Monthly Archives: June 2019

Sonoran Desert New Year Greetings!

Saguaro fruit is ripe and ready to harvest by many desert creatures. The traditional Tohono O’odham Bahidaj–the saguaro harvest and the rain ceremonies that are an integral part–herald our true New Year in Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert.  But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain.  Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures!  So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus.  The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food.  The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain!  A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us.  Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!

Saguaro fruits as yet unopened and still green may not be ready to collect. Wait a few more days until they develop the “blush.” (MABurgess photo)

Ripe saguaro fruits perfect for collecting are still closed with a luscious rosy color or “blush” to them! (MABurgess photo)

He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”

So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….

Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided!  Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket.  Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness.  Here are some vivid photographic hints.

Saguaro fruit open showing the glorious inner fruit and rind.  At this stage fruit can still be harvestable for making syrup. (MABurgess photo)

Use your thumb to scoop out the mass of sweet pulp and seeds.  (MABurgess photo)

The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year.  If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.

At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season.  Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source.   Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Count yourself lucky if you find totally dried fruit still in the husk! This is Chuñ, the dried sweet fruit, storable or immediately edible, and better than any energy bar. (MABurgess photo)

Bahidaj Chuñ–dry saguaro fruit–is like candy, one of the finest of desert treats! (MABurgess photo)

With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year.  Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp.  Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.

Juanita, and Stella after her, always instructed young harvesters to place the empty husks on the ground near the generous saguaro, facing up to the sky, asking for rain…. I hope they are watching. (MABurgess photo)

You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue.  There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.

Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.

When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”!  It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors.  Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest.  The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit.  Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits.  National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!

My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven.  I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dinner from the Garden

Hello, Amy here on the road out of town. Last night my friend Barb made one last meal from her garden before leaving it for the summer. I had yet to pack, but eagerly accepted the invitation. I’m very glad I did!The bounty included the last of the winter leeks and parsley.Harvested this spring, garlic and dried fava beans appeared from her pantry. The small brown whole favas were cooked to tender in the solar oven.Also, corn!Beautiful pale yellow heirloom sweet corn, cooked plain, needed no adornment.Tender buttery-yellow summer squash and orange-yellow male squash flowers were a treat.Green beans are a labor intensive crop that don’t show up at farmer’s markets and csa shares as often as other crops. These were young and However, heirloom tomatoes are the main reason many people even attempt to garden in the desert summers. These were tart and juicy.

Barb tossed some of veggies with pasta and torn basil leaves.

Others, including eggplant were sauteed in olive oil and lightly seasoned.

We’re almost to the yoga festival, meeting a dozen friends.

Categories: Sonoran Native | 2 Comments

A Trip to the Mano y Metate Kitchen

Amy’s mole mixes on the shelf at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in reusable tins. .

It’s Carolyn here today giving you a behind-the-scenes look at one of my sister Savor the Southwest bloggers. For my forthcoming book on Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, I interviewed a number of small food manufacturers, and Amy Schwemm was one of them. So I’m going to share with you my story on how Amy got into the spice business:

Amy Valdez Schwemm opens the double doors of her industrial refrigerator and displays a collection of herbs and spices that would make Marco Polo and any Arab spice trader swoon. Plastic tubs and glass jars hold nine kinds of chiles, three kinds of nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, tortilla meal, cinnamon sticks, herbs, cacao nibs, imported chocolate from Oaxaca, and a secret ingredient—dried bananas.

These are the ingredients she uses to make the six dried mole mixes she sells through her company Mano y Metate. She has a stringent non-GMO policy for every one of them.

Amy owns a three-room professional kitchen with five large refrigerators, a huge black stove, and an array of health department-endorsed sinks. But she works her spice magic out of a room about 15 feet square. Just herself, a small scale, and that well-stocked fridge. The rest of the facility she rents on an hourly basis to other small food business—a caterer, two women who make kimchi, a baker of cheesecakes, and a couple of food trucks.

Amy uses a large industrial Cusinart to grind spices. It is really loud so she wears ear protection.

Schwemm began her food career working for Native Seeds/SEARCH which at the time sold a mole mix. She recalls that no one knew how to use it, but she remembered her grandmother making moles for the family. It was several years later with people asking for mole mixes that Schwemm decided this was something she could do. She took business and accounting classes and rented kitchen space from a small bakery. Meanwhile, Schwemm was helping to clean out her great aunt’s household accumulation and found a small mano for a molcajete, worn smooth from years of spice grinding. Another family member passed along the molcajete that went with it. Seeing Schwemm’s interest, the great aunt confessed she had given away her mother’s metate, but asked for it back. Thus the name of the news business was born: Mano y Metate.

Then began the task of trying to replicate the exact flavor of the authentic mole her great-grandmother had made according to her mother’s memory. Schwemm made numerous passes until finally her mother agreed that she had hit on the perfect combination. That blend of four kinds of dark chile, raisins, dried bananas, ground almonds and lots of sweetened Oaxacan chocolate became Schwemm’s Mole Dulce mix, her most popular. It is what is used at EXO coffee in their delicious Mole Dulce Latte.

Next in development was the much spicier Mole Negro with more bitter notes from unsweetened cacao nibs, four kinds of nuts, and smoky chipotle chile. An herby Mole Verde followed with jalapeno, green chile, cilantro, parsley and epazote.

Amy measures one of her secret ingredients: dried bananas. I guess it’s not a secret any more.

As the business developed, Schwemm kept experimenting, adding Pipian Rojo, a mixture of Santa Cruz mild child, pumpkin seeds, almonds and herbs, followed by Pipian Picante, a spicer version of Rojo. The most recent addition is Adobo with chiles, garlic and lots of herbs which works great as a dry rub before a steak goes on the grill.

All the mixes are packed in charming highly re-useable made-in-America two-ounce steel tins. Customers who are heavy users can save a little by buying the four-ounce packs in not-as-charming plastic bags. Mano y Metate products are available in small specialty store and independent food stores throughout Tucson and from Tubac to Seattle and from Santa Ana, California to Maine.

Over the years, Amy has given us great recipes using her spice mixes.  There is this for Tortilla Soup, another for fabulous Onion Rings, and another for a special holiday brunch with enchiladas and squash made with her fabulous mole negro mix.

Here is one of my favorites:

Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce Brownies

4 eggs (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 sticks softened butter (8 ounces)
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Mole Dulce powder

Mole Dulce powder for topping, 5 tablespoons or so, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 9-inch x13-inch baking pan (or two eight-inch square pans) with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs just until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat. Pour batter into pan(s) and spread to level. Shake Mole Dulce powder though a wire strainer to evenly distribute over the batter as a topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with crumbs instead of batter.

Schwemm says: I like the brownies thinner, so there’s more spicy, chocolaty topping per bite. Feel free to take them out of the oven sooner or bake them in a smaller pan if you like them gooey, but the edges of the pan always seem to go first around here.

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Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about ancient and modern foods of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website. She has a new book coming out (Fall 2020) on the 10,000 years of food history of the Santa Cruz Valley that is the basis for why Tucson was named the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

 

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

“Yellow Moon” leads to…..Sweet Pea Harvest-Time!

Desert ecologist Dr. Tony Burgess enjoying the glow of Oam Mashad — “Yellow Moon” in Tohono O’odham is the lunar cycle or “month” when so many desert plants are blooming yellow.

illustration palo verde post June7,2019

Massive bloom of foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), in spring 2019, extended beyond the normal Oam Mashad, making it the longest lasting and dense-est flowering in botanical memory! (MABurgess photo)

THIS WEEK in early June is a narrow window of opportunity–one of those Manna-from-Heaven moments we are blessed with in our colorful and productive Sonoran Desert.  Tia Marta here, encouraging you to get out into the desert right away to enjoy this pulse of plenty!  What an experience it is, eating fresh sweet peas right off a tree! No fuss. No kitchen cooking.  It’s an easy outdoor treat that grandparents, little kids, even overactive entrepreneurs can all enjoy, along with our feathered and four-legged neighbors.

To ID our most directly-edible and flavorful bean-tree–the foothills, one of many palo verde species–note close-up that the top petal of its butterfly-shaped pea flower is WHITE, and its pinnate leaflets are teensy. (MABurgess photo)

Palo verde flowers, once pollinated by buzzing helpers, shed their petals and morph in May into clusters of bright green seed pods.  Foothills paloverde pods are not flat–check these photos.  Rather, they look like beads on a short string.

Not to be confused with foothills palo verde, the flat pods of blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have no constriction between seeds, and a bitter taste to my palate–not nearly as flavorful as foothills. [Avoid Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) with its orange petal and potentially toxic seed.]

Imagine each seed of a foothills palo verde (Kuk Chu’hu-dahk) pod inside a long green sheath, a constriction between each like beads on a necklace. (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham harvesting teacher and mentor, Juanita Ahil, taught me that Kuk Chu’hu-dahk kai is its best when eaten in the green stage, as the pea-size seeds are just swelling.  She told me, “Don’t wait til they are real fat, or the seeds will get a little tough and lose some sweetness.”   These sweet green peas are chucky-jam-full of legume protein, complex carbs and sugars, and phytonutrients in active mode.

In a short few days when temperatures soar, the soft green seeds shrink into hard little brown “stones,” which can be used in a totally different way, as a protein-rich flour (but that’s another story!)

With the gift of our cool wet spring of 2019, there is a good chance our sweet pea harvest season may extend into June beyond the “normal” first week.  But don’t hesitate!  Go browse with a basket or canvas bag to bring some home to share or prep into salad or snacks.  Long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses are suggested, as branches of foothills palo verde are sharp-tipped.  [A voice of experience:  In your enthusiasm to look up and reach for handfuls, don’t forget to look down for rocks or rattlers in your shared space.]

Note the structural similarity of a peeled foothills-palo-verde pod to edamame at your favorite sushi bar. They do look like botanical sisters. For a great “desert edamame” recipe go to my June13,2019, savorthesouthwest post (link below).

Beyond the simple pleasure of eating directly from the tree, you can also make “desert edamame” with palo verde pods.  They make a wonderfully unexpected hors d’oeuvre or potluck finger-food. Click on my June 13, 2015 post Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees for fabulous recipe ideas and helpful photos. More sources are at Bean Tree Farm’s website,  and desertharvesters.org.

To peruse and purchase my traditional Southwest foods and watercolor artwork, visit my website www.flordemayoarts.com or several special shops in Tucson:   NativeSeedsSEARCH, the Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Next fall-winter season, sign up to learn more about traditional Baja Arizona foods in our City of Gastronomy downtown tours at Tucson Presidio Museum.  I also teach timely hands-on wild foods harvesting workshops through Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Foothills palo verde pods plump and ready to pick for a sweet desert treat

Now…grab a pal and go ye into desert foothills to browse palo verde pea-pods –mindfully, joyfully, gratefully!

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

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