Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

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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 http://www.DesertHarvesters.org or email volunteer@DesertHarvesters.org 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.

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BE IN SYNC WITH THE SONORAN DESERT’S NATURAL PATTERNS

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

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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

It is nearly National Pollinator Week!

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Linda here this first, and very hot, Friday in June.

June brings us all sorts of gifts. The sun is nearing it’s solstice this month (around June 20th), and the heat is intensifying. It is this very heat helps bring the summer rains here in the Southwest. The moon is a New Moon tomorrow – this Saturday – and will be full again around the 20th – just in time to shine light on National Pollinator week!

Most of us know that pollinators are cornerstone species for planet earth. But lets look a little deeper at a few pollinators and link them with some foods/drinks we might have overlooked as pollinator dependent.  And with the references to the sun and the moon above –  lets look at which pollinators are doing what, and when.

Bees shown below, for instance, are solar beings. They actually have five eyes, not just the two that we can easily see with our own two human eyes. The other three are on top of their head, and they navigate using the sun. So while they spend much of their time inside dark hives, they forage for nectar and pollen while the sun is out, and are not active outside the hive at night. Keeping this in mind can be very helpful for how a beekeeper moves and where she stands in relationship to the sun,when working with bees is important. More about this another time.

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Queen Cups (middle comb) being formed in a friend’s hive.

Bats on the other hand, are evening/night pollinators. Among the many many many pollination activities that bats perform are agave flowers! And from agave flowers, grow agave plants. And from the careful work of bats, to the careful work of people (who harvest these plants and bake the “hearts” in the earth to make liquors) come Agave drinks.

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Agave Liquors are thanks to bats. That that tequila in your hands and that makes such an impression on your tounge is there because bats pollinated the agave flower. The Bacanora. The Mescal. All the Agave Liquors … are thanks to bats. Try an Agave Flight sometime. I did for my birthday just this week and it made quite and impression.

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Honey bee at a citrus flower

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Citrus along side of Tequila Flight are thanks to bees.

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Honey bee at a stone fruit flower – peach and nectarines and plums are examples of stone fruit

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Bacanora infused with peaches is thanks to both solar bees and nocturnal bats.

If you have never tried bacanora, consider doing so. It has a smoky flavor that is both surprising  – and kind of grounding.The hearts of the plants are cooked in “ovens” in the earth for extended periods of time. I also like that smoke is of the “air” –  as are bats and bees and flies – well all pollinators.

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The peach infused bacanora infuses not only flavor but a beautiful peach color as well.

 

And while you are at it, you can thank a tiny fly as well. Why flies?  They pollinate the flowers that become CHOCOLATE.

It is a strange and wonderful world:  flies and bats and stinging bees offer such gifts.  I am grateful for the pollinators who enrich both the earth and my culinary world as well . Please write me if/when you connect a pollinator with a favorite food.

Celebrate National Pollinator week in your own way. And consider checking out and even giving to an organization like XERCES ( http://www.xerces.org ) that is doing powerful, quality work. 

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Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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