Monthly Archives: November 2015

Pine – as an Herb and More

By Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

As December approaches, let’s look at an herb that many bring into their homes for the holiday season – the pine. Why not opt for a living Christmas tree (or Chanukah bush, as some of my friends call them)?  They are evergreen …. plus green.

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Humans around the world have used pine as herbs for eons. They used whichever species of pine lived near them to treat just about every sort of affliction. Pine has especially used for the ailments that have truly plagued humankind, like internal and external parasites and the aches and pains of being human and getting older.

In almost every case pine needles or bark are used as a tea (infusion) to either drink or bathe tissues. For intestinal parasites, the tea was drunk, for external ones such as ringworm (a fungal infection) or lice, the tissues were bathed with pine tea. Pine oils and resins have also been extracted, purified, and used medicinally.


At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studies herbal medicines, recommends using pine oils externally for rheumatic and neuralgic complaints, as well as for upper and lower respiratory tract inflammation.

Ideally, harvest and dry pine needles before use. This allows some of the more acrid compounds to evaporate. The active ingredients are predominately in the oils and are not lost by drying.

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Modern housekeepers around the world use pine based cleaners to keep the house smelling clean and fresh, little realizing that this harkens back to a yesteryear tradition of using pine products, including turpentine, to kill off pests, treat colds, and dress wounds.

Pines can be grown here in Tucson. Once established, they will need extra water in the hot dry months, especially May and June. Indeed, pines are a very green landscape plant. They provide housing for wildlife, especially hawks and owls, plus shade your home helping reduce energy consumption for cooling. The needles can be used as a wonderful mulch for plants around your yard or garden.

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For a living holiday tree that you can plant in your yard, chose from the eldarica (Pinus eldarica) from Afghanistan or Aleppo (Pinus halepensis) from the Middle East.

What about a Southwestern pinyon pine? If you can find some – go for it! I do have to warn you, they grow in higher altitudes than Tucson and will be stressed by our comparatively hotter summers. Extra water should help them survive.

pine 544503_1280What about the pine beetle now attacking Tucson trees? The beetle is the six-spined engraver beetle, one of 11 species of insects living in the inner bark of pine trees. It typically infests the thicker-barked and deeply fissured main tree trunks of older trees. An obnoxious pest to be sure. It appears to only be an issue with larger mature trees. A young tree should be able to grow in your yard for many years. Be sure to keep it healthy with extra water in the dry months.

Dr. Soule is trained as a botanist. She teaches workshops on plants and writes science and garden articles. Jacqueline has been using, growing, researching and writing about herbs for over three decades.

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© This article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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Categories: Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Leave a comment

Bean and Corn Cakes with Mole


Hello, Amy Valdés Schwemm here. When I want to offer people several varieties of mole to taste, I make small batches of each sauce and serve them in mini electric crocs. Guests can spoon mole over servings of turkey or these bean and corn cakes. They make a perfect vegetarian main course or a hearty side.


If you want a taste, meet me at The Food Conspiracy Co-op Saturday, November 21, 4-7pm. There will be other samples, including wine, and everyone (not just members) gets 10% off everything.

The recipe for Bean and Chicos Dinner Cakes was published in Furrow to Fire: Recipes from the Native Seeds/SEARCH Community, its author unknown to the editors. Chicos are New Mexican corn kernels roasted when still fresh, then dried. Sometimes they have a smokey taste that can almost be a seasoning if you cook a handful with a pot of beans. I often substitute Tohono O’odham gai’iwsa or Mexican posole. Using a bean with a creamy texture helps to hold the patties together. I’ve made it countless times, sometimes substituting ingredients wildly. They hold in a warm oven perfectly until ready to serve.

The photo above used lots of white posole and some canario beans. For tomorrow’s tasting, I’m using plenty of pintos and a little yellow polenta. No need to measure or time the polenta, as this recipe is so forgiving. Kneading in dry cornmeal when forming the patties (instead of just mixing it in) will fix the mixture at the perfect consistency.


I like to carefully reduce the bean cooking liquid, affectionately referred to as bean juice in our family, because I can’t imagine draining it.


Pulse everything in the food processor or mash by hand, and season to taste. Make big or small cakes to suit the occasion.



1/2 cup chicos

1 cup beans, cooked and drained

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 I’itoi or green onion, minced

salt to taste


1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon chile powder (or substitute Mano Y Metate Adobo powder)

Place chicos and enough water to cover in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about one hour, until chicos are fairly soft. Cool slightly, then drain and coarsely chop. Set aside.

Combine beans, cornmeal, onion and chile powder and either mash by hand or whirl briefly in a food processor. Combine with the chicos, adding salt and adjusting seasoning to taste. Shape into about 1/3 inch thick patties.

In a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat, brown dinner cakes on each side. Serve with mole, pipián, or salsa.


My Aunt Bertie has shaped and browned lots of these little things with me. Here she is taking a break from flipping during a cooking class my family taught. We love to cook together!

bertie cooking dbg 11


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

Heirloom Grains & Heirloom Fruits marry in a Holiday Pie

Padre Kino's Membrillo Fruit with Slide Rock Star King Old Fashioned Double Delicious Apples

An Heirloom Fruit Harvest:  Padre Kino’s Membrillo Fruit from my garden with Star King Old Fashioned Double Delicious Apples from Slide Rock State Park heirloom orchard (MABurgess photo)

In both the low Sonoran Desert and in the higher Southwest, fruits are hanging on the trees ready for harvest.  At Mission Garden the quince trees, better known as membrillo, are bearing their last sturdy fruits.  Mission Garden was the site of a wonderful celebration of membrillo in October with talented cook Josefina demonstrating how to make cajeta de membrillo, our sweet autumn dessert delicacy.

Membrillo (Quince) trees heavy with fruit at Mission Garden Tucson, near A-Mountain

Membrillo (Quince) trees heavy with fruit at Mission Garden in Tucson, Arizona, near A-Mountain–Come visit any Saturday morning!

Membrillo is a perfect food-giving tree for low desert as it can can handle heat--great for a kitchen garden

Membrillo is a perfect food-giving tree for low desert as it can can handle heat–great for a kitchen garden

Tia Marta here to share what is happening in my kitchen these days, bringing together some of my most admired heirloom grain and fruit ingredients–both cultivated and wild–knowing that I have guests coming for the holidays who need a little taste of LOCAL!

It is pie time in our household.  And today it is Membrillo-Apple Pie with White Sonora Wheat-Mesquite pie crust!      I mean, how much more local can one get?

This was the year that our five-year-old quince tree, which we purchased from Desert Survivors Nursery Kino Fruit-tree Project, and which we planted a couple of years ago in our backyard, decided to flower and set fruit–just enough this time to make a couple of pies.  We look forward to the amazing productivity in future years that the Mission Garden quince trees are already showing.  Quince or membrillo fruits look like a cross between yellow apples and pears but are far more sturdy than either of those.    Before ripening they are covered with fuzz and, as they lose it and become shinier and more yellow, you know they are ripening.

Because they are harder than other fruit, be sure to cut membrillo very carefully. Expect them to come out with not-so -symmetrical slices.

Because they are harder than other fruit, be sure to cut membrillo with extra care. Expect this to result in not-so -symmetrical slices–no problem inside a pie.

Even when this aromatic rose-family fruit is ripe, its somewhat sweet tissue never really softens.  They may feel and taste granular, similar to some pear varieties.  But they are substantial food, full of good potassium, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and iron.  In other regions, quince has been used with apples to make jellies as it aids the gelling process.  Since the time of the missionaries into Pimeria Alta, the traditional way of preparing membrillo here is to cook it down with raw sugarcane sugar to make the cajeta confection.  (A detailed report of cajeta de membrillo will make a neat separate post.)

I chose to mix membrillo with its sweet cousin, heirloom local apples, to create a Southwestern version of the all-American pie.  From the neat old Pendley Homestead at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, I obtained the deep maroon-skinned apples shown above from a 1912 orchard.  From the English Family Orchards at Willcox I added a few little galas.  Don’t ever be ashamed to ask orchardists at farmers’ markets if they have any “rejects” for sale.  Many a tasty apple gets tossed because it has a blemish or knick.  Such apples can become a rewarding gift in pies, apple-brown-betty, or applesauce.

Pressing mesquite/whiteSonora wheat dough into pie pan

Pressing mesquite/whiteSonora wheat dough into pie pan

rolling mesquite white Son wheat pie dough

Mesquite meal and white Sonora wheat make a fabulous pie-crust! It is not as elastic as store-bought crusts so be careful in rolling it onto your pie pan. Shown here is a very flat spatula I use as an assist.

Next step, after growing, harvesting, slicing the heirloom fruits, is getting dusted by making my local heirloom Mesquite/White Sonora Wheat Pie Crust (recipe following):

[Kids, don’t try this culinary photographic technique at home.  Your one-handed iPhone will get really sticky.  Mine will never be the same.]


Ingredients for heirloom wheat pie crust:

1 1/2 cups freshly milled whole, organic White Sonora Wheat flour*

1/2 cup freshly milled local velvet mesquite meal**

1 tsp Real-salt or sea salt

2/3 cup shortening (I use organic butter)

5-7 Tbsp ice water

*Organic, fresh-milled white Sonora wheat flour is available for your holiday baking from our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market, or by contacting us at or  520-907-9471 to order it ahead.                                                                                                                                                                             **Freshly-milled velvet mesquite pod meal (flour) is available via the same Flor de Mayo contacts above.                                                                                                                                                                     Both kinds of heirloom flour are available at a special Heirloom Grains event this coming SATURDAY November 21 at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell, Tucson–the public is invited 10am-2pm.

Pinching a tall edge of my mesquite/heirloom wheat pie crust

Pinching a tall scalloped edge of my mesquite/heirloom wheat pie crust–This provides a retaining wall so juicy filling will not overflow while cooking.

Directions for heirloom wheat pie crust (lattice top):

Sift dry ingredients.  Cut in shortening into small pea size lumps.  Sprinkle in tablespoons of ice water gradually, mixing with a fork.  Form 2 balls of dough. Dust each ball with more white Sonoran wheat flour. Flatten each out on a well floured board and roll with rolling pin or bottle.  Use rolling pin as in the illustration, to lift lower pie crust dough onto pie pan.  Press in with fingers.  Keep second ball of dough for working on after pie filling has filled the lower crust. [See recipe for Membrillo/Apple Pie Filling below.]

With second dough ball, roll out as before then cut in 1/2 inch wide strips to lay in basket-weave pattern atop the pie filling to allow filling to lower as it cooks.

Membrillo/Apple Pie Filling ingredients:

(Cook ahead slices and chunks of 4-5 membrillo fruits, washed, then cut with or without skin.  Boil in good drinking water for 20 minutes or until soft.  I am one of those crazies who thinks fruit skins are healthy and full of phytonutrients, so I leave the colorful fruit skins on.)

2 cups sliced membrillo fruit, pre-cooked  (reserve liquid for other gelled salads)

2 cups thinly sliced heirloom apples

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

1/2 cup organic brown sugar

2 Tbsp organic heirloom white Sonora Wheat flour

1/2-1 tsp ground cinnamon

dash sea salt

1-2 Tbsp organic butter

juice of one small heirloom sweet lime       (I got mine from the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Mission Garden booth at the Thursday Santa Cruz farmers market at the Mercado San Agustin, West Congress, Tucson)

Membrillo/apple pie filling in shell ready to bake

Membrillo/apple pie filling in shell ready to bake. Check out the heirloom sweet lime adjacent–with the dimple–this one from Mission Garden.

Membrillo/Apple Pie-Filling Directions:       Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine sugars, flour, cinnamon, salt, then mix with the sliced apples.  Fill uncooked pastry crust (shell) with mixture.  Squeeze the sweet lime juice over the filling and place dollups of butter on top.  Place lattice strips of the mesquite/whiteSonorawheat dough across the top of the filling as in picture below.  BAKE for 40-50 minutes or until the crust looks golden brown.  Note:  mesquite meal has natural complex sugars which may caramelize or brown faster than white flour so keep an eye on it after 40 minutes.  The one in my photo got a little too done for my taste, but it will still be fabulous.

Membrillo/heirloom apple pie with mesquite/white Sonora wheat crust--hot and ready to serve

Membrillo/heirloom apple pie with lattice crust of mesquite/white Sonora wheat –hot and ready to serve–To the left in photo is flour milled from BKWFarms wheat-berries.

There will be several ancient grains available at our upcoming Celebration of Heirloom Grains this SATURDAY at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store.  Put it on your calendar and dig out your favorite recipes!

Heirloom purple prairie barley available at Flor de Mayo booth,St Philips Farmers Market and at the NSS Grain Event Saturday!

Heirloom purple prairie barley available at Flor de Mayo booth,St Philips Farmers Market and at the NSS Grain Event Saturday!

In addition to our native Mesquite Flour, there will be such fresh lovely grains as organic Hard Red Wheat grown by BKW Farms in Marana which is superb for breads.  Our organic white Sonora wheat is the best for pastries.   Also available will be the ancient Purple Prairie Barley originally from Afghanistan, now from Hayden Mills.

For the knowing baker, milling the whole grain fresh creates a totally different and wondrous effect to breads and pastries because the enzymes and other constituents in the grain remain “lively” for only a few days after milling.  Come enjoy the milling process right before your eyes and feel the vitality of the flour you can take home to bake with!

Our thanks go to the caring padres who first brought the grains to the desert Southwest, to the generations of farmers who continued to grow and save the grain, to NSS for “rediscovering” and conserving them so carefully for the future, and to new farmers like San Xavier Farm Coop, BKWFarmsInc, Ramona Farms, and Hayden Flour Mills for multiplying them for our nutrition, enjoyment, and sustainable desert living!

For more info please call NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 520-622-5561 or Flor de Mayo at 520-907-9471.  See you at the Milling and our Celebration of the Heirloom Grains!!

Magdalena heirloom barley grown at Mission Garden, Tucson

Magdalena heirloom barley grown at Mission Garden, Tucson

A savory pilaf made with heirloom purple prairie barley--watch for future recipes--Grain available at the Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips market

A savory pilaf made with heirloom purple prairie barley–watch for future recipes–Whole grain available at the Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips market, and at Saturday’s Heirloom Grain Celebration

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

Bat’s, “Seed-Dispersal” Clusters, and Taking Off by Letting Go

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“Seed Dispersal” Chocolate Clusters, are inspired by bat’s remarkable ability to drop seed where it is needed.

Aunt Linda here on this chilly early November day, writing to you from under a Tucson bridge. My feet are burrowed in the arroyos’ sand – which is dotted with bat guano. The smell of guano is thick and earthy. And while I am not in a cave, it smells like the inside of a cave from down here. The chattering and “chirping” from the bats above delights me. Bridges, it turns out, are comfortable roosting places for bats. The expansion joints offer 1 foot deep grooves for bats to roost. Habitat loss is a significant challenge that bats face, and while bridges were not constructed with bats in mind, it turns out that they are bat friendly places.


Today we widen our scope beyond the Sonoran Desert and fly into the rainforests. Before we leave though, I’ll mention that bats are more closely related to primates (yes, humans included) than they are to rodents.They are the only mammals to achieve true flight. They are not flying mice; they do not glide like some squirrels. They fly. 

And they have been doing so for 50 million years.

One of many reason bats are considered a “keystone species” – meaning so essential to certain ecosystems that they would collapse without them – is that they are extremely effective “seed dispersers”.  As we know, huge areas of the planet’s rainforests are cleared every year. Regenerating these vast expanses of open areas, where once a forest thrived,  requires seed dispersal. Birds and many primates, fear crossing vast areas where there is little shelter from attacking flying predators, so they usually stick to trees, where they they defecate seeds directly beneath where they perch. In contrast, nocturnal fruit bats have no such concern. Covering large distances over large clearings every evening while they feed and forage, they also drop seeds in those wide expanses.  It turns out that many of those very seeds are from “pioneer plants”; those plants capable of growing in the hot/dry extreme conditions found in clearings. The growth of these plants invite other more delicate plants to grow and take root, they do this by the shelter they provide other plants, as well as by providing safe perching sites for birds and other primates, who are now too, dispersing more varieties os seeds.  I discovered that seeds dropped by bats usher in up to 95% of the first new growth within these clearings.

Bats have been reported to disperse seeds such as dates, figs, cashews (hence the recipe today) as well as MANY others.

RECIPE : Seed Dispersal Clusters


  • 2, 3oz chocolate bars (or just a plane 6 oz) I used Lilly’s dark chocolate (coconut flavor) because I like the lack of sugar, but I have used the Trader Joe’s Jumbo bars for bigger batches, chocolate chips, … The Point: use whatever YOU Like. Dark, not dark ….
  • a handful of roasted salted (your preference of salted or not) cashews. I love the salt with the sweet.
  • 1-2  Figs – dried and unsulfured – slice
  • 4 dates (I used sun-dried and unsulfured) sliced
  • Optional: for the tops – 1 chiltepin per cluster, or a few pomegranate seeds. Or combine the two.

(And use what you have on hand.  I have used almonds, ginger, chia seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seed, pepita (pumpkin)  seeds, dried cranberries … the bats might agree: sky is the limit)

                                                                             How To:


In a double boiler (I used a pan inside a pan with boiling-roiling water), add the chocolate. As it melts you can begin adding the “seeds”.


I chopped the figs and dates roughly because I like the unexpected texture; feel free to be as uniform as you would like.

Stir the cashews and dried fruit until coated with the chocolate.

Stir the cashews and dried fruit until coated with the chocolate.

Place dollops of the seed mixture onto wax or parchment paper - add chiltepin if you like the heat - or pomegranites if you like the sweet. Place in the freezer until chilled through. 10-15 minutes.

Place dollops of the seed mixture onto wax or parchment paper – add chiltepin if you like the heat – or pomegranates if you like the sweet. Place in the freezer until chilled through, about 10-15 minutes. Don’t freeze freeze them – you want them hard, but not so hard that you cannot bit into them.

When firm, delight in the flavors and taste! Put remaining, if there are any, in an air tight container and keep in the fridge.

When firm, try one; delight in the flavors and taste! Put remaining clusters, if there are any, in an air tight container and keep in the fridge. Eat soon and swiftly.

Letting Go

I discovered a bat fact that surprised me.  Unlike birds and bees and butterflies, very few bats actually “take off”, meaning they don’t push off of the ground or branch or flower in order to take flight.  Because most bats perch upside down, they simply let of the surface from which they are hanging, immediately flap their wings, and fly.

We know this one as well, don’t we. There are times when, having let go of something – (a way of perceiving, an idea no longer relevant,  an identity, a person) –  we have a sense of flight.  I know I have.  There is a sense of an inner lightness. And it can take us places.


BATS!! I am ENCHANTED with them. There is so VERY much to admire about these flying mammals!  Stay tuned Bat Friendly Folk:  I will be returning to bats again in future posts. I hope to inspire the building of Bat Houses and the planting of Bat Gardens.  We’ll talk about all this before springtime so that you can  plan. Whether or not you want to build bat houses or plant bat gardens, you will definitely want to learn about making Guano Tea for the gardens you normally tend. Please feel free and write me with any comments and suggestions and experiences you have had with any of the above.

If luck permits, we may also explore the making of “bacanora”, which is a potent drink made from an agave species in Sonora.

The making of this product affects bats.

Stay tuned.

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

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