Happy Yellow Moon! S-ke:g Oam Maṣad!

April– at last!  The Sonoran Des is in cheer-mode after a long, chilly-wet and wonderful winter-spring!  Our plant neighbors are blessed with deep moisture, so brace yourself as they explode into their glorious garb of yellows. Tia Marta here, inviting you to celebrate a rite of spring with a bow not only to the bunnies and birds but also to buds and beans….

Any rite will be fine. You choose your rite way. Here at Casa Choyita, I have some interesting projects in the works to celebrate spring–both involving cookery but of two different “ilks”:  a creative recipe for heirloom beans and cholla cactus flower buds, plus,  colorful dyes cooked from beans and brittlebush.  Every step of the way we’re honoring the plants with thanks for their varied gifts.

S-cuk mu:ñ c ciolim Frijoles negros con botones de choya–Black beans with cholla buds– by any Borderlands name this combo is delectable. Try my recipe below for a Cubano style. and enjoy! (Dark water from soaking your blackbeans can be saved and used creatively–See explanation below…)

Watch your backyard ciolim (pronounced chee’oh–rlim) closely these next couple of weeks to know when to harvest!

The Sonoran Desert’s staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) and other cholla species’ flower buds will be swelling daily. Those little succulent prongs you see on the buds are actual cactus leaves! (This is the only time we’re able to see real leaves on cholla and prickly pear.)

Wait til the buds are as fat as they can get before blooming to harvest while still in the bud stage….

….These buds are not quite ready, still swelling…..


…. My O’odham teacher instructed me to check when the first cholla flower opens on a plant. Then you’ll have a comparison to know the maximum size the buds will get on that cactus–Now the buds are ready to harvest!

RECIPE: Tia Marta’s Black Beans with Cholla Buds, Cubano style:

Simmer your fresh despined (or prepped, dried, reconstituted) cholla buds ahead, until they are soft.

Pre-soak beans: Cover black beans in water (3x the amount of beans) and soak for 6-8 hours minimum. Strain and SAVE your darkened water for future dye projects. You can soak beans a second time and strain to derive even more dark dye-water.

In a crock pot or sauce pan add lots of fresh water to your drained beans, then simmer until softened, 1-2 hours or more, checking water level.

Add to the cook pot: 1 cup of sauteed chunks of sweet red bell peppers, 1/2 cup sauteed chopped onion, 1 Tbsp fresh minced garlic, 1 tsp wild oregano, 1 tsp cumin powder or seed, 4 bay leaves, sea salt to taste, 1 Tbsp agave nectar, 1 Tbsp wine vinegar, 1/2 cup cooked and drained cholla buds, chiltepin peppers to taste (sparingly). [These are my preferred herbs and spices. Do try your own variations!]

Simmer all ingredients for another hour until it thickens and flavors meld. Serve over steamed brown rice for a fabulous veggie meal, or serve cold for a savory summer dish.

For a Tohono O’odham Community College art class we had experimented dyeing yarn and cotton with blackbean juice (left, gray/taupe), cochineal insect (center, pink/lavender), and brittlebush (right, yellow).
Later (seen in my chicken basket above for the season) I further experimented with a new medium, eggs! My plant dyes, used cold, actually worked–a warm gray from blackbeans, bright yellow from brittlebush flowers, and deeeeep purple from cochineal!
Here’s my close-up process: I placed boiled white eggs (from Mission Garden’s heirloom chickens) into cochineal dye (left) and brittlebush flower dye (right) to bathe for an hour and–voila!–we had Easter eggs. The dye didn’t even penetrate the shells.
Who knows–My next step may be to make fancy deviled eggs with pickled cholla buds….

S-ke:g Oam Maṣad!--a happy Yellow Moon to desert harvesters and Southwest cooks from Tia Marta! May we all celebrate visually and gastronomically!

Since we have a short window of opportunity for collecting cholla buds this month, you are invited to get a head start by checking more blog posts full of great ideas. Here are some good links:





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