Monthly Archives: September 2019

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Prickly Pear Peach Sherbet

Combine prickly pear, peaches, and honey for a delicious and healthy homemade sherbet.

It was a relatively wet spring in the Southwest this year, at least in the Sonoran Desert. This has made for a bounty of prickly pears. Once you’ve picked and juiced them, then what? There’s always prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear lemonade, and prickly pear jelly. But why not expand? Since it is still pretty warm throughout the fall, frozen desserts are a good place to start. Combining prickly pear juice with the luscious ripe stone fruits of the season is a good way to combine flavors.

Making your own frozen desserts is easy and healthy-nothing but fruit, honey, and cream. No weird emulsifiers or gums.

No need to peel or dethorn the prickly pear fruits. Make your juice with this easy recipe, then on to the sherbet.

 

Easy Prickly Pear Juice

Using tongs, collect 18-24 prickly pears. Wearing rubber gloves, rinse fruit and quarter. Working in batches, puree fruit in a blender. You’ll need to add a little water to get the first batch started. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids. The thorns will get caught in the strainer.

Although this recipe calls for peaches, any ripe stone fruits will do. Plums and apricots combine deliciously with prickly pear.

Prickly Pear Honey Sherbet

3 medium very ripe peaches, peeled

2 ½ cups prickly pear juice

½ cup honey

3 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup whipping cream or half and half

Slice peaches. Combine with 1 cup of the prickly pear juice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add honey and cook gently, stirring until honey is dissolved.  Transfer the mixture with the remaining 1 ½  cups prickly pear juice to a blender. If you have an ice cream maker, also add the whipping cream. Refrigerate until chilled and then transfer to an ice cream maker.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, transfer to a bowl and freeze until nearly hard. Break up and beat with an electric mixer. Beat whipping cream until stiff and fold into the fruit mixture. Refreeze until hard.

We Savor Sisters love to write about prickly pear. Find more posts here where Amy writes about an upside down cake and where I write about a cocktail made with prickly pear juice.

Need more prickly pear recipes? You’ll find them in my Prickly Pear Cookbook in the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, in National Parks stores, or on Amazon. It includes 60 recipes for cocktails, salads, barbecue sauces, main dishes, and desserts including not just the fruit but the cactus pads (nopales) as well. Even more recipes in Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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