Just cut off the effected area and the remaining arils still will be perfect for eating.

Traditional Sonoran style for opening an heirloom Sonoran White pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Traditional Sonoran style for opening an heirloom Sonoran White pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Jesus Garcia, founder of the Kino Heritage Tree Program at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Mission Garden (and traditional knowledge-keeper of important Sonoran folkways), teaches how to cut the top off of a pomegranate to clearly see the septa or membranes that separate the five or six groupings of juice cells (arils), each containing a seed.  In most modern cultivated pomegranates, there is a hard bitter seed that must be “discarded,” making eating less than perfect.  Amazingly, the Sonoran White has small, tender seeds that present no problem–just eat the arils whole and enjoy!  (No spitting necessary.)

Traditional way of opening the Sonoran White Pomegranate for happy access to arils (MABurgess photo)

Subdivide the fruit along its easy membranes.  This is Garcias’ traditional way of opening the Sonoran White Pomegranate for happy access to “arils” –the juicy beads or sarcotestas (MABurgess photo)

I always thought that pomme -grenade was named for the city of Granada, but actually it is the other way ’round.  The Spanish city was re-named Granada when the Moors brought the fruit there from the MiddleEast and it made a big splash.

Technically the pomegranate  (Punica granatum) does not have many familiar relatives to us in its family of loosestrifes (Lythraceae).  It is so different from other plants that some taxonomists place it in its own family Punicaceae.  Pomegranate fruit is a berry, with each seed surrounded by sweet juice in little discrete cases called sarcotestas.  (There must be a better name for these delicious little beads of bliss!)

Nutritionally pomegranate has sweet advantages, providing antioxidants,  folate, vitamins C and K, plus manganese, phosphorus and potassium.

Fruity dessert topped with juicy clear Sonoran White Pomegranate seed-cells (MABurgess photo)

Fruity dessert topped with juicy clear Sonoran White Pomegranate seed-cells (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate can be juiced to drink straight or add to other drinks. (Talk about a nutritious addition to margaritas!) The simplest, most delightful way of enjoying our clear Sonoran White seed-cells is simply snacking by the handful.

I make a luscious dessert with vanilla yogurt topped with slices of fresh apricot, local apple, and blueberries, and crowned by the sweet seed-cells of Sonoran White Pomegranate.  Rejoice in this ancient gift brought by the Missionaries to Baja Arizona–a desert survivor, well-adapted to carrying us into climate change in arid lands!

Let your Sonoran White Pomegranate fruits remain on the tree until you see a rosy blush--then you know they are getting sweeter!

Let your Sonoran White Pomegranate fruits remain on the tree until you see a rosy blush–then you know they are getting sweetest! (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate tops this southwestern dessert (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate tops this southwestern dessert (MABurgess photo)

Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace will be sponsoring a Pomegranate event this month–September 24, 2016– at the Mission Garden.  Come learn all about our local heirloom treasure, the Sonoran White Pomegranate, how to grow it in our own gardens, and how to prepare it in zillion delectable ways.  For details call 520.777.9270 or email (  Let’s keep this living and giving food-heirloom alive and well in our gardens into the future!


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

Two Ingredient Super Salsa

Linda here on this hot, humid day, wondering how on earth we arrived at September.

IMG_2780 (1)

This Salsa is Super Simple. And Powerful. Not only in the way it explodes onto your tongue, but also in how easy it is to digest. I find the two ingredient version of this easy on my stomach and not as “pesado” (heavy) as the salsa with more ingredients.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning of my affair with chiltepin,  my bias was to add more flavor to this salsa. So I added oregano and garlic and tomatoes and some salt.(see last photo)

But, having dabbled and experimented, I have returned to the very, stripped down, basic recipe.   I adore it.   Sometimes people add a bit of salt too – which up’s the ingredient count up to a staggering 3.

This recipe was taught to me my a dear friend from Sonora, Mexico. It is the basic chiltepin salsa that you will find in nearly every household there.


Warm a skillet. No oil.


Put in a tablespoon (or more!) of chiltepin, move the chilies around and immediately turn off the heat. You are essential toasting the chiles. The aroma is intoxicating for the Lover of chiles. Be careful of your face, as sometimes these little chilies will “pop”.


In a food processor blend the warm chiles with just boiled water. I used less than a cup of water.

Note: Make sure to use a lid while you blend. And when you remove the lid, take care! I almost had my socks blown off me.  Like a true explosion, the aroma alone can force you backward, away from the blender/food processor to catch your breath.  I was warned about this, but didn’t take it seriously, because I am an arrogant chile eater with an over confident sense of my tolerance for this chiles’ “heat” and didn’t think that the oils in the chiles that wafted out of the blender would actually affect me.

I mention this to you in case you too might need reminding to keep your senses about you as you wade into the world of this 9000 year old chile. And chiltepins “heat” works differently than domesticated chiles. The heat FLARES quickly on the tongue and inside of your cheeks, and then subsides. Most domesticated chiles’ heat seem to “work” in reverse.


Place in a glass jar. This salsa has a thinner consistency than many salsas north of the border.



Great on chips, quesadillas, eggs, beans, rice ………..



If you cant resist adding “more” to it, play around with the flavors/ingredients s of your choice and blend away until you create the flavor and consistency that speaks to you. The  version in the photo above has Mexican oregano, fresh garlic, and roasted tomatoes in their pre-blended state.  There really is no “right” way to do this – enjoy robust experimenting until you get the taste and texture that delight both tongue and spirit!  (I roasted cherry tomatoes in a sauce pan like the chiles (no oil), but you could roast them in an oven, or, grill them over fire).  Then add them to your basic chile salsa. 



Categories: Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

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







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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.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 | 5 Comments

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