Monthly Archives: September 2016

Fantastic Fennel

Jacqueline Soule here today to discuss an herb you can plant in your cool season Southwest garden any time in the next few weeks – fennel.


Some varieties of fennel form tasty “bulbs” that can be eaten raw or cooked.

Fennel has a long history of use, and why not? The entire fennel plant is useful! Leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seed are all edible. As a spice, the seed is used in beef dishes, sausage, or in breads and cakes, depending on nationality. Leaves, stems, and flowers can be eaten raw, steamed, or added to soups and stews. Father Kino brought seed to our area over 325 years ago. He no doubt ate fennel as a boy, the seeds in sausage and the bulbs as a vegetable.


Father Kino blessing food.  Art by Jose Cirilo Rios Ramos.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is so well-liked that there are a number of cultivars. First are varieties with an inflated leaf base which form a bulb-like structure popular as a vegetable, eaten either raw or cooked. This goes by the names: sweet fennel, Florence fennel, finocchio, and occasionally it is sold as “anise.” Another group of cultivars are grown for leaf and seed production and include the standard and bronze fennels. Note that “giant fennel” is a different species (Ferula communis) and is a large, coarse plant, with a pungent aroma, not feathery and fragrant like fennel.


Leaves can be enjoyed well before bulbs are formed.

Planting and Care. 

Fennel is a tall herb, reaching four to six feet tall. Leaves can be over a foot long and are finely dissected into filiform (thread-like) segments a bare one-eighth inch wide. Foliage comes in a variety of hues, from the bronze fennels that may appear almost purple to sweet fennel in chartreuse green.


Clusters of yellow flowers are attractive to pollinators.

In the Pimería Alta, start fennel in October in your winter garden. Local nurseries carry fennel seedlings, or you can start plants from seed. For eating, select sweet fennel, Florence fennel or finocchio, while for seed you can use any of the above or merely “fennel.”


The Pimeria Alta was under Father Kino’s care.

Like most herbs, fennel grows best in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. It is also easy to grow in containers. Use a container at least one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.

Fennel needs six or more hours of winter sun to do well. It is also important to choose a planting site that is protected from high winds because towards the end of the season (in March) the tall hollow stalks can be easily blown over.

Sow seeds a quarter inch deep in rows around eighteen inches apart. When seedlings are two inches high, thin them to stand around a foot apart. Or they also look nice planted in a dense clump in a flower bed.

Keep the soil evenly moist during seed or seedling establishment. Once well established, you can let fennel dry a little between waterings. Some people believe this makes the flavor stronger.

Fennel should not require fertilizer. If you amended your soil at the start of the growing season, the plants should do fine. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. In late February you could apply a general purpose fertilizer at half strength.

Harvesting and Use.

Fennel leaves are delicately flavored and can be harvested at any time. They taste quite refreshing in green salads or added to stir fry. I like to munch on them as I work in the garden.

Harvest fennel bulbs once they reach softball size. They make a crisp raw snack and individual leaf bases can be delightful used as a healthy dipper instead of potato chips. This vegetable can also be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or perhaps best of all – sliced and roasted with root crops such as potatoes, beets, and onion.


The “bulb” has easily separated leaf bases that are perfect for scooping up dip.

Harvest seed of fennel by cutting stalks and tipping the entire mass into a paper bag. Let dry for several weeks before cleaning and storage. Store such herbs in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.

JAS avatar

If 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).

© 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.

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Southwest Food | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Broiled figs in peach sauce and Plum almond cake


Hello, Amy here playing with the last of the summer fruits. My mom’s Black Mission Fig tree, planted by my grandfather so many years ago, yields two crops a year, early and late summer. The flowers open and are self pollinated inside the developing fruit. This baby fig tree had its first two fruits this year.


We mostly eat them fresh, the entire fruit with skin, seeds and all, leaving only the stem. They dry beautifully on screens outside, or in a hot car.


I wanted to do something special with the figs, so I consulted Sweet Simplicity: Jaques Pépin’s Fruit Desserts. Broil the figs!


I halved the fruit and decided that they were plenty sweet. If they weren’t, I would have sprinkled with sugar as suggested. After a few minutes under the broiler, they were even sweeter and the flavor concentrated, but still moist and easier to eat than dried.


Jacques made a sauce with strained peach preserves, but I had a few tiny fresh peaches from higher elevation southern Arizona.


I seeded and chopped the peaches, skins included. So much color, nutrition and fiber is in the skin. Plus I like varied textures.


The peaches simmered with a tiny bit of water for a few minutes, until soft.


I pureed the peaches and seasoned with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of rum.


That worked! So when someone gave me a handful of little plums, I immediately consulted the same book to show off the little treasures.


Here is my version of the Plum and Almond Cake

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup almonds

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons butter, softened

2 eggs

1/3 cup heavy cream


14 little plums

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch or similar size baking dish. Grind almonds in a food processor until powdered. Add the rest of dry ingredients and process. Add the wet ingredients and pulse into a batter. Spread batter into prepared dish and nestle in the whole fruit. Bake for 55 minutes or until the cake is browned. Mix the jam and liqueur and brush on top of the cake. Warn the eaters of the pits and enjoy!

Categories: Cooking, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Our Living Giving Heirloom Pomegranate

Brought by the Padres to Baja Arizona during the Mission Period, this desert-adapted Sonoran White Pomegranate can continue to feed us visually, nutritionally, esthetically (photo MABurgess)

Brought by the Padres to Baja Arizona during the Mission Period over 350 years ago, this desert-adapted Sonoran White Pomegranate can continue to feed us visually, nutritionally, sustainably  (photo MABurgess)

It is thought that the so-called “apple,” the fruit of knowledge of good and evil which Eve shared with Adam in the Garden of Eden, was actually a pomegranate.   Now, thankfully, since Eden, we are all “fallen” and can enjoy pomegranates with no guilt!   Tia Marta here, inspired deeply by the recent article in Edible Baja Arizona by Dena Cowan about the comeback of heirloom Sonora White Pomegranate being celebrated at Tucson’s Mission Garden.  (This is a must-read: .)

Heirloom Sonora white pomegranate blooms and fruits all summer at Tucson' Mission Garden (photoMABurgess)

Heirloom Sonora white pomegranate blooms and fruits all summer at Tucson’ Mission Garden at the base of   “A”-Mountain (photoMABurgess)

One of the first joys of pomegranates is esthetic, making pomegranate (particularly our local heirloom Sonoran White) a primo candidate for edible landscaping.  Its rich green foliage is cooling to eyes and spirit.  Its glorious, shiny red flowers decorate the trees all summer, followed by sensuous round beige fruits that become rosy as they ripen like Christmas ornaments hanging on the tree.

Sensational flower of Sonoran White Pomegranate--an extra bonus for edible landscapers (MABurgess photo)

Sensational flower of Sonoran White Pomegranate–an extra bonus for edible landscapers .  (Check out the shape of pomegranate flowers to see the design influence in Spanish silver work which in turn inspired Dine/Navajo  “squash blossom” jewelry.) (MABurgess photo)

Peeking over the wall of Cordoba House in Tucson's historic neighborhood is a double flowered pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Peeking over the wall of Cordoba House in Tucson’s historic Presidio Neighborhood is a double flowered pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

A "fallen star" --a pomegranate flower on the pavement continues as a radiant bouquet (MABurgess photo)

A “fallen star” –a pomegranate flower on the pavement continues as a radiant bouquet (MABurgess photo)


Prepare to share your plentiful crop of Sonoran White Pomegranate with other frugivorous creatures. True bugs can be pests. No prob--damage is limited. (MABurgess photo)

Prepare to share your plentiful crop of Sonoran White Pomegranate with other frugivorous creatures. True bugs like these leaf-legged bugs (Coreidae) can be pests. No prob–damage is usually limited. (MABurgess photo)

The structure of pomegranate fruits, with its separate juicy cells or arils, normally prevents insect damage from destroying an entire fruit.  Just cut off the effected area and the remaining arils still will be perfect for eating.

Traditional Sonoran style for opening an heirloom Sonoran White pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Traditional Sonoran style for opening an heirloom Sonoran White pomegranate (MABurgess photo)

Jesus Garcia, founder of the Kino Heritage Tree Program at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Mission Garden (and traditional knowledge-keeper of important Sonoran folkways), teaches how to cut the top off of a pomegranate to clearly see the septa or membranes that separate the five or six groupings of juice cells (arils), each containing a seed.  In most modern cultivated pomegranates, there is a hard bitter seed that must be “discarded,” making eating less than perfect.  Amazingly, the Sonoran White has small, tender seeds that present no problem–just eat the arils whole and enjoy!  (No spitting necessary.)

Traditional way of opening the Sonoran White Pomegranate for happy access to arils (MABurgess photo)

Subdivide the fruit along its easy membranes.  This is Garcias’ traditional way of opening the Sonoran White Pomegranate for happy access to “arils” –the juicy beads or sarcotestas (MABurgess photo)

I always thought that pomme -grenade was named for the city of Granada, but actually it is the other way ’round.  The Spanish city was re-named Granada when the Moors brought the fruit there from the MiddleEast and it made a big splash.

Technically the pomegranate  (Punica granatum) does not have many familiar relatives to us in its family of loosestrifes (Lythraceae).  It is so different from other plants that some taxonomists place it in its own family Punicaceae.  Pomegranate fruit is a berry, with each seed surrounded by sweet juice in little discrete cases called sarcotestas.  (There must be a better name for these delicious little beads of bliss!)

Nutritionally pomegranate has sweet advantages, providing antioxidants,  folate, vitamins C and K, plus manganese, phosphorus and potassium.

Fruity dessert topped with juicy clear Sonoran White Pomegranate seed-cells (MABurgess photo)

Fruity dessert topped with juicy clear Sonoran White Pomegranate seed-cells (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate can be juiced to drink straight or add to other drinks. (Talk about a nutritious addition to margaritas!) The simplest, most delightful way of enjoying our clear Sonoran White seed-cells is simply snacking by the handful.

I make a luscious dessert with vanilla yogurt topped with slices of fresh apricot, local apple, and blueberries, and crowned by the sweet seed-cells of Sonoran White Pomegranate.  Rejoice in this ancient gift brought by the Missionaries to Baja Arizona–a desert survivor, well-adapted to carrying us into climate change in arid lands!

Let your Sonoran White Pomegranate fruits remain on the tree until you see a rosy blush--then you know they are getting sweeter!

Let your Sonoran White Pomegranate fruits remain on the tree until you see a rosy blush–then you know they are getting sweetest! (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate tops this southwestern dessert (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran White Pomegranate tops this southwestern dessert (MABurgess photo)

Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace will be sponsoring a Pomegranate event this month–September 24, 2016– at the Mission Garden.  Come learn all about our local heirloom treasure, the Sonoran White Pomegranate, how to grow it in our own gardens, and how to prepare it in zillion delectable ways.  For details call 520.777.9270 or email (  Let’s keep this living and giving food-heirloom alive and well in our gardens into the future!


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

Two Ingredient Super Salsa

Linda here on this hot, humid day, wondering how on earth we arrived at September.

IMG_2780 (1)

This Salsa is Super Simple. And Powerful. Not only in the way it explodes onto your tongue, but also in how easy it is to digest. I find the two ingredient version of this easy on my stomach and not as “pesado” (heavy) as the salsa with more ingredients.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning of my affair with chiltepin,  my bias was to add more flavor to this salsa. So I added oregano and garlic and tomatoes and some salt.(see last photo)

But, having dabbled and experimented, I have returned to the very, stripped down, basic recipe.   I adore it.   Sometimes people add a bit of salt too – which up’s the ingredient count up to a staggering 3.

This recipe was taught to me my a dear friend from Sonora, Mexico. It is the basic chiltepin salsa that you will find in nearly every household there.


Warm a skillet. No oil.


Put in a tablespoon (or more!) of chiltepin, move the chilies around and immediately turn off the heat. You are essential toasting the chiles. The aroma is intoxicating for the Lover of chiles. Be careful of your face, as sometimes these little chilies will “pop”.


In a food processor blend the warm chiles with just boiled water. I used less than a cup of water.

Note: Make sure to use a lid while you blend. And when you remove the lid, take care! I almost had my socks blown off me.  Like a true explosion, the aroma alone can force you backward, away from the blender/food processor to catch your breath.  I was warned about this, but didn’t take it seriously, because I am an arrogant chile eater with an over confident sense of my tolerance for this chiles’ “heat” and didn’t think that the oils in the chiles that wafted out of the blender would actually affect me.

I mention this to you in case you too might need reminding to keep your senses about you as you wade into the world of this 9000 year old chile. And chiltepins “heat” works differently than domesticated chiles. The heat FLARES quickly on the tongue and inside of your cheeks, and then subsides. Most domesticated chiles’ heat seem to “work” in reverse.


Place in a glass jar. This salsa has a thinner consistency than many salsas north of the border.



Great on chips, quesadillas, eggs, beans, rice ………..



If you cant resist adding “more” to it, play around with the flavors/ingredients s of your choice and blend away until you create the flavor and consistency that speaks to you. The  version in the photo above has Mexican oregano, fresh garlic, and roasted tomatoes in their pre-blended state.  There really is no “right” way to do this – enjoy robust experimenting until you get the taste and texture that delight both tongue and spirit!  (I roasted cherry tomatoes in a sauce pan like the chiles (no oil), but you could roast them in an oven, or, grill them over fire).  Then add them to your basic chile salsa. 



Categories: Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

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