Monthly Archives: August 2016

Barrel Cactus Provide Ample Seed for Cooking and Baking

Today’s post is by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Back in November 2014, I introduced you to the pleasures of using barrel cactus fruits (Lovely and Lemony – Barrel Cactus Fruit), and I think it is time to revisit the topic.

Barrel cactus is the generic term for a number of species of large barrel-shaped cacti.  The one with the most edible of fruit is the fish hook or compass barrel (Ferocactus wizlizenii).

Ferocactus wislizeni and zeph JAS 06

This species of barrel cactus is unlike many other species of cacti in that it often blooms two or even three times per year, thus providing you, the harvester, with ample fruits, often several times a year.
Ferocactus wislizeni fruit

You can eat the lemony flavored fruit, but only in moderation.  Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems.  But the seeds are just fine to consume in quantity.  They are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds.  They can also be cooked in with quinnoa or amaranth, or even eaten alone.

ferocactus fruit 1118

Barrel cactus seed are very simple to harvest in quantity because the seeds are easily removed from the fruit.

The average barrel cactus has 12 to 24 fruits ripe at once (unless the animals have been busy).  24 fruits yield roughly 1/4 cup of seed.

ferocactus fruit 1090
Prepare.  (10 minutes for 24 fruit).

Rinse the fruits.  This does two things.  First, this removes dust and contaminants (bird droppings etc.).  Second, the water softens the former flower petals on the top of the fruit, rendering them  gentler on tender fingers as you process them.

Cut tops off the fruits.  The seed filled chamber is surprisingly far down away from the flower petals.
ferocactus fruit 1099
Cut fruits in half.

ferocactus fruit 1105
Scoop seeds into a terra cotta saucer.  Leave them 24 hours to dry.  This will help dry any bits of flesh clinging to them before you store them.  Alternatively you can put them right onto a baking sheet to toast them if you want to use them toasted.  I also keep a number untoasted and throw them in when I cook quinnoa or amaranth.

ferocactus fruit 1114

Processing tip:

ferocactus fruit 1091

Sometimes you find an empty fruit.  This is why we need our native pollinators!

I like to make an assembly line and cut all tops off first, then cut all fruits open, then scoop all the seed. Why?  because the seeds inside the fruit may be gummed together and you want to leave the seed scooping to last, else you get sticky seeds everywhere and lose a portion of your crop all over everything.

ferocactus fruit 1095

JAS avatar

If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my many free lectures.  Look for me at many branches of the Pima County Library, or possibly Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, and more.  After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, (due out in September 2016) “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona,  Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | 2 Comments

Mole Negro Grilled Burgers and Veggies

mealAmy here on a cloudy monsoon afternoon with a bounty of summer produce like long green chiles, Shishito peppers, okra, yellow squash and great tomatoes. It makes me want to grill and eat outside.

But my new friends want to try Mano Y Metate Mole, and the last thing I want is to make a formal meal. I wondered if burgers seasoned with mole powder would work…meat mix

Local pastured beef pairs well with the smoky, spicy, bold flavors Mole Negro in other forms, so that’s what I chose. I mixed the mole powder with not too lean meat and sent to the grill.

grilling burgers

cooked burgers

The juices from the cooked meat were infused with Mole Negro flavors. It exceeded my expectations.


I was thinking of a nice leaf lettuce to top burger, but that’s definitely not in season. Oh, tomatoes!

complete burger

Charred spicy meat, tomato, and a slice of sourdough whole wheat from Barrio Bread. Salt on tomato.

Without lettuce, I wanted something green in the meal. Wait, August means green chile!!!!!!

long green

And Shishito peppers, too small for the grill but great in a grill pan. Most are completely mild, but about one in 20, surprise! The skin is so thin no need to peel, and the seeds so small no need to clean. Too easy and great flavor.


Also, I rolled some beautiful fresh okra in a splash of olive oil and Mole Negro powder.

grilling okra

cooked okra


Grilled squash is one of my favorite foods in the whole world. I can’t grill without making some. First time with Mole Negro powder, though. It worked really well. Just toss with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle on mole powder to taste.

raw squash

grilling squashgriled squash2








cuke salad

For raw contrast, a quick cucumber salad with goat queso fresco, olive oil, black pepper and fresh basil.

Enjoy with prickly pear lemonade. Happy picnicking!


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

Mmmm….Ihbhai–the Marvelous Monsoon Prickly Pear

Prickly pear fruit in August monsoon ready to harvest

Prickly pear fruit in August monsoon—ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Welcome the late summer monsoon time of plenty!  You can feel life burgeoning.  The desert is vibrant with productive greenery.  Its birds and mammals are foraging in delight.  Spade-foot toads are up and singing their sheep-like song again!  It is time to pick prickly pears and put up their bounty for another year.

Tia Marta here to share encouragement for those who want to venture into desert harvesting (and an idea for  veteran-harvesters too.)

De-spining tunas with tongs and scrubbie

De-spining tunas with tongs and scrubbie

Be not afraid!  Just be aware.  When walking among spiny prickly pear cacti, don’t wear loose clothing or it is sure to pick up spines that return to haunt you in the oddest ways.  Use long, accurately-grabbing tongs for picking prickly pear fruits (aka “tunas”).  Go for the darkest purple fruits, leaving ones with a greenish base to harvest later, or for the wildlife.  Polkadots on the fruit (called areoles) are each covered with tiny hairlike spines called glochids.  Needless to say, they are a real  nuisance and pain.  Veteran harvesters get used to pulling glochids out of their skin with their incisors, which can be more accurate or faster than tweezers.  [For better or worse, I’m resigned to having a few festering little glochids in my fingers during the entire harvest season–like oh well, it’s worth it!]

I de-spine my tunas under running water with a scrubby (such as Scotchbrite) dedicated to that sole purpose.  I’m careful to only use one side of the scrubby while cleaning all my fruits, then, when done, it’s into the trash.  Some people swear by using heavy rubber gloves.  I prefer not to destroy gloves, preferring rather to have control that unfettered hands with tongs afford.

Scooping out seeds from prickly pear fruit cut in half

Scooping out seeds with back of thumb from prickly pear fruit cut in half

De-seeded half prickly pear fruit

De-seeded half prickly pear fruit–You can sieve good juice from masses of seed.

Peeled and de-seeded half tuna

Peeled and de-seeded half tuna

After de-spining, cut your tunas in half and scoop out the little hard seeds.  My Tohono O’odham mentor taught me to just use the thumb, as it can feel where the seeds are hiding.  Make sure ALL seeds are washed out, as you do not want to encounter them with your teeth in a pleasant bite of your coffeecake.

Inspired by Carolyn Niethammer’s Prickly Pear Cookbook (Univ. of Arizona Press), I’ve designed a Sonoran Desert prickly pear muffin and coffeecake recipe that celebrates the additional flavors and nutrition of mesquite meal and heirloom white Sonora wheat flour.

Prickly pear fruit chunks prepped for baking

Prickly pear fruit chunks prepped for baking

RECIPE:  Prickly Pear,-Mesquite-White Sonora Wheat Muffins and Coffeecake

                                                         (Ihbhai c Kui Wihog Pas-tihl)


1/4 cup mesquite flour or meal

3/4 cup heirloom white Sonora wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup butter melted, or oil

1/4 cup sugar OR agave nectar

1 lg or 2 small eggs

1/3 cup milk or almond milk or soy milk

1 cup fresh prickly pear chunks

Directions:  Prepare fresh prickly pear chunks according to visual instructions above.   Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease and flour a small baking dish or 8-10 medium size muffin cups.  Sift all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, cream butter; add sugar or agave nectar; beat in egg(s).  Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Fold in prickly pear chunks and any juice into batter.  Spoon batter into baking dish, patting gently, or into muffin tins filling to half.  Bake 20 minutes or until turning golden on top.  This coffeecake is not super-sweet.  It can be served hot with jam for breakfast and tea, or cool with a little scoop of vanilla yogurt or ice cream for dessert.  Great nutrition and natural flavors!

Into the batter go the tuna pieces!

Into the batter go the tuna pieces!

Prickly pear mesquite muffins (with purple mesquite pods)

Prickly pear mesquite muffins (with purple mesquite pods)

Prickly pear-mesquite coffeecake (Ihbhai Wehog Pas-tihl) ready to serve

Prickly pear-mesquite coffeecake (Ihbhai Wehog Pas-tihl) ready to serve


Gilding the lily?--No Way!--This Prickly pear coffeecake loves prickly pear jelly on top!

Gilding the lily?–No Way!–This Prickly pear coffeecake loves prickly pear jelly on top!

What a wonderful way to celebrate the season with desert wild-food gifts!  Enthusiastic thanks to Tohono O’odham families for sharing their traditional food ideas.

Luscious tunas washed by monsoon rains and ready to pick--carefully!

Luscious tunas washed by monsoon rains and ready to pick–carefully!

It’s up to YOU to harvest your own fresh ihbhai.  As for finding mesquite flour and heirloom white Sonora wheat flour, go to NativeSeedsSEARCH or;; San Xavier Coop Association;;;  or







Categories: Sonoran Native | 3 Comments

On Anchoring and Expanding

Linda here. Rain fell this week in the Old Pueblo.   Intermittently gentle and torrential, it made sweet sounds as it hit the earth, and life here now feels anew.


Two hummingbird eggs discovered – July 15th. 2016.


Hummingbirds construct their nests with spider webs both to anchor their nest securely to X or Y-shaped branches, as well as to allow the nest to expand without breaking, as the hatchlings grow.

(Check out March 6th & April 3rd, 2015 posts for more on spider silk and nest construction).


These baby hummingbirds, have just hatched. The top one hatched one day before the bottom one. The bottom one hatched just hours before I took this photo, July 19th, 2016. You can still see the remnants of the egg shell. Note all the space they have at this point in time.


July 30th – the nest accommodates their rapid growth.


The very same hatchlings (can you see both beaks?) and the very same nest; this photo taken August 1st, 2016.  Spider Silk elasticity allows for  such nests to expand without breaking. And the nest is still well anchored –  able to handle the weight and movement of these robust and thriving birds.

It is funny what can anchor. And expand without breaking.

A superficial glance at a spiderweb and it appears deeply delicate.


Without much substance.

Nearly etherial.

Yet, as the photos show, spider silk anchors the hummer nests, so that they can ride out the tougher aspects of life, like wind and storm. The qualities of the webbing woven into the walls of the nest protects them from themselves – and the robust antics  of their gorgeous growing selves.

Paradox seems at play here:  that the qualities of flexibility and elasticity offers such strength.


August 2nd, still expanding and going strong.

It is funny what can anchor us. And expand us.

A few months ago I subscribed to a meditation app called Headspace (  . During my practicing this week, it occurred to me that the qualities of mind that meditation offers, function much like the webbing woven into a hummingbird nest. Again, at first glance, we can  easily miss the power of meditation to anchor and expand the mind. The practice of breathing. The practice lightening up. Of letting go.

Again, it is the very quality of lightness that has all the strength. By freeing the mind up a bit; by not taking every thought Oh-So-seriously;  or even ourselves so seriously, we are both anchored and expanded.  We can get down to the serious business of life a bit more playfully.  And perhaps, play our part in the web of life a bit more joyfully.



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

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