Can you almost hear them? I mean the sound of buds swelling and bursting with life out there is the rain-soaked desert? This spring the wildflowers are a joy, for sure, but the perennials this season will really be in their glory. Tia Marta here with some wonderful ideas about how we can share in the coming cornucopia of cholla.
It should be a bountiful bloom this year–the buds are off and running already. Every branch on our Sonoran Desert chollas is loaded with little buds, and they seem to double in size every day. It looks the same in the western part of Arizona, the Mojave….a zillion buds on the golden branches of Cylindropuntia echinocarpa.
While the chollas are preparing for their yearly reproductive ritual–a wildly colorful show for attracting pollinators–many desert creatures will be benefitting from this flamboyant event, including Native Desert People who have always shared in the bounty.
You can learn traditional and modern ways of harvesting, preparing and cooking cholla buds in one of several classes coming up soon in April. With the guidance of ethnobotanist of Tia Marta (yo,) we will get out in the bloomin’ stickery desert, get up close and personal with chollas, get to know their lore, their anatomy, their culture, learn to carefully de-spine them, cook, dry, pickle, and prep them into the most unusual and fun recipes. Their health benefits are off the charts–we’ll learn about those too.
The biggest kick will be impressing your family and friends with off-the-wall gourmet recipes that no one else makes (other than some wild and wonderfully creative foodies like Janos Wilder, Chef of the Downtown Kitchen, not to mention NativeSeeds/SEARCH staff cooks!)
We have many cholla varieties in the Sonoran Desert—each with its own distinct characters and timing of flowering. The cane cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior) is found in a few places in low desert but is more typical of higher desert and desert grassland. It’s the one with the persistent round yellow fruits, and gorgeous magenta flowers. The jumping cholla (C. fulgida) always has long clusters of green persisting green fruits hanging like bunches of grapes. It typically blooms with the monsoon rains of summer with a lovely deep rose flower. If you can find the buds of either of these chollas in their season, their buds are great tasting too. The buds of both are spiny, but the first-mentioned staghorn cholla (C.versicolor) bears easily-removable spines, so that’s the one my Tohono O’odham “grandmother” and mentor Juanita preferred to pick. I will be demonstrating her teaching at our upcoming workshops in April.
The best instrument for safely harvesting buds is simply a pair of tongs. Long barbeque tongs can help you maneuver through hazardous cactus branches at a safe distance. We commissioned a young woodworker from Sedona to fabricate the right size tongs for us out of fire-killed ponderosa pine—available at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and in our selection of handmade wooden utensils at our Flor de Mayo booth at the Sunday St Phillips market.
After de-spining, the buds must be further prepared by roasting or boiling before eating them either plain as a tasty vegetable or fixing into other delectable dishes.
Here’s an easy sure-fire winner for pot lucks……
Marinated Wheat-berry Salad with Cholla Buds!
Ingredients: 2 cups cooked and cooled White Sonora Wheat-berries** 1/4 -1/2 cup of your favorite Italian vinagrette dressing
¼ cup chopped celery
¼-1/2 cup chopped colorful sweet peppers
¼ cup minced I’itoi’s Onion bulbs and tops, or minced red onion
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half (optional)
½ cup cooked and cooled cholla buds. Romaine lettuce leaves as bed
Instructions: Marinate cooked white Sonora wheat-berries in the dressing overnight in frig, stir once or twice.
Mix in all fresh chopped veggies and cholla buds.
Serve on a fresh romaine leaf. Makes 6 generous servings.
At our up-coming Cholla Bud Harvesting Workshops you will joyously taste cholla in a variety of gourmet recipes. You will a;sp learn how to preserve them, dry them for storage, learn their survival strategies and how those natural “tricks” can help us. Come “internalize” a deeper appreciation of these desert treasures!
For more photos and interesting details, please check out my Edible Baja Arizona article from April 2014 online at http://www.ediblebajaarizona.com. You can view a neat short clip about cholla harvesting created by videographer Vanda Pollard through a link on my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com. Best of all, you can attend one of our scheduled Cholla Bud Harvesting Workshops to learn the process first-hand! From there you can harvest your own–and bring these nutritious and off-the-wall taste treats into your home and party menus.
Workshop Dates (find a downloadable flyer on the website http://www.flordemayoarts.com):
Saturday April 4, 2015, 7:30-9:30am—register at 520-907-9471
Wednesday, April 8, 8-11am, Pima Co Parks & Rec 520-615-7855 x 6
Saturday, April 11, 8-11am, Westside, sponsored by NativeSeeds/SEARCH, call 520-622-0830×100 Saturday, April 18, 8:30-11:30am, Tohono Chul Park, 520-742-6455 x 228
Hoping to see you at one of these fun classes! Happy harvesting–to all budding harvesters and cholla aficionados!
**Certified organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries from BKWFarms are available at the Flor de Mayo booth at FoodInRoot’s Sunday St Phillips Farmers Market, St Phillips Plaza, N Campbell Avenue, or online from http://www.flordemayoarts.com in ½ lb, full pound, kilo bags, and greater quantities for chefs. Also available from the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson.
Dry cholla buds for reconstituting to cook are available at San Xavier Coop Association booth at Thursday Santa Cruz Market and at NativeSeeds/SEARCH.