Posts Tagged With: wild food

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

Ornamental Medicinals for Desert Landscaping

Goodding’s verbena makes an attractive mound of orchid and lavender flowers spring into summer.  What’s more it can make a gentle, delectable and calming tea.  Need mellowing out?  Try Verbena gooddinggii!  (MABurgess photo)

With the excitement of our Tucson Festival of Books and many upcoming plant sales, I was motivated to use some of our Baja Arizona herbalist authors as inspiration for desert landscaping.  Tia Marta here encouraging you to check out Michael Moore’s, John Slattery’s, and Charles Kane’s books on medicinal plant uses for great ideas and good instruction.  My personal challenge has been to create seasonal color in the garden with plants that I know I might use also as herbal remedies.

Find Michael Moore’s must-have handbook Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Larrea tridentata–known as She:gi by the Tohono O’odham is “our desert drugstore.” Should you find it on your land, protect it, cherish it, and use it.(MABurgess photo)

Watch for announcements of plant sales at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul Park, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, and Desert Survivors to find beautiful ornamentals which also give healing or soothing, stimulation or protection.

 

 

 

 

Desert chia–“da:pk” in Tohono O’odham–Salvia columbariae–should be planted as seed in the fall for a spring harvest of seed that helps balance blood sugar and has high omega-3 fatty acid. (MABurgess photo)

Also to be planted as seed in the fall for a spring show is Mexican gold poppy. Its effect as a calmer/mellower has been known to traditional people for centuries. (MABurgess photo)

A hedge of prickly pear, especially this Persian orange-flowered Opuntia lindheimeri, can give you tasty “remedies” from blood-sugar-balancing nopales (see the new growth in the photo), herbal tea from the flowers, and high calcium from both young pads and fruits in late summer. (MABurgess photo)

No desert garden is complete without cholla! Cylindropuntia versicolor‘s (Staghorn’s; ciolim) colors are dazzling; its prepared buds balance blood sugar and give enormous amounts of available calcium helpful in prevention of osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

 

Late spring will bring a pink and lavender show of flowers to desert willow (“ann” in O’odham). The beautiful tree in this photo is in the landscape of the new Tohono O’odham Community College campus. All parts of Ahn have been used traditionally as an effective anti-fungal. (MABurgess photo)

Flowers of Ahn (Chilopsis linearis) are a visual as well as an herbal gift. Check out herbal books for guidance how it was traditionally used. (MABurgess photo)

With monsoon rains come the bright yellow flowers of Tecoma stans (“tronadora” in Spanish) making a sensational landscape splash. It also doubles as an important remedy for certain types of diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

A perennial to be planted as a tuber in the fall is the wild rhubarb (hiwidchuls in O’odham)( For more about this one, see last month’s blog post). Its tuber has important astringent properties.(MABurgess photo)

At summer’s end your garden will be punctuated with bright Chiltepin peppers! You–and your wild birds–will prosper with picante delights full of vitamin C and A. In addition, you can use them in a topical salve to soothe the anguish of shingles or muscle-sore. (MABurgess photo)

All through the year a Baja Arizona desert garden can give dramatic color as well as special healing gifts that have been know to Desert People since time immemorial.  You can see examples of these native desert plants growing at the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden (foot of A-Mountain in Tucson, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and at Tohono Chul Park.  Stay tuned for more about Mission Garden’s Michael Moore Medicinal Plant Garden to be planted this year.

Tis the season now to see a show of spring medicinals in nature as well as in town.  Here’s hoping you can get out in this lovely weather to see the desert explode with its colorful herbal gifts!

Categories: Sonoran Native | 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

Chapulines (Grasshoppers) con Mole

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On a late season prickly pear harvesting trip, my friend Nicole and I found few tunas but lots of grasshoppers. I’ve always wanted to try chapulines, but never had the opportunity. Nicole learned how to harvest them this summer, so we attempted ourselves.

Catching them is the trick! When the sun is up, they are fast. We managed to flush some out of the grass into a clearing, toss a big straw hat over one, and grab it by hand. We bagged three, not even enough for one taco. As the sun set, they stopped jumping but were too hard to see in the grass in the low light. We returned with nets. In the cool early morning they weren’t active enough to jump into the nets but were easier to see; we tossed the net over one, and grabbed it by hand. As the day warmed, they got too fast for that method, and sweeping the grass with the net was more successful. Yes, it’s slow, but fun. Plus a beautiful day in the desert.

Nicole fashioned an way to hold our catch without letting any escape when we caught another.

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Here they are inside. While they hopped around, they emptied their digestive tracts.

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At home we put the whole container in the freezer.

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Then we picked them out of the grass seeds and debris. So beautiful.

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We melted a little duck fat a cast iron pan and fried the chapulines.

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This is when they turned from animals to food, and the only moment in the process that made me a little uncomfortable. We let them get really crispy.

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But after all that work, I needed to at least try them. Nicole knew from previous experience to eat the small ones whole, but remove the wings and legs from the larger ones.

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YUM!!!! Crispy fried meat. Then we dusted them with Mano Y Metate mole powder, of course.

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Delicious, abundant, local, free. We’ll do that again!

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

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.

southwest-foraging_hi-res

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

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.

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Cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening...

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Seeds of foothills palo verde dry and hard as little stones

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

 

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

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

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

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For anyone seeking heirloom foods and products made with wild foods, check out http://www.flordemayoarts.com and http://www.nativeseeds.org, or visit the Baggesen Family booth at Sunday St Philips farmers market.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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