Monthly Archives: November 2013

Seasonal Flavors and Scents of the Southwest Spice Up the Holidays

Wake Up Holiday Salads With Chiltepines!

Contributed by Tia Linda

Chiltepines add zip to holiday salads.

Chiltepines add zip to holiday salads.

The red, round fruits of  the ancient chiltepin are making a comeback this year, after a rough bout with erratic weather patterns.  This is “their” time of year, as they mature between October and December, giving us just enough time to dry them for use throughout the holidays.  Marinated Kale Salad is easy to make, and offers a fresh, raw energy to the heavy-ish meals often served at the holidays. Prepare it the night before you wish to serve it, to give the juices of the lemon and tomatoes time to work their magic and soften the raw kale.

Here’s the recipe: In a bowl, combine 3 bright red chiltepin (crushed),  3 medium tomatoes (diced), the juice of 5 lemons,  about half a cup of olive oil, and salt to taste.  Then chop about 5 cups of raw Kale (also grows in your garden this time of year, here in the SW) as finely as you wish and add it to the mixture.  Place it in some kind of container with a tight fitting lid so that you can periodically shake the green mixture, allowing the juices that inevitably fall to the bottom of the container the chance to coat the kale above.

Kale salad lightens heavy holiday meals.

Kale salad lightens heavy holiday meals.

Make a Sonoran Scents Pomander

Contributed by Jacqueline Soule

Pomanders are used to add fragrance to stored clothing while they are said to also deter moths.  Pomanders have traditionally been made by sticking cloves into oranges, or mixing cinnamon and nutmeg with applesauce.  For those of you that love the scent of creosote bush, here is a Sonoran Pomander recipe I invented.

Dry creosote leaves until well dried.

Dry leaves of creosote bush.  Collect more than you think you need!

Dry leaves of creosote bush. Collect more than you think you need!

Turn them into leaf “powder” in a blender.  Mix three parts leaf powder to one part applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Form into walnut sized balls, or pat into thick disks.  If you get the mix too wet and have no more leaf powder, use a mild spice (like nutmeg) to add more “powder.”  Don’t use something moths eat, like flour or mesquite meal.

You can use nutmeg if you run out of powdered leaves.

You can use nutmeg if you run out of powdered leaves.

Use small cookie cutters to make impressions if you wish.

Use small cookie cutters to make impressions if you wish.

Add ribbon if you wish to hang them (later!).  Poke ribbon into the center with a toothpick.
Allow to dry for three to seven days.

Insert ribbon into still moist pomander with a toothpick.

Insert ribbon into still moist pomander with a toothpick.

* Substitute white glue for some or all of the applesauce.
* Hang one of these in your car and carry the desert with you as you drive!

* To learn how to grow creosote in your yard, visit my other blog on creosote, available on

* You can also read more about using creosote bush (and other native herbs) in my book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using them Today (available at

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exciting Ephedra

For an unusual herb in your landscape, why not try a unique shrub that was around before dinosaurs roamed the earth – ephedra.  In fact, there is some evidence that dinosaurs fed on this unusual herb, and it has lived on while the dinosaurs are gone.  You gotta respect a history like that.


Ephedra is a unique looking shrub, well adapted to life in the Southwest. Photo by H. E. Price

Various species of ephedra are found around the world, and human use of the herb dates back at least 5000 years.  As with many long used herbs, the common name and scientific name are the same, ephedra and Ephedra.  In the Southwest, ephedra is also commonly called Mormon tea or joint fir.  In the Tucson area, Ephedra trifurca is the most prevalent species.

Ephedra_torreyana_4_by_Stan Shebs

There are seven species of ephedra that grow in the Southwest. Photo by Stan Shebs.

Ephedra has long been used as a herbal tea, a morning “pick me up” by Mormons and gentiles alike who wish to avoid caffeine.  The compound ependrine is a proven stimulant (exciting ephedra!).  Excessive use of ephedra can be a problem however, especially when extracted from the plant and condensed into pill form (see Note Below).  That can be said about many herbal remedies.  All things in moderation is a good idea when using any plant product.  Even too much spinach can have consequences, but that is a story for another day.

Ephedra_trifurca_by_Derrick Coetzee

Ephedra trifurca is the most common ephedra in the Tucson area. Photo by D. Coetzee.

Finely ground ephedra twigs have been used in exfoliating skin wash blends, used to help  remove dead skin cells.  The plant is relatively high in silica, a compound used to make glass.

Our native ephedra (Ephedra trifurca) is ideal for the full sun landscape featuring native plants.  Its leafless olive green branches reach skyward with a dichotomous branching pattern that is a joy to trace with your eye.  Ephedra is a low water plant, and does best in a well-drained soil.

Ephedra-nevadensis-cones_by_ Joe Decruyenaere

Ephedra seed in borne in tiny cones. Pluck and plant the entire cone if you wish to grow ephedra.
Photo by J. Decruyenaere.

Ephedra is very easy to grow, but tough to get started.  If you find some in a nursery, be very careful to transplant it with the root ball intact.  You can try it from cuttings, and I have had the best success with young wood cuttings taken after the first monsoon rain has soaked the plant.  You can also grow it from “seed” (technically cone-like structures, not true seeds).  As soon as the tiny hairs exerted from the cone have dried up, harvest these cones and plant them in a blend of three parts sand to one part potting soil sand.  Keep evenly moist for three months and you should see results.

Harvest & Use
If you wish to avoid coffee or Chinese tea because of the “ungreen” way these products are grown, harvested, and shipped, ephedra tea can serve as a morning beverage.  Steep a tea using one heaping teaspoon of finely broken dried branches per cup of water.  This makes a brew similar to green tea in intensity of flavor.


Ephedra makes a bitter, stimulating morning tea.
Photo by J.A. Soule.

Harvest and dry ephedra in early spring before it begins it’s bloom cycle.  This is when it is most potent.  Use dried material within one year.


Ephedra is easy to dry for later use, and makes a more palatable, less bitter, brew than fresh material.
Photo by J. A. Soule.

Note Below: A history of recent ephedra misuse and subsequent ban:

Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died of complications from heatstroke following a spring training workout on 17 February 2003.  The medical examiner found that ephedra toxicity played a “significant role” in Bechler’s sudden death.  Following Bechler’s death, the FDA re-opened its efforts to regulate ephedra use.  Bruce Silverglade, legal director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest said, “All of a sudden [after Bechler’s death] Congress dropped objections to an ephedra ban and started demanding the FDA act.”  Senator Orrin Hatch, who in 1999 had helped block the FDA’s attempts to regulate ephedra, said in March 2003 that, “It has been obvious to even the most casual observer that problems exist,” and called FDA regulation of ephedra “long overdue.”  Given Hatch’s prior defense of ephedra, Time magazine described his statement as “a dazzling display of hypocrisy.”

In response to renewed calls for the regulation of ephedra, the FDA commissioned a large scale analysis of ephedra’s safety and efficacy.  The study found that ephedra promoted modest short-term weight loss, but there was no evidence that it was effective for long-term weight loss or performance enhancement.
Almost simultaneously, a study in Annals of Internal Medicine reported that ephedra was 100 to 700 times more likely to cause a significant adverse reaction than other commonly used herbal supplements such as kava-kava or Ginkgo biloba (neither of which affect the heart).

On December 30, 2003, the FDA issued a press release recommending that consumers stop buying and using ephedra, and indicating its intention to ban the sale of ephedra-containing supplements.  Subsequently, on 12 April 2004, the FDA issued a final rule banning the sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements.

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Categories: Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Winter Veggie Gardeners’ Alert!

Hi, I’m “Tia Marta” (Martha Ames Burgess) and I am honored to be welcoming you from my green patch of garden in the desert with some ideas for your own planting!

Amazing–our Sonoran Desert has THREE totally different seasons for growing delicious foods.  Here comes “winter”– time to try these cool-adapted tantalizers:

Protein-packed Pulses

Peas–Peas to all who come here!–fresh peas, sweet Oriental peapods, dry peas for soup, flowering sweetpea…..winter is time to enjoy peas in the low desert.    I recommend these heirloom Tohono O’odham peas from Native Seeds/SEARCH (NSS store 3061 N.Campbell Ave, Tucson), or Pima peas from San Xavier Coop Association (520-295-3774).

Keep the faith--soon your Tohono O'odham green peas and I'itoi's onions will be emerging!

Keep the faith–soon your Tohono O’odham green peas and I’itoi’s onions will be emerging!

Lentils—if you have a space protected from little herbivores and heavy freezes try any kind of lentil.

Fava beans aka “habas”—these large meaty beans lend themselves to marinated dishes or roasted for crunchy snacks.  Plant in dappled sun protected from wind as they can grow tall with care.  Available from Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Phillips farmers market and at NSS.

Here's an idea for watering your garden rows with either ditches or leaky hose

Here’s an idea for watering your garden rows with either ditches or leaky hose

Luscious leafy greens:

Spinach, kale, kolrabi, chard, fennel, Brussels sprouts—seed racks are full at every hardware.  A good place for organic seed is NativeSeeds/SEARCH.  Sunday’s farmers market also has starts and seeds.

Tarahumara mostaza roja—prolific, tastes great steamed, stir-fried or in salad.  Find it online at

Tarahumara mostaza roja will give you fresh delicious greens and flowers late winter into spring!  (photo by Rod Mondt)

Tarahumara mostaza roja will give you fresh delicious greens and flowers late winter into spring! (photo by Rod Mondt)

Lamb’s quarters—aka “chuales” and “orach,” these spinach relatives can grow in a low-desert garden or harvested wild, providing cool season greens.  Find purple orach seed at Mission Garden, Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace (FOTB), and NSS.

Sensational Spices/Healing Herbs:

Cilantro (coriander)—for salsa & salad–produces all season until spring hits, then save coriander seed!    (available from FOTB or NSS)

Mrs Burns’ famous lemon basil—versatile!   This fragrant basil leaf makes great tea, salad garni, lemon chicken, amazing pesto, honey.  When weather gets hot, basil blooms–bees will thank you with a precious gift to beekeepers.  (NSS and Johnny’s Seeds)

Look what I made with Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil--a luscious scented herbal soap! (photo by Jan Willkom)

Look what I made with Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil–a luscious scented herbal soap! (photo by Jan Willkom)

Swain heirloom dill—butterflies will appreciate the flower umbels rising in your garden.  Save seed  and “dill weed” foliage for pickling and dressing–a good producer from NSS.

Raging Root Crops:

White, red, purple potatoes—Here’s a trick an old gardener taught me:  before cooking, take thick peelings from your favorite grocery potatoes and plant them.  Each peeling will have an “eye.”  No need to use huge potato chunks!  Keep mounding soil around your potato plants as they grow.

Onion sets—give yourself a headstart—plant “sets” are available in almost any nursery or home-store.  Intercrop them to deter unwanted pests.

I’itoi’s onion—the best for low desert, a small shallot also great for chives.  Find ready-to-plant bulblets at NSS.

a savory harvest of I'itoi's onions--a delicious shallot

A plentiful harvest of I’itoi’s onions at Mission Garden–a delicious shallot (photo by Bill O’Malley)

Here’s wishing you joy in your winter garden and great tastes at your table!  By late winter you will be reaping nutrition and flavor from your labors.

Be sure to check out the new issue Vol 3 of Edible Baja Arizona for more winter gardening ideas  (see pp 115-118).

I invite you to find native foods–and native foods in art– at my Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St. Phillips Heirloom Farmer’s Market and on my website

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pear and Mesquite: A Perfect Combo

Mesquite Ginger Pear Tart Ready for the oven.

Mesquite Ginger Pear Tart Ready for the oven.

Hello everyone.  This is Carolyn Niethammer and this is my week for the Savor the Southwest blog.

With mesquite millings happening all over Arizona, it’s time to plan for what you’ll make with your delicious mesquite meal.  Pancakes are fine for mornings at home, but when you are headed for a holiday potluck, something a little special is required to show how attuned you are to our desert foods. This Mesquite Ginger Pear Tart fills the bill.  I adapted the recipe from an old Joy of Cooking recipe for an apple cake. This is better! Ginger, a warm spice, always goes so well with mesquite.

I give you the recipe at the bottom, but here are the steps.  Works best if you have a springform pan so you can remove the sides of the pan from the finished cake without disturbing the topping. However if all you have is a regular cake pan, just carefully tip it over onto a plate, then flip it back.  You may have to reposition a few nuts, but it will taste great.

First make the batter.  Use your fingers to push it to the edges of the pan.

Spread the cake batter with your fingers.

Spread the cake batter with your fingers.

Cut a perfectly ripe pear into quarters, then into nice even slices.


Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter.

Make a pretty pinwheel pattern with the pear slices.

Make a pretty pinwheel pattern with the pear slices.

Mix the topping and sprinkle over the pear slices.

Crumbly topping will add sweetness and crunch to your cake.

Crumbly topping will add sweetness and crunch to your cake.

After baking, cool and remove from the springform pan.

Fragrant Mesquite Ginger Pear Cake.

Fragrant Mesquite Ginger Pear Cake.

Now that you know the method, here’s the recipe:

Mesquite-Ginger Pear Cake

1 cup flour

¼ cup mesquite meal

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup milk

2 large pears, sliced


½ cup sugar

¼ cup mesquite meal

3 tablespoons melted butter

¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Prepare a 8- or 9-inch springform pan by lining with a buttered piece of paper cut to fit the pan. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, mesquite meal, salt and sugar.  Fluff with a fork until well combined. Add the butter and rub with your fingers or cut with a pastry blender until butter is worked in.

In a glass measuring cup, put the ¼ cup milk and then beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir into the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter.  Press into the prepared pan with spatula or your dampened fingers. Arranged sliced pears in a circular pattern on top of batter.

In a small bowl, mix the ½ cup sugar, mesquite meal, and melted butter.  Sprinkle evenly over cake and pears. Top with chopped nuts. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Remove sides of pan and cool. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Delicious slice of Mesquite Ginger Pear Tart.

Delicious slice of Mesquite Ginger Pear Tart.


Looking for more ideas to use your mesquite meal? Check out Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.  It includes recipes for 23 easily identified and gathered plants that grow all over the Southwest.

Categories: Cooking, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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