Posts Tagged With: desert harvesting

Blessed Monsoon Weeds!

Yikes–look what has happened all around us!

Verdulagas — purslane — exploding in the garden. (photo by ChadBorseth, NativeSeedsSEARCH store mgr.)

With our recent record-breaking rainfall in Baja Arizona, weeds continue to go rampant. Now, what to do with them? Tah-dah–Eat them before they eat up all your garden space!

Tia Marta here—admitting I actually don’t believe in weeds at all—Weeds are gifts to be used, relished gastronomically and nutritionally, admired as amazing strategists,… appreciated!  Weeds are much-maligned plants with a different way of surviving than our regular “garden variety” plant.  They know genetically how to hustle to “make hay while the sun shines.”  So if you need to deal with a bounty of weeds coming on like gang-busters in your garden or nearby in the desert, I’d like to share some fun ways to consume and internalize them.  If we are what we eat, perhaps their “energies” may be a form of speed on some ethereal plane.

Fresh young quelites  (Amaranthus palmeri), aka pigweed and carelessweed, popping up with summer rains–ready to pick!  (MABurgess photo)

Quelite, weed of many names– careless weed, pigweed, Amaranthus palmeri, known as “rain spinach” or Juhukia i:wagi to the Tohono O’odham–is popping up in great green swaths wherever rainwater has pooled. It grows faster than one can imagine. The scourge of cotton farmers, it is, on the flip side, a positive boon to traditional harvesters—Native, Hispanic, African or Asian. As climate change digs its teeth into desert environments, our native Amaranth “weed” holds great potential as a rapid-responder “dry-land” crop for the future.

When flower stalks of Amaranthus palmeri emerge, leaves toughen. Be sure to harvest only the tender leaves. (MABurgess photo)

Mature, drying Amaranthus palmeri image taken at Mission Garden. The seedhead is spiny but contains nutritious seeds! (MABurgess photo)

The nutrition of Amaranth, our rain spinach, is way up at the top of the chart. Consider that 100g of young shoots provides 42 calories packed with 3-4 grams of protein, 3mg iron, and 4-11 mg of available calcium.

If your Amaranth patch matures faster than your harvesting schedule allows, don’t fret–all is not lost. As long as there are soft, non-fibrous leaves to pick, they are fair game for steaming or stir-frying as greens or quelites. Later, when the arching spike of spiny seed capsules matures and dries, you can harvest seeds (carefully with gloves) and winnow the tiny grains in the breeze. THEY are fabulously nutritious too. Amaranth seed is 15-18% protein—far higher than most cereals. They can be cooked as hot cereal or ground into flour– full of healthy, gluten-free carbs and fiber. Amaranth weed seed baked into bread adds a pleasing and healthy crunch. If you want quantity and lack patience to harvest wild carelessweed, the NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, has grain-amaranth for cooking or milling, also popped amaranth for adding to baked goods or confections for Dia de Los Muertos. [More to come on that topic in early November.]

Caution:  Here’s a trick plant that may look like Amaranth but it is a perennial that leafs out with summer rains, especially in the Tucson Mtns area–Ambrosia cordifolia–not good for eating–better for soil stabilization. (MABurgess photo)

Delicious and healthy grain amaranth and popped amaranth, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store for cooking.

Another “weed” that is probably at this very minute creating mats of green in your garden is verdulaga. Traditional Tohono O’odham know it as ku’ukpulk, and some gardeners refer to the same puffy-leafed ground-sprawler as purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It can be added fresh to any salad for a juicy, succulent texture and tang. And check the nutrients, especially if your body needs available calcium. Every 100g (a little less than ½ cup) of verdulagas provides 0.3mg iron, 19mg calcium, high omega-3-fatty acids and lots of vitamins A&C. Rinse your verdulagas in a bowl of water, then toss the water back in the garden where the many teensy seeds that have dropped to the bottom can go for a “second round.”

Caution:  Another “trick plant” is this purslane- look-alike called “horse purslane”-Trianthema portulacastrum. It will taste a little soapy if you try it. (MABurgess photo)

Picked and washed true verdulaga/purslane, ready to make into pesto (MABurgess photo)

Here is an idea for Monsoon Pesto made with tasty weeds! Pestos of course can be made with almost any greens—e.g. with kale in the winter—so why not use what Nature provides locally and now?  Both amaranth or verdulaga can be used in your favorite pesto recipe for a healthy and tasty Southwest vacation from basil. [A word of caution: If you harvest from the wild, be sure to collect at least 50 feet from a roadway, or upstream from any road along an arroyo. Know your plants when harvesting!]

 

Here is a SUPER-NUTRITIOUS SONORAN DESERT MONSOON-WEED-PESTO RECIPE:

Ingredients:
2+ cups well-packed, fresh, washed Amaranth or Purslane greens
2-3 cloves heirloom garlic
¼ cup pinyones shelled (pine nuts), or any other fresh nutmeats, or soft seeds such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2/3 cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or ancient Utah salt, and ground pepper, to taste (all optional)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Directions:
In a food processor, combine wild weed greens (Amaranth or verdulaga), garlic, and pinyones, and process on the  “pulse” setting until finely chopped.
With processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the texture is smooth and fine.
Add the cheese and pulse briefly just to combine ingredients.
Taste, then season with salt and pepper as needed. (It may not need any.) Give one last pulse after seasoning.
(Pesto can be stored in frig or freezer.)
Serve on crackers with cream-cheese, in pasta, on pizza made with local white Sonora wheat flour for another local twist, or simply spread on good bread for a fantastic snack, as seen below!

Monsoon Weed Pestos–The top row is Purslane Pesto with Pine Nuts. The darker green is “Pigweed & Pepita Pesto” made with pumpkin seeds–(here served on harvest seed bread squares)–Both Weed Pestos are SO delicious (MABurgess photo)

As you taste either of these nutritious weed pestos with eyes closed, you can SAVOR the wild Southwest bouncing back into its burgeoning monsoon mode and relish the desert’s rhythms. This is Tia Marta’s wish for you– Happy weeding and eating your way through monsoon season!

Amaranthus palmeri seedheads growing too tall for a selfie –but soon ready to harvest for seed

(You can read about Winter/Spring Weeds in my blog from February 14, 2014. Interestingly, the weeds that flourish with our Sonoran Desert summer rains in the heat are totally different from the species that sprout in winter with cool/wet conditions here. The metabolism of winter vs. summer weeds involves totally different biochemical strategies—tho’ they are all similarly nutritious.)

 

 

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Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsoon Mesquite Bosque Butter

Mature pods of velvet mesquite–ready for monsoon planting  or eating!  (JRMondt photo)

Tia Marta’s 12’x12″ pod net, slit into center on an imaginary radius to wrap around trunk and over understory plants, edged with duct tape on non-selvedge sides (MABurgess photos)

Mesquite pods shaken from tree onto harvesting net

I finished the split center edges of my pod-harvesting net with hems in which to optionally insert saguaro ribs or PVCpipe for easy set-up around a mesquite tree trunk

This past week, at the last hurrah before these wonderful monsoonal rains began, Tia Marta here was out with my handy dandy self-invented pod-harvesting net to bring in some of our Sonoran Desert’s bounty–just in time to avoid the aflatoxin hazard which comes with higher humidity.

Some velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) have a rich raspberry color–Wish you could taste this one–We compete with the wildlife for them. (MABurgess photo)

Plump pods of sweet velvet mesquite, full of pulp for making Bosque Butter. Every tree’s pods have different shapes and tastes.  Be choosy!–collect from the trees with the plumpest and sweetest pods. (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mesquite orchardist, miller of primo mesquite flour, died June3, 2017

 

With a song of thanks for this desert super-food–and with thankful recollections of some amazing mesquite aficionados–I would like to share one of my favorite mesquite recipes.  This post about mesquite is a tribute to the “gotmesquite guy” Mark Moody who recently passed, and whose fabulous mesquite flour via farmers’ markets and NativeSeeds/SEARCH has fed many a happy desert-foods buff over the years.  (Check out my piece in the online EdibleBajaArizona for more about Mark.)

Mesquite “Bosque Butter” and “Bosque Sauce” a la Tia Marta

This delectable recipe for Mesquite Bosque (pronounced boss’kay) Butter was inspired by a crack team of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Docents in the 1970s -80s who assisted in our first Mesquite Harvesting Workshops, possibly the first ever done in English.  In particular I’m honoring the memories of docents Mike and Jean Mentus, Gerry Dennison, and Linda Stillman, who helped me invent this condiment and teach Museum members about it.

This recipe uses the whole dry pods freshly harvested–not milled meal (although you could enhance it with extra mesquite meal if you desire.)

RECIPE for Muff’s “MESQUITE BOSQUE BUTTER”:

You will need:  3 bowls(2 for straining, 1 for compostable fiber), 2 stirring spoons, tasting spoon, 1-2 colanders, 1 lg. saucepan for stovetop or solar oven, cheesecloth, electric mixer with pulse setting (Your grandmother’s osterizer is fine.)

Ingredients:

Approx. 2 qts mesquite pods, clean, mature, dry (preferably fresh off the tree)

Approx. 1 quart drinking water

2 pk sure-jell (or other fruit pectin, ca.3.5oz.)

¼ C sugar (or honey optional) [Sugar helps set the gel.]

½ C raw organic agave nectar

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 T butter (optional)

juice of 4 Mexican limes (or 2 lemons)

Washed pods, covered with drinking water, set in solar oven to cook (MABurgess photo)

Directions:

 1) Rinse mesquite pods until thoroughly clean of desert dust, and drain them.

2) Place pods in large saucepan with enough drinking water to cover. Add more water if 1qt is not enough to cover pods.

3) Simmer pods 30-40 minutes until fully softened. Softening time differs with dryness of pods.

4) Water will be sweet.  Through a colander over a bowl, drain pods, reserving ALL the liquid.

Cooked pods and reserved liquid being blendered

Check bottom of blender to remove all fiber from blade with each handful

Cooked, blendered pods draining thru cheesecloth in colander

5) In blender, whirl softened pods–handful by handful, each handful with ¼ cup of the reserved liquid– with gentle pulses, 8-10 short pulses max for each handful of pods.

6) Into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl, hand-remove the entire loosened juice, pulp, seed, and fiber mass after each handful.  Check blender blades each time to prevent burnout of motor, as pod fibers can easily bind up the works!

7) In the colander over the bowl, drain as much of the blendered pulpy liquid from the fiber as possible, pressing, squeezing, twisting it out with cheesecloth.  You might extract more if you squeeze the cheesecloth after each handful is poured from the blender.

Squeezing cooked, blendered pods thru cheesecloth to extract pulpy liquid

After adding all other ingredients,, boil the sweet pulpy liquid

8) Transfer the strained pulpy liquid to a saucepan.  Bring it to a boil.  Add lime/lemon juice, sugar, agave nectar, cinnamon, pectin, and butter, stirring all in smoothly.

9) The liquid mixture must be cooked down to concentrate it.  Simmer 30-45 minutes to desired texture or thickness.

10) Funnel the mixture into jars.  Cool down; refrigerate when cool.

If it thickens it will be a delicious spread–like apple-butter.  If it does not gel it will be a fabulous mesquite syrup or sauce over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream!  If your mix has more liquid than pulp, when it thickens it can even be served as a very rich yummy pudding.

Mesquite Bosque Butter on buckwheat pancake–delish!

However it comes out, you will be enjoying the health benefits of mesquite’s complex carbohydrates and its unforgettable sweet and natural taste!  (Don’t forget to compost the leftover seeds and fiber—good nutrients for soil building.  Or, feed it to the birds in your “back forty.”)

Plan NOW and prep for future mesquite harvests!  Why not plant you own trees and enjoy their shade, their life-giving oxygen–and their nutritious food!  In the coolth of morning start digging a tree hole where you want future shade.  Monsoon time is a good time to plant, and there are Monsoon Plant Sales happening right now.  Three mesquite species are native to our Southwest region:  Velvet (Prosopis velutina), Honey mesquite (P. glandulosa), and Screwbean mesquite (P.pubescens).  All three make fabulous pod meal but the best for Bosque Butter are Velvet and Honey, as their pods can be plump and full of high-carb pulp.  For the most local varieties of mesquite visit Desert Survivors Nursery (desertsurvivors.org).   The Tohono Chul Park’s Monsoon Madness Plant Sale Friday-Saturday, July 28-29, 2017, will have several expert local growers represented (www.tohonochul.org).  NativeSeeds/SEARCH has mesquite meal in stock and expects the most recent local harvest to be available soon.  (NSS’s Monsoon Plant Sale is Fri-Sun, July 28-30, for monsoon gardening plants, http://www.nativeseeds.org).

Happy harvesting–happy tree-planting–y buen provecho! de Tia Marta.

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

Summer Solstice Celebrated with Saguaros

On Summer Solstice morning, a white-wing dove coos to the saguaro fruit to hasten its ripening, and takes its first taste. When red fruit opens, doves will dip in for a luscious meal and come up with red heads!  (photo JRMondt)

Have you seen it yet?–the rare red-headed white-wing dove of the desert?  “Red-headed Ok’ko-koi” is only around for a short while during the bahidaj.  He is the herald of saguaro fruit harvesting season.

These longest days of the year (and the hottest!!) are the Sonoran Desert New Year of the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People. It is the beginning of “action time” in the desert, tho’ it may look blistered and dead from inside an air-conditioned space.  Lots is happening.  Listen to sounds of quail and dove at dawn; watch scurrying lizards at noon; sense bats at night.  Desert life out there is pollinating flowers and dispersing seed in prep for monsoon moisture.

Fallen bahidaj on the rocks will be critter food.  For people, catch it before it falls. (MABurgess)

Tia Marta here to share ideas about the giant saguaro’s gifts of good food to its fellow desert helpers.  With San Juan’s Day celebrated June 24, I pause to also acknowledge the birthday of my dear friend and mentor, Juanita Ahil, who first led me into the desert on an early June morning to introduce me to some amazing desert treats, discussed in this post.

Pick the fruits that show a blush of rosy red on the top.  (MABurgess photo)

A saguaro fruit, opened with its sharp “pizza-cutter” calyx, is filled with sweet raspberry-red pulp and crunchy black seeds. (MABurgess photo)

 

Juanita would scoop out the nutritious pulp from thick fruit rinds–with thanks and blessings.  We’d take several juicy bites before filling buckets of bahidaj to make syrup.

Juanita would add water to the pulpy fruit to loosen the mass, then strain out seeds before concentrating the sweet water to syrup. (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

Over her open fire, she would stir a pot full of fruit and water until the water turned red, then strain the mass through a basket-sieve, saving the seed for other purposes. (See blog-sister Carolyn Niethammer’s post on “Black Beauty Wafers” of saguaro seed.)  After sieving, it was the long process of boiling down the sweet water to a dark syrup–like making maple syrup.  Don’t be surprised if you see Bahidaj Sitol selling for what looks like exorbitant prices; consider the time it takes to make!  Juanita would contribute a share of her hard-produced syrup to her Tohono O’odham Community for fermenting into wine for the rain-ceremony, with prayers for the desert’s rebirth.  Surplus syrup was so concentrated, it could be kept unrefrigerated, carrying summer’s sweetness into the winter.

Here are some delectable ideas for cool, super-simple desserts with saguaro syrup:

 

Muff’s “Sonoran Melba” topped with pine nuts and chia seed (JRMondt photo)

Directions for Muff’s SONORAN MELBA WITH PINE NUTS AND CHIA

Over a serving of vanilla or vanilla-bean ice cream, pour 1-3 tsp pure saguaro syrup (bahidaj sitol).  It doesn’t take much, as it is so rich!  Sprinkle top with 1/2 tsp chia seed and 1 Tbsp of pine nuts (shelled).   Taste and go nuts in ecstasy!

Rod’s “Saguaro Split”–topped with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts (JRMondt photo)

Recipe for Rod’s SAGUARO SPLIT:

Divide a half banana in half longitudinally. Serve a big scoop of ice cream in between–any flavor– like chocolate chip or French vanilla.  Top with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts of choice.  [Here the “lily is guilded” for sure.  Who needs a cherry on top when you have the rare treat of saguaro syrup?!]

Setting out fresh bahidaj pulp to dry on wax paper. (MABurgess)

Try dehydrating saguaro fruit in a solar oven with the lid partially open to allow moisture to escape. It doesn’t take long. Note the rock holding the oven cover open.(MABurgess photo)

I also love to make chuñ–the dried bahidaj fruit which you can sometimes find hanging on the branches of a palo verde, the nurse tree next to the saguaro where fruit has fallen.  Scoop out the pulp from its rind, place blobs on wax paper, dry them outside under a screen or in your solar oven.  Eat and enjoy chuñ as a totally healthy snack; it is high in complex, slowly-digested sugars, vegetable protein and healthy oils in the seeds.   Or, get creative with chuñ–as in the following recipe:

 

 

 

Sweet chun dried in the sun is even better than figs! (BTW–Now– in the dry heat of Solstice-time before the monsoons–is prime time to harvest mesquite pods too!  Check out desert harvesters.org for more info.)  (MABurgess photo)

Recipe for Tia Marta’s JUNE CHUÑ healthy fruit salad:

1/2-3/4 cup diced apple (approx 1 small apple diced)

1/2 cup organic red grapes cut in half

3 Tbsp dried cherries, cranberries, or chopped dried apricots

1/2-2/3 cup organic plain lowfat yogurt

1-2 tsp agave nectar (optional, to taste)

1/4 cup chopped dried bahidaj chuñ

Mix all ingredients except chuñ ahead and chill.  Sprinkle some little chuñ chunks on each serving as topping. Serves 2 or 3.  This is fancy and sweet enough to be used as a dessert. Enjoy the natural complex carbs, sweet nutrition, and delightful crunch!

Cool “JUNE CHUN”–a fruity and crunchy salad or dessert (MABurgess)

So, Happy Desert New Year!  And happy harvesting in the coolth of early summer mornings, rejoicing in the gifts saguaro gives to its fellow desert-dwellers–from the white-wing doves and ants to us two-leggeds!

[If you are beyond the Sonoran Desert and want to try some of these desert delicacies, you can contact http://www.tocaonline.org (website of Tohono O’odham Community Action, Sells, AZ) or http://www.nativeseeds.org (NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ; or 520-622-5561) to order them.  Many other traditional desert foods are available at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.]

Braving the heat, inviting the monsoons and prepping for summer planting, NativeSeeds/SEARCH will be celebrating San Juan’s Day at the NSS Conservation Farm in Patagonia, AZ, this Saturday, June 24, 2017, 11am-3pm.  Bring a dish for the pot luck and a spray-bottle of water for blessings.  For info call 520-622-0830.

 

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

Agave Fest Begins in Tucson

Tucson is gearing up to celebrate all things agave with the annual Agave Fest. It began Friday, August 28, at Mission Garden in Tucson with tastes of alcohol distilled from agave hearts.  Bacanora is to Sonora as tequila is to Jalisco, mezcal is to Oaxaca and sotol is to Chihuahua.  Bacanora and sotol are the lesser-known. This is how bacanora is described in Tequila: a natural and cultural history by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan:

“Bacanora: A bootleg mescal made from the northernmost populations of Agave angustifolia var. Pacifica in sonora and adjacent Chihuahua, sometimes mixed…with A. palmeri. Named for the small rancheria of Bacanora near the pueblo of Sahuaripa, Sonora, this mescal was recently legalized and commercialized, but the clandestine cottage industry product by this name remains the pride of Sonorans.” Bacanora has now been legally sold since 1992, but old-timers still have nostalgia for the unmarked bottles obtained with a little stealth from a Mexican rancher friend.

Native Americans and Mexicans have for centuries used agave as a food source. The agaves are harvested shortly after they start to send up a bloom spike. All the sugars are concentrated then. If you cut the bloom spike when it is just coming out, it can be sliced and eaten raw and is reminiscent of jicama.  However Jesus Garcia cautioned the audience that the raw sap from the agave heart is very caustic and any that ends up on your skin will cause an itchy welt. When the leaves are removed from the agave and the hearts baked, the result is a fibrous sweet pulp.  The volunteers at Mission Garden have constructed a traditional earth oven and Jesus Garcia demonstrated how to prepare the harvested agave for roasting.

Jesus Garcia demonstrates how to prepare an agave heart for roasting at Mission Garden.  Removing the leaves is not easy task, requiring a machete and a strong back. The earth oven is in the foreground. Jesus is preparing a thick bed of coals to roast the agave hearts.

 

Several decades ago when I was doing the research for my first book American Indian Food and Lore (now American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest), I learned the lesson about the caustic agave sap the hard way as I spattered the raw pulp with every swing of the machete.  While an earth oven gives baked agave a lovely smoky taste, you can also bake agave in a regular oven. I did this for the first time in about 20 years this week with a heart provided by Mission Garden. It was such a huge agave, that I had to quarter it to fit in my home oven.

Quartered agave heart.

Here are two baked quarters going into my oven.

Agave hearts that I have baked that are about the size of a large cauliflower have taken  10 hours at 350 degrees to become soft. These were larger and took about 17 hours until the leaves were soft enough to pull away from the core.

Nicely baked agave heart after 17 hours in the oven.

Soft sweet agave pulp, between the fibers. You can chew it or nudge it out with a knife to use in recipes.

 

 

A few years ago, I visited a mezcal-making demonstration in Oaxaca. Once the agave heads are nicely baked and caramelized, they are cooled, unloaded and the leaves are separated. This crusher is the traditional way that the baked agave leaves are crushed to release the sweet pulp from the fibers. A draft animal goes round and round crushing the baked leaves to a pulp.

The mill,or molino, that crushes the baked agave leaves.

The mill,or molino, that crushes the baked agave leaves. Usually powered by a mule or burro.

 

There are many more events coming up next week for Agave Fest: a dinner, a brunch, lectures, seminars. One I’m sure not to miss is the mezcal and chocolate pairing at Maynards at 7 p.m. May 4. You can read all about it at www.agaveheritagefestival.com or look on Facebook.

Interested in more recipes for wild desert foods?  Check out my book Cooking the Wild Southwest for delicious mesquite recipes as well as recipes for 22 other easily recognized and gathered southwest plants.  For at look at Native American uses for agave and other desert plants, see American Indian Cooking, Recipes from the Southwest.  For a short video on some of the interesting plants you can gather, click here.

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

Wild Rhubarb Rises Again!

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

It’s an unusual winter season when Canaigre (also known by many other names:  Wild Rhubarb, Desert Dock,  Hiwidchuls in O’odham language, Latin name Rumex hymenosepalus) creeps up out of its sandy hiding places to bloom and seed before spring weather gets too warm.  When conditions are right, it can dot the desert floor in early spring with its floppy leathery leaves and pink stalks similar to domestic rhubarb.  This recent cool season Nov.2016-Jan.2017, with its period of penetrating rains, has been the right trigger for awakening canaigre.  Right now it’s time to attune our vision to finding it!  If the weather heats up rapidly, as happened in the last couple of springs, its tender leaf rosettes will dry and crinkle leaving a brown organic “shadow” of itself on the sand, its stored life safely underground in fat roots.  Tia Marta here to share some experiences with canaigre or wild rhubarb.

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Canaigre isn’t just everywhere in the desert.  It’s elusive.  It usually likes sandy loose soil, like the flood plains of our desert rivers in Baja Arizona and Sonora, along major arroyo banks, and on pockets of ancient sand dunes.  Where you see one you usually see many.

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

My late friend and mentor, Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil, would take me to her favorite harvesting grounds at the right time each February and March to collect the rosy stalks–if they had emerged.  Over the last 40 years, with deep regret, frustration and anguish, I’ve seen her special “harvesting gardens” go under the blade as development turned wild rhubarb habitat into apartments, golf courses, and strip malls.  Hopefully our Arizona Native Plant Society (www.AZNPS.com) will be able to advocate for setting aside some remaining sites on public lands, similar to the BLM Chiltepin Reserve at Rock Corral Canyon in the Atascosa Mountains.  Where wild rhubarb was once super-plentiful, they and their habitats are now greatly diminished, even threatened.

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Details of the parts of the plant that Juanita traditionally harvested are shown in Mimi Kamp’s sketch.  Contrary to some ethnographic reports, Juanita did not use the leaf petioles for food; she harvested the flower stalks, i.e. the stems, leaving the leaves to make more food for the plants to store for the next season.  Traditional knowledge is so attuned to Nature.  Hers was an awareness of the plant’s needs balanced with her own appetite.  Other reports of traditional use of wild rhubarb mention cooking the leaves after leaching/steaming out the oxalic acid from them which is not healthy to eat.

Juanita would also dig deeply into the sandy soil directly under an unusually large, robust hiwidchuls to harvest one or more (up to maybe 1/4 of the tubers) to use as medicine.  I recall her digging a big purplish tuber the size of an oblong sweet potato at a depth of 2 1/2 feet on the floodplain of the Rio Santa Cruz where ball parks now prevent any hiwidchuls growth at all.  She would dry it and powder it to use later on scrapes to staunch bleeding.  Her hiwidchuls harvesting dress was dotted with rosy brown patches of color dyed from the juice splashed on the cloth when she cut the tubers into slices for drying. (See Jacqueline Soule’s post on this blog from 2014, also Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants books, for alternate uses.)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up  with buds and flowers  typical of buckwheats (MABurgess photo)

Canaigre/wild rhubarb is in the buckwheat family sporting clusters of little flowers that produce winged seeds.  Their papery membranes help catch the wind for flying to new planting grounds.  The green celery-like flower stalk or stem turns pink or raspberry-tinted as it matures.  That was when Juanita would cut the stem at its base to use for her hiwidchuls pas-tild, wild rhubarb pie!

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb's membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb’s membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

In a good year, Juanita would harvest literally bundles of hiwidchuls stalks and we would set to work baking.  Her pies were sweet and tangy.  Here is what she would roughly put together in her off the cuff recipe.  But almost any rhubarb pie recipe should work with the wild rhubarb.  You can find great info on Southwest Native uses of canaigre in Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book American Indian Food and Lore.

Juanita’s approximate Hiwidchuls Pas-tird RECIPE

Ingredients:

ca 4-6 cups chopped young wild rhubarb stems

1/4-1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour

2-3 Tbsp butter

ca 2 cups sugar

pie crust–2 layers for top and bottom, or bottom crust and top lattice crust (A good variation is mesquite flour added to your crusts)

Directions:  Prep stems ahead.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Chop young rhubarb stems in 1/2 inch cuts.  Stems are full of vascular bundles and can become very fibrous as stems become fully mature, so youthful stems are best.  (Be warned:  One year we harvested a little too late and our pies were so “chewy” with fiber that we had to eat our pies outside in order to be able to easily “spit out the quids.”)  Cook hiwidchuls chopped pieces in a small amount of water until tender.  Add in sugar, butter and flour and cook until mixture is thickening.  Pour mixture into your pie crust.  Cover with top pie crust and pierce for steam escape, or cover with lattice crust.  Begin baking in hot oven (at 450F) then reduce heat to medium oven (350F) for 45-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling through lattice or steam holes.  Enjoy it hot or cold!

 

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Now let’s head out into the desert washes to see if there are more stands of hiwidchuls popping up out of the ground, making solar food to keep themselves and other creatures alive and well!   Let’s get ready to be collecting their seeds (which also were used traditionally by Native People as food) in order to propagate and multiply them, adding them to our gardens for future late winter shows of color, good food and good medicine.  Happy gardening and eating from Tia Marta and traditional knowledge shared!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EVERYTHING-LOCAL PIZZA from Baja Arizona!

Totally local veggie pizza with cholla buds, nopalitos, acelgas, mushrooms, goat cheese and home-grown cherry tomatoes--ready to bake

Totally local veggie pizza with cholla buds, nopalitos, acelgas, mushrooms, goat cheese and home-grown cherry tomatoes–ready to bake

If you love pizza–and I’m picky about good pizza–here are some ways to celebrate local foods, to eat super-healthily, get creative in the kitchen, AND have new excuses to eat pizza!  Tia Marta here to share ideas for a delicious pizza party, incorporating the fabulous gifts that our local desert foods offer.

It will take a little fore-thought and assembly time (…like, all year harvesting at the right seasons for DIYers, or trips to the farmers market, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, or San Xavier Farm Coop).

Locally-harvested buckhorn and staghorn cholla buds, reconstituted and ready to cut as toppings for pizza

Locally-harvested buckhorn and staghorn cholla buds, reconstituted and ready to cut as toppings for pizza

Pickled prickly pear cactus pads--better known as nopalitos in Spanish and nowi in Tohono O'odham

Pickled prickly pear cactus pads–better known as nopalitos in Spanish and nowi in Tohono O’odham

Cholla buds dried from last April’s harvest, soaked and simmered until soft through, make a tangy taste surprise– a super-nutritious calcium-packed pizza topping.  In the photo, the larger buds are from Buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthacarpa) and the smaller buds are from Staghorn (C. versicolor), both plentiful for harvesting in low desert.  Dried cholla buds are available at San Xavier Coop Association’s farm outlet, at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, and at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

Another perfect topping is nopalitos, simmered or pickled and diced young pads of our ubiquitous prickly pears (Opuntia engelmannii, O.ficus-indica to name a couple).  Collecting from the desert is a spring activity, but you can easily find whole or diced nopales anytime at Food City.  The other cheater’s method is to find canned pickled cactus in the Mexican food section of any local grocery.  Nopalitos are a taste thrill on a pizza, and you can enjoy their blood-sugar balancing benefits to boot.

Starting the dough sponge--with local, organic hard red wheat flour--ready to rise

Starting the dough sponge–with local, organic hard red wheat flour–ready to rise

Risen pizza dough after a couple of hours--note the rich whole grain flour of local BKWFarms hard red wheat

Risen pizza dough after a couple of hours–note the rich whole grain flour of local BKWFarms hard red wheat

As for making the crust, we have the perfect source of the freshest whole grain organic flours right here from BKWFarms’ fresh-milled heirloom white Sonora & hard red wheat.

My suggestions for a Baja Arizona Pizza Crust:

Ingredients:

3 ½ to 4 cups bread flour mix  (consisting of 2- 2  1/2 cups organic hard red wheat flour from BKWFarms Marana, 1 cup pastry-milled organic heirloom white Sonora wheat flour also from BKWFarms, ½ cup organic all purpose flour from a good grocery)

2 tsp local raw honey (see Freddie the Singing Beekeeper at Sunday Rillito farmers market)

1-2 envelopes instant dry yeast (or your own sourdough starter)

2 tsp Utah ancient sea salt or commercial sea salt

1 ½ cups drinking water, heated in pyrex to between 105 degrees F and 115 degrees F

2 Tbsp organic olive oil for the dough

PLUS 2 tsp more olive oil for spreading on dough as it proofs

Pizza dough risen and kneaded then stretched and patted out on pizza pan ready for toppings

Pizza dough risen and kneaded then stretched and patted out on pizza pan ready for toppings

Directions for making Crust:

[Note–you can find several pizza dough recipes for bread mixers online.  Just substitute the above ingredients.]

Heat water and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Test for temperature then dissolve dry yeast.  Add honey and sea salt and dissolve both.  Add oil to wet mixture.  Sift flours. Gradually mix flours into wet ingredients until a mass of dough is formed and begins to pull away from sides of bowl.  Knead into a ball.  Let stand covered in a warm place until ball of dough has at least doubled in size (approx 2 hours).  Knead the ball again, divide into 2 equal parts, cover thinly with the additional olive oil, and roll out or hand-flatten the 2 dough balls out onto 2 oiled pizza pans.  Pat dough to approximately 1/4″-3/8″ thickness to the edges of pan.  At this point you are ready to add any number of good toppings.  Here are ideas for a local veggie and a local meatie pizza.

For the finest plain local carefully created goat cheese, find Fiore di Capra at Rillito Farmers Market, Sundays in Tucson

For the finest plain local carefully created goat cheese, find Fiore di Capra at Rillito Farmers Market, Sundays in Tucson

Baja Arizona Pizza Toppings

Ingredients for local Veggie Pizza toppings:

1/2 pt. spreadable goat cheese (I use Fiore di Capra’s plain)

local chard or acelgas (from Mission Garden) torn in pieces

local tomatoes, sliced

I’itoi’s Onions, chopped

heirloom garlic, minced

1/2 cup reconstituted cholla buds, sliced in half or quarters

1/2 cup diced nopalitos 

Fresh Chard (acelgas) from a refugee friend's garden--a great substitute for spinach in a pizza!

Fresh Chard (acelgas) from a refugee friend’s garden–a great substitute for spinach in a pizza!

Native I'itoi's Onions and local heirloom garlic from my garden for pizza topping

Native I’itoi’s Onions and local heirloom garlic from my garden for pizza topping

1/2 cup local oyster mushrooms, sliced

1/4-1/2 cup salsa, optional

Luscious oyster mushrooms from Maggie's Farm (Rillito Farmers Market) to cut in strips for pizza

Luscious oyster mushrooms from Maggie’s Farm (Rillito Farmers Market) to cut in strips for pizza

[You probably by now have some ideas of your own to add!]

Ingredients for Meatie Baja Arizona Pizza toppings:

1/2 pt goat cheese

1/2 lb local chorizo sausage, loosely fried

or, 1/2 lb local grass-fed beef hamburger, loosely fried and spiced with I’itoi onions, garlic, salt

1/2 cup tomato&pepper salsa of choice (mild, chilpotle, etc)

Fresh local pork chorizo to render before putting on pizza dough

Fresh local pork chorizo to render before putting it on the pizza dough

Directions for Toppings:

Layer your toppings artfully, beginning by spreading the goat cheese evenly over the patted-out crust dough.  For a local Veggie Pizza, scatter minced garlic and chopped I’itoi’s onions evenly atop the goat cheese layer.  Place torn leaves of fresh acelgas over the onion/garlic layer.  Add sliced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, sliced cholla buds, diced nopalitos.  Top with optional salsa.  For a Cholla&Chorizo Meatie Pizza, do a similar layering beginning with goat cheese spread over the crust dough, then scattered I’itoi’s onions and garlic, then a full layer of cooked chorizo, and topped by lots of sliced cholla buds.  Adding salsa over all is optional for making a juicier pizza.

Preheat oven to high 425 degrees F.  Bake both pizzas 20-24 minutes or until the crust begins to turn more golden.  You won’t believe the flavor of the crust alone on this local pizza–and the delicious toppings grown right here in Baja Arizona are better than “icing on the cake”!  You can add more spice and zing by crushing our native wild chiltepin peppers on your pizza–but be forewarned–they might blow your socks off.

Home-grown chiltepin peppers crushed and ready to spice up a local pizza--Look out for a wave of picante heat even with a small pinch!

Home-grown chiltepin peppers from my garden, dried, crushed and ready to spice up a local pizza–Look out for a wave of picante heat even with a small pinch!

Here’s wishing you a great local pizza party!

How could you top this Baja Arizona Pizza?!!! Our locally grown and wild desert-harvested ingredients can't be beat by any other veggie pizza!

How could you top this Baja Arizona Pizza?!!! Our locally grown and wild desert-harvested ingredients can’t be beat by any other veggie pizza!

What a great combination--wild-harvested cholla buds, local chorizo, Fiore di Capra goat cheese, and truly flavorful organic wheat flour crust!

What a great combination–wild-harvested cholla buds, local chorizo, Fiore di Capra goat cheese, and truly flavorful organic wheat flour crust!

Buen provecho from Tia Marta!  See you when you visit http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

 

 

 

 

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

Southwest Foraging: A book to guide you

Southwest Foraging: 117 wild and flavorful edibles from barrel cactus to wild oregano

by John Slattery. (Timber Press, $24.95)

By Carolyn Niethammer

In the introduction to John Slattery’s new book on wild foods, he states, “If you have not foraged for your food, you have not yet fully lived on this earth.”  I couldn’t agree more as there is nothing like popping a handful of sun-warmed orange hackberries into your mouth as I did on my Sunday morning walk.

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Although the book encompasses the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Southern Utah, and their great diversity of habitats, Slattery does a good job of telling you not only what you might find in your area, but also in which season you should go out looking for a particular plant.

Although I have been playing with and writing about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest for more than 40 years, Slattery includes many plants that are new to me.  I recognize desert willow flowers, but didn’t know that they can be steeped to make a tea.

Desert Willow flowers

Desert Willow flowers – a picture pretty enough to frame!

Steep flowers for a nice tea.

Steep flowers for a nice tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slattery  makes it easy to recognize each plant with precise color photos, which he took himself on his many foraging expeditions. Some of the photos rise to the level of art and will have you just tasting those juicy berries and grabbing your backpack to go find some for yourself.

I do have one small quibble with the book. Slattery mentions harvesting the bulbs of mariposa lily. As an avid seeker of spring wild flowers, I’m always thrilled to find the gorgeous mariposa lilies. The fact that someone might dig up these bulbs to eat, unless they were truly starving, doesn’t sit well with me. (However if you do find yourself lost and starving, you will be very happy to have learned something from this book).  In fact, wild foragers should always consider harvesting anything sustainably and Slattery does address this briefly in the introduction. When you grab a copy of this book and head for a date with Mother Nature to try your luck, and I hope you do, please stick with the other 116 nuts, berries, fruits and greens he suggests and leave the bulbs in place.

Folks interested in wild foraging, but wanting a little more guidance than they can get from a book, can sign up for one of Slattery’s frequent foraging classes and the Sonoran Herbalist Apprenticeship Program. You can find a link here. For a previous article on John showing pictures of the potluck his graduating students prepared look here.

This summer, Slattery has been experimenting with using his foraged berries to make shrubs, which might be described as colonial-era homemade fruit sodas.  Using this basic recipe, you can experiment with other fruits. Here is Slattery’s recipe using lovely graythorn berries.

Graythorn berries

Graythorn berries

Garythorn shrub in process

Garythorn shrub in process

Bottled graythorn shrub

Bottled graythorn shrub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slattery’s Recipe for Graythorn Soda

1 1-quart canning jar

1 cup fresh, fully ripened graythorn berries (don’t wash them)

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

filtered, or spring, water to fill the jar

Combine the fresh fruit, sugar, and most of the water in the jar and screw the lid on tight. Shake the jar vigorously to dissolve the sugar. Fill the jar to within 1/4 inch of the top with filtered, or spring, water and leave the lid on loosely.

Allow the fruit to ferment for two to three days in a warm, shaded place indoors. We’re simply utilizing the native yeasts present on the fresh, unwashed fruit. Once bubbles are visible and active, strain out the fruit, and transfer the contents to swing-top bottles filling to within 1/4 inch of the top (even if less than 2 days). Here you have the option of adding 1/4 teaspoon of sugar (to 12oz) to encourage more carbonation before placing in the refrigerator for four to seven days. You can leave it longer, if you like. Taste as you go. If the fermentation is particularly active, the sugars will be eaten up very quickly and your drink will become sour. So keep an eye on it!

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Once you have your carefully foraged foods, it’s time to think of how to cook them into something wonderful. For complete directions and recipes for  cooking with edible wild plants, check out Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. and The Prickly Pear Cookbook.

Categories: medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Everybody Cooks Desert Wild Plants

It’s Carolyn Niethammer with you this April Friday, my favorite time of year when the Sonoran Desert is bursting with life. The rains weren’t as heavy as El Niño had promised, but there was enough moisture so that our arid-adapted plants could produce a colorful and abundant spring. When I was a young reporter for the Arizona Daily Star we used to have a feature called “Everybody Cooks.” I loved going out into the community and talking to good cooks from all walks of life — Mexican nanas, musicians, business owners, Jewish homemakers — about what they made for holidays and everyday family meals. I recalled those good times earlier this month at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Arid Abundance Potluck.

People arrived at the Arid Abundance Potluck with so many creative uses of the delicacies of a Sonoran desert spring that I just had to document the event.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth, the manager of the NS/S retail store, started us out with a cholla bud appetizer. There’s an old joke about how a cook made chicken soup in 1880. It starts: first you catch the chicken. This is sort of like that. You do have to harvest, clean (meaning remove the thorns) and dry the cholla buds. Or you can go the the NS/S store and buy some already cleaned and dried. Chad boiled the dried cholla buds for about 45 minutes, drained them and then chilled them in white balsamic vinegar overnight. When he was ready to serve them at the potluck he cut  each of them in half and arranged them on a plate and drizzled them with prickly pear syrup. Toothpicks are handy for picking up the delicious little morsels.

 

 

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Nancy Reid serves up  her rich and delicious  Green Chile-Cholla Bud Quiche

Nancy Reid, a retail associate at the NS/S store,  brought a green chile and cholla bud quiche that she had modified from a recipe in a wonderful but out-of-print NS/S cookbook. She began by melting a tablespoon of butter in the bottom of an 8-inch round pan. In a bowl, she beat 4 eggs. Then she added 3/4 cup cooked cholla buds, 3/4 cup chopped green chiles, 1 cup of cottage cheese, 2 cups of shredded colby/jack cheese, and a little salt. It went in the oven at 325 degrees F. for 40 minutes.

 

 

 

Laura Neff with her salsa.

Laura Neff , NS/S retail associate, with her salsa.

 

 

What’s a southwestern meal without salsa? Laura Neff’s version includes 1/2 cup dried cholla buds boiled for 45 minutes and drained, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1-2 finely minced jalapenos, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice. She combined everything except the cholla buds in a food processor. The cholla buds were chopped by hand and added  at the end.

 

 

 

My friend Connie Lauth wasn’t at the potluck but she made this gorgeous quiche recently for company. Connie lives on the desert at the very end of a road into the Tucson Mountains. While Chad and Laura used dried and reconstituted cholla buds, Connie just walked out her door and picked some fresh ones. She used nopalitos from Food City but by now there are plenty of fresh, new-growth prickly pear pads ready for harvest.

Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Connie’s Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Here’s Connie’s recipe:

Connie’s Desert Pie

1 cup of cholla buds

1 cup of nopalitos

½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup milk,

1 ½ teaspoons pico de gallo seasoning

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro

1 frozen deep dish pie shell

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

Dethorn cholla buds by holding them with tongs and burning them off over a gas stove.. Rinse. Microwave in a covered dish on high for 4 minutes.

Cut gathered or purchased nopalitos into 1/4-inch dice. Microwave with red bell peppers for about 4 minutes.  In a bowl, beat eggs and milk, add seasonings.  Layer egg mixture with vegetables and cheese in the pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes until a knife inserted in center comes out clean

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If  you are inspired to try your hand at more desert gathering and cooking, my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicous Recipes for Desert Plants can be your guide to 23 easily recognized, gathered and cooked  desert edibles.  If you want to harvest some nopales (prickly pear pads), you can find lots of recipes in The Prickly Pear Cookbook. Both books  are available in the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061  N. Campbell or on their website. The books are also available from Amazon and B&N.

 

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

Spring Salad

cholla 2016

Amy collecting cholla buds

Some years, spring seems to last about a week in the desert, going from winter to summer too fast. When the weather is beautiful, we know to celebrate these days outside!!!!

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Romaine hearts and assorted red lettuces

Winter lettuces are still around for a short time more, and the weather is finally warm enough that I feel like eating a salad. Here is a salad made with ingredients I had on hand. I traded for most items, the exceptions being the items I made. I hope this serves as an inspiration to go to a farmers’ market, use little bits of what you have in the refrigerator, go into the desert near your home, and forage in your yard.

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Hakurei turnips, Chioggia and Golden beets, Carrots, Kholrabi, , and French Breakfast Radishes.

Hakurei “salad turnips” are so sweet and tender, they can win over stubborn turnip haters, and are a treat raw for turnip lovers.

I steamed and sliced the beets, peeled and sliced the kholrabi, and simply sliced the turnips, carrots and radishes.

I'itoi onions and dill.

I’itoi onions and dill.

For fresh herbs, I used dill and I’itoi onions. I like the green tops as much as the white parts.

Crusts of Small Planet Bakery Cottage Wheat make excellent croutons. Just chop, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder (my guilty pleasure), then toast in a skillet until crunchy.

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Heels of Cottage Wheat.

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Cast iron skillet croutons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brined goat feta.

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Mango Salsa.

Last fall, I goat/house sat for a friend, and this is the feta I made from the milk. Mango the goat has mellowed over the years since I first learned to milk and she first learned to be milked.

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The heard on the grassland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fresh cheese curds draining whey.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

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Fresh flowers for garnish.

 

 

 

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Desert Honeysuckle, Anisacanthus thurberi.

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Foothills Palo Verde, Parkinsonia microphylla.

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Chuparosa, Justicia californica.

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

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Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Charm of Desert Chia

A patch of desert chia (Salvia columbariae) inviting pollinators….

A patch of desert chia (Salvia columbariae) inviting pollinators….(MABurgess photo)

It is happening right now in desert gardens and up desert arroyo beds–the visual surprise of desert chia! But you have to look twice, as they can be elusive.

Tia Marta here to share some thoughts about a very important little desert ephemeral.  Salvia columbariae, brought on by winter rains, is spreading its lovely ground-hugging rosettes and beginning to send up its wand-like square flower stalks to greet pollinators with spherical clusters of deep blue flowerlets–almost appearing “ultraviolet” to our eyes.

Chia’s foliage itself is a wonder.  If you get down on hands and knees with a magnifier, you’ll see a most knobby green terrain-of-a-leaf.  Pinch the leaf and a luscious bouquet arises.  Oh if we could capture that scent!  It would make a lovely lotion.

A rosette of beautiful desert chia with its scented, intaglio foliage--Wishing this were a squeeze-and-sniff photo!

A rosette of beautiful desert chia with its scented, intaglio foliage–Wishing this were a squeeze-and-sniff photo! (MABurgess photo)

Humans are funny in that when we see wildflowers emerge in the spring, as they are now, we HAVE TO HAVE THEM in our gardens!  Well, if we want them now, we should have planted the seeds last fall!  Put it on your calendar right away–on the October page–to buy those chia seeds and plant them at the beginning of October when the nights turn cool.  Or, if you are into instant gratification, if you need a quick wildflower fix, there just might be a plant sale this weekend somewhere in Tucson, AZ, where they will have potted chia starts ready to put in the ground–to give you a show, and a harvest, before hot weather sets in.  If you like to gamble, you could rake in some seeds this month and chances are the seeds (which have built-in DNA smarts) will wait until fall rains come to germinate, as their germination-triggers are attuned to cool/wet conditions; amazingly, hot summer rains  won’t tempt them out of seed dormancy.

Balls of spiny seedheads climb the square stems of these mint-family wonders, as long as moisture lasts.

Balls of spiny seedheads climb the square stems of these mint-family wonders, as long as cool moisture lasts. (MABurgess photo)

 

Close-up of desert chia in flower--note the sphere of tiny flowers (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of desert chia in flower–note the sphere of tiny flowers (JRMondt photo)

Check out the Plant Sale THIS WEEKEND–March 11-13–at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, for starts of several spring ephemerals–maybe even chia.  There is still time to get them planted to enjoy their color and later their seeds.

And, take a walk up any arroyo–Yetman Trail or King Canyon in the Tucson Mountains, Pima Canyon or Finger Rock Canyon into the Catalinas, or trails in Catalina State Park–for a chance to see a patch of desert chia in bloom.

Double desert chia seedhead (JRMondt photo)

Double desert chia seedhead (JRMondt photo)

About April and May, when the days are getting hot and dry, return to your patch of chia to find straw-colored spiny balls dancing on slender dry stalks, usually calf-high, sometimes knee-high, or, after a wet winter/spring, perhaps thigh-high.  Try to find them just after they dry before the breeze has battered them and scattered their seed.  With a strong paper sack (or a canvas bag that you can wash later to soften the spiny bracts that will get stuck in the fabric), gather the seedheads and crush them.  Bare hands or soft-gloved hands BEWARE!  Best to use leather gloves for gathering seedheads.

 

Dry stalks and spiny seed heads of desert chia (MABurgess photo)

Dry stalks and spiny seedheads of desert chia (MABurgess photo)

In earlier times, Native Peoples may have used baskets shaped like combs to pass through patches of chia seedheads to gather many at a time.  There are records of Cocopa and Chemehuevi people of the Colorado Desert storing large ollas full of chia seed.  When you see how tiny the seeds are and realize how much work it is to harvest an olla of chia seed, the time and effort must have been astounding–but they KNEW how important this food is!  When chia was ready, the whole village had to be out there gathering, making the most of the short window of opportunity.

The nutrition of chia–both our native desert chia and the Aztec chia, Salvia hispanicum–is way up there among the super-foods.  Packed in the tiny seeds is a big percentage of omega-3 fatty acids.  In addition, chia contains complex carbs which give lots of sustained energy, like slow-release fertilizer–a great food for athletes.  These same carbs balance blood sugar, providing a gift to hypoglycemics or diabetics.

Taste the glorious nutrition of a chia-mesquite-berry smoothie! (MABurgess photo)

Taste the glorious nutrition of a chia-mesquite-berry smoothie! (MABurgess photo)

Chia Mesquite Berry Smoothie Recipe

1 Tbsp chia seed, and a pinch for garnish

1 cup apple or cranberry juice

2 tsp mesquite meal (optional, and delicious)

1 cup frozen blueberries or raspberries (or other favorite berry)

1 cup vanilla yogurt (or 1 cup plain yogurt and 2 tsp agave nectar)

ice optional

Soak 1 T chia seed in a cup of apple juice or other fruit juice for 5-10 minutes.  Then combine all other ingredients in a blender.  Pulse until all ingredients are mixed. Pour into 2 big glasses, sprinkle top with a pinch of chia seed, and enjoy with a pal!

 

Tarahumara Chia and Desert Chia are available in seed packets and seed mixtures from NativeSeeds/SEARCH.

Tarahumara Chia and Desert Chia are available in seed packets and seed mixtures from NativeSeeds/SEARCH.

You can visit the NativeSeeds/SEARCH online catalog or visit the one-of-a-kind store on North Campbell Avenue to find the right seeds for your garden.  They have Tarahumara chia, the one made famous by the Raramuri native runners of the Sierra Madre.  NSS also has every wildflower mix containing desert chia, for spring garden showiness or benefits to wildlife.  Come by the Flor de Mayo booth at StPhilips Farmers Market for ideas for using chia and a pinch to try for yourself.  For learning more about seed saving, try a class at NativeSeeds/SEARCH.

The gifts of chia–from the visual and olfactory, to the culinary and the medicinal–are many, and even magical.  We can participate in spreading their wealth of beauty and benefit by planting and harvesting, saving their seeds and passing them along with hope and intent….

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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