Edible Landscape Plant

Call It Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal. It’s time for harvest.

Every year, for thousands of years, people living in the Sonoran Desert could count on prickly pear producing succulent delicious new pads this time of year. The native varieties of Opuntia have lots of thorns and it must have been a chore to clean them when all you had was a sharp-edged stone for a tool. Carolyn here today, recalling that one of the reasons that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that modern Sonoran Desert dwellers eat some of the same foods people ate here when they were just small family groups drifting through the area, long before there were even villages. That’s quite a testament to the staying power of these local foods.

You need to pick prickly pear pads in the spring when they are only a few weeks old. As they mature they develop a woody interior structure. You can buy fresh pads year ’round in Mexican grocery stores. They are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate their plants through trimming and fertilizing to produce throughout the season.

 

A fresh prickly pear pad, tender and succulent. Very obvious that it is new growth.

Interior structure of a prickly pear pad where the green flesh has rotted away.

Today, most of us who like to pick and eat prickly pear use the Ficus indica variety that grows taller and without big thorns on the young pads. It is native to areas further south, but it can survive here in gardens. Although the big thorns are absent, there are, however, tiny stickers called glochids, and they can be dangerous so you should wear rubber gloves when working with the pads. The glochids look like small hairs but they do have barbs on the end. You don’t want them in your finger or your tongue! I tend to just scrape the sides of the pad with a serrated steak knife, then cut off the edge as in these pictures. The edge has so many thorns it is not worthwhile to try to clean it so just trim it off.

Use a serrated steak knife to clean the thorns and glochids from the prickly pear pad.

My friend Chad Borseth takes a more nuanced approach to cleaning the pads, cutting out just the glochids. He sells lots of edible wild plant products on his website Sky Island Spice Co. and has made this video of cleaning the pads. If you want a better idea of just how to go about it, take a look at the video.

The nopalitos are done when they turn olive green.

Once you have the cleaned pads, you’ll need to cut them up into strips or small squares and cook them. Now you have turned your nopal into nopalitos. You can do this in oil in a frying pan, or follow the Rick Bayless method and oil them, place on a cookie sheet and bake until olive green. The cooking shrivels them and dries up the gummy sap that is so healthful but that some people find objectionable.

You can put the cooked nopalitos into a taco, combined with meat or alone. Or, if you are introducing them to people who might be wary, include them as a new ingredient in some familiar food.  In a previous post we gave a recipe for nopalitos in pineapple salsa which is a great side dish. It comes from The Prickly Pear Cookbook. 

Another super easy familiar dish is this apple and carrot salad, with, of course, nopalitos. It is adapted from Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, a compilation of information on how to gather and cook 23 delicious and easily gathered desert plants.

Apple, carrot, and nopalito salad is a delicious way to introduce people to their first taste of cactus.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad

1 small cleaned prickly pear pad

1 cup shredded carrot

½ shredded apple

Dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave syrup

Sprinkle of salt

Cut the prickly pear pad into very small pieces and bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until dried and slightly chewy. This should take 15-30 minutes depending on how juicy the nopalitos are. Or put them in a frying pan with just enough oil to coat the pan and cook until olive green. The pieces will shrivel.

Meanwhile make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise and milk in a small bowl. Season with the sweetner and salt. Set aside.

When the nopalitos are chewy, add the carrot, apple, and nopalitos to the dressing. Stir and serve. It looks nice on a lettuce leaf.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Enjoy Ya Cholla!

With so much plenty around us in the desert–like this glorious staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)–2-leggeds can be rewarded while social-distancing with healthy outdoor exercise and super nutrition.  Read on…… (MABurgess photo)

The cholla bloom is in full swing!  The low desert in Baja Arizona continues to explode with color late April into early May, with several species of cholla cactus punctuating the landscape colorfully with a rainbow of colors-and a fiesta of flavor.  When the first flower buds open on cholla, traditional O’odham harvesters knew this short window of time is for feasting on this nutritious food, and for drying and storing enough for the rest of the year.

Tia Marta here to share creative and fun ideas for the generous harvest available without getting near a grocery.  For detailed “how-to” ideas, view this earlier SavortheSouthwest post and a short video from a  NativeSeedsSEARCH workshop.

Why harvest unopened buds? Note how loosely opening petals grab spines and don’t let go. After brushing and screening off spines, cleaned buds must be boiled or roasted before eating. (MABurgess photo)

Enjoy my article A Budding Meal _ Martha Ames Burgess EdibleBajaAZ 2014 explaining how Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil harvested cholla, or, check out www.desertharvesters.org for guidance.

Jambalaya a la Cholla made with andouille sausage, sauteed garlic and celery, cooked cholla buds, served with brown rice. Find great jambalaya recipes online–just add prepared cholla buds!

Jambalaya a la Cholla was our centerpiece dinner shared on Zoom with pals.

When you venture into harvesting, be sure to start with three awarenesses:  giving thanks for this plentiful gift from the desert,  watching for snakes, and checking the wind for where spines might blow.

These off-the-wall ideas for sure are not traditional ways of cooking cholla.  Hopefully these ideas can inspire you to get creative with cholla.  As desert dwellers we should all have a deep respect for this much ignored or maligned cactus.  Cholla reminds us that there is no time for boredom.

Try diluting the pucker-up sourness of sauerkraut by adding chunks of apple, caraway seed, and…tah-dah…cooked cholla buds for a wonderful addition!

Try this variation on a favorite comfort food–Add prepared cholla buds to creamed chicken or chicken stew.

Using a simple dill pickling recipe online, I packed 20-minute-boiled buds into canning jars with snips of fresh oregano and I’itoi’s onion from my garden, then filled jars with a cider vinegar and spice mix. After a 15-minute waterbath jars were ready for storage or use as gourmet hors d’oeuvres.

Deviled eggs made with chopped pickled cholla buds are a perfect hot-weather lunch or unusual buffet feature.  Try spicing up your deviled eggs with curry powder for a great complement to cholla!

If planning for future food is on your mind, consider drying your cholla buds. Compare sizes on my drying screen of freshly boiled buds (right) and tiny, stone-hard dry buds(left) ready for storage. If fully dried patiently over several days, buds will keep for years in a glass jar.

For the best in local libation to allay woes of social distancing, quaff a Sonoran quarantini made with Tucson’s ThreeWells Mt.Lemmon gin and garnished with a pickled cholla bud in place of an olive, plus a bulb of I’itoi’s onion. It can’t get more festively flavorful and local than that!

Read more about traditional cholla bud use by Native cultures in Dr.Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert (University of Arizona Press).  Find more cactus cookery ideas in Cooking the Wild Southwest by Savor-Sister Carolyn Niethammer (also UofA Press).

Tia Marta wishes you happy cholla harvesting in our beautiful desert spring!

Dried cholla buds are available online at www.nativeseeds.org and at www.flordemayoarts.com.  You can find them also at the SanXavier Co-op.  For cooking with the sun on these hot days, order handy solar ovens at www.flordemayoarts.com or check craigslist for used solar ovens.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

I planted a one gallon container wolfberry bush in a water harvesting basin on a dry corner of the yard in 2015. That first summer I watered it sporadically, then after that I left it alone to compete with the grass and weeds. Five years later, it’s a seven foot tall by seven foot wide bird sanctuary. Wolfberry certainly once grew wild on this land, in the floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, about a third of a mile from the current channel.

Actually I planted several species of wolfberry, and a Baja species has only lavender flowers now, but has a very long fruiting season.

This Tucson native Fremont wolfberry, however, has a short bountiful spring fruiting in years with good winter rains. If you look closely, you’ll see a few white flowers among the red berries.

The North American wolfberries are close relatives of the gojiberry from China and distant relatives of tomatoes. Wolfberries are slightly sweet but taste and look somewhat like little tomatoes, so are also called tomatillos.

Harvesting in the thorny branches is meditative to me, unlike for the flitting verdins working the other side of the bush.

In the absence of fresh tomatoes, I decided to make a salsa. Also in the yard are I’itoi’s bunching onion.

Our Tucson wild oregano, oreganillo, is also known as Aloysia wrightii or Wright’s beebrush. It tastes somewhat like Mediterranean Mint family oregano, somewhat like other Verbena family Mexican oregano species. It definitely has a lemony scent that I sometimes catch in the breeze before I spot the scraggly plants hiding in plain sight in the wild. The leaves never get much larger than this.

Putting all this together, I broke out last year’s stash of backyard grown chiltepin and the salt I collected a few years ago near the Sea of Cortez.

In the molcajete, I started with the chiltepin and salt.

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

When making Mano Y Metate mole powders, I sift the largest particles from the lime treated masa meal. I’ve been making this leftover coarse meal into a mush and frying it. From frozen to crispy in the time it took to make the salsa.

I ate in the yard, contemplating the bounty of the desert.

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Festive Buffet Ideas–Southwest Style

Winter is here, and out-of-town company is sure to invade our relatively sunny climes in Baja Arizona.  Tia Marta here with some ideas for local Sonoran Desert goodies that you can make ahead to have at-the-ready for creating a glorious buffet or instant party.

This festive table features colorful, delectable Sonoran-desert fare.  Note lemon juice ice-float for flavoring and chilling the punch.  Many other buffet ideas following….. (MABurgess photo)

With freezing nights everyone is harvesting citrus like mad.  What to do with all those lemons your neighbor has generously dumped at your door?  Right!–save space and squeeze the wonderful juice into a plastic bowl to freeze and use as a floating ice-block or as lemon ice cubes.

Zoom in to check out the buffet table details:  On the cheese plate note the thin slices of barrel cactus fruit as rings atop the cheese wedge, adding a zesty touch to the spread.  Squares of white manchego cheese top squares of sweet local cajeta de membrillo, a lovely conserve made with heirloom quince fruits from Mission Garden.  My special veggie dip is laced with “chives” of chopped I’itoi’s Onion and fresh oregano from my garden, moringa leaves from friend Wanda’s tree, and a single crushed dry chiltepin pepper for a picante kick.

Tangy pickled cholla cactus flower bud hors d’oeuvres (MABurgess photo)

In place of olives or pickles I like to feature my pickled cholla flower buds  or nopalito pickles.  In place of mixed nuts I serve bellotas (Emory oak acorns) or pinyon nuts, both supporting local harvesters (see Southwest Foraging).  Instead of peanuts I like to present Incan corn nuts (not local, from Peru, but a bow to Native tradition.)

Refreshing and colorful prickly pear lemonade and mesquite-amaranth-white Sonora wheat-chocolate chip cookies! (MABurgess photo)

For luscious “local cookies” I use a basic toll-house cookie recipe (calling for 2 cups flour) by substituting 1/2 cup mesquite flour, 1/2 cup amaranth flour, and 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, plus an extra egg and a cup of pine nuts in place of pecans.  These treats will get snarfed up as soon as you put them on the table.  (See Dec13 post for other cookie recipes)

Sparkly and nutritious cherry punch with ginger ale and a floating iceberg of pure prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Whirl your thawed prickly pear tunas in blender

Squeeze whirled prickly pear fruit thru 4 layers of cheesecloth

SPARKLY PRICKLY PEAR CHERRY PUNCH RECIPE:

In a big clear punchbowl mix:

1  block of frozen pure prickly pear juice   (OR, 1 bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup plus ice cubes)

1 pint (half jar) Trader Joe’s pure Cherry Juice

1 liter chilled ginger ale

Serve with joy!

(As ice block is thawing in the punchbowl and the punch is consumed around it, add the remaining pint of cherry juice and another liter of chilled ginger ale over the block.)

With a bag of prickly pear tunas frozen whole from last September’s hasty harvest, I thawed them to extract the juice to then refreeze as a cactus-fruit ice-block.  It is an easy process–but timely action required.  If you haven’t harvested from the desert, Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue or at other special Southwest food shops.

To make your own cholla or nopalito pickles, as March approaches, watch for announcements of cholla bud harvesting workshops.  Tia Marta may schedule classes through Mission Garden or www.flordemayoarts.com.

Happy entertaining with a local Southwest flair!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Get Gardening! a Post-Turkey Exercise Plan

When you’ve barely slept off your Thanksgiving feast, while deep thanks are still in your heart and your significant other is deeply absorbed in TV football, here’s an option that can lead to joy, nutrition, productivity, fulfillment, and calorie burning:  planting a little winter-spring garden!

Seasonal seeds and I’itoi onion starts for your winter garden in low desert.  Check out the seed-ideas for winter veggie gardens at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store.

Young I’itoi’s onions emerging. Use them this winter and spring for chives or shallots–indeed the gift that keeps on giving!

Peas love desert winters and will give wonderful pods next spring. So easy to grow! O’odham Wihol (peas) have become well-adapted to low desert since their welcome introduction about 350 years ago.

Tia Marta here to encourage you to think FUTURE FOOD!  That is, take the simple steps–right now–to envision food from your own little piece of earth.  Time to simply put some seeds or starts into the ground.  Now–while the desert is rejoicing in rain!  Now–before your to-do list or other emails divert your better intentions.!

Your little desert plot of good soil need not be spacious.  It can even be in lovely or homely pots on your patio.  Hopefully this post will fill you with inspiration, motivation, and access for planting your own food!

Little   bulbils from the bloom-stalk now ready for planting….

 

Begin gardening with the end in sight!  We must believe in the FUTURE of our FOOD then take steps to make it happen.  Gardening is an act of FAITH and HOPE, so let’s get down on our knees and do it!

For seasonal gratification, try Tohono O’odham peas, either in a pot or a garden edge where the vines can climb a wall or trellis. For the much longer view of gratification, try planting agave clones.  It may be 10-15 years before they are ready to harvest but the wait will be a sweet, nutritious gift for you, or your grandkids, or some other hungry desert dweller dealing with global warming.

Hohokam agave (Agave murpheyi) bulbil clones planted in pots for growing out and sharing….

Desert Laboratory Director Ben Wilder and Desert Ecologist Tony Burgess sampling sweet roasted agave heart at Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival, Mission Garden

Winter/spring is grain-growing time in low desert!  Organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries are ready for planting or cooking, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson (locally grown at BKWFarms)

White Sonora Wheat kernels –so easy to plant in crowded pots or in small garden plots

Young White Sonora Wheat sprouts enjoying the rain–and ready to harvest for juicing–healthy local food right from your patio!

Young starts of heirloom Magdalena acelgas (chard) grown from seed available at Mission Garden or NativeSeedsSEARCH store or online www.nativeseeds.org

Heirloom Magdalena acelgas will give you sumptuously delicious harvests of greens all winter–as these at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Colorful rainbow chard in handsome pots grown by herb-gardener-alchemist-friend Linda Sherwood.  Isn’t this a stunning ornamental –and edible–addition to the patio?!

These are just a few fun ideas of the veggies suited for planting this season.  Find lots more ideas by visiting Tucson’s Mission Garden , the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store , and Flor de Mayo website.

There’s no finer way to express Thanksgiving, or to exercise off your feasted calories, than to be outside in the dirt.  So I’m wishing you happy winter gardening on your patio, backyard, or why not your front yard!!  Now get out your trowel and pots, and those seeds you’ve been accumulating, get your hands dirty and sing a prayer-song as you plant your future food with faith and hope!

 

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

“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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

As long as I’ve been writing about wild foods–and that is many decades–I’ve read about eating the just-emerging shoots of ferns, a great delicacy. But since practically all of my foraging has been in the desert, I’ve never had a chance to gather this mountain treat. Then last year, we became part owners of a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, next to Tucson, at 8,000 feet. The hill behind the cabin is covered with FERNS due to a fire on the mountain about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw them last summer, I began plotting my gathering experience.

First, I had to figure out if my ferns were edible. I turned to John Slattery’s book Southwest Foraging, and he assured his readers that only one kind of fern grows in Southern Arizona, the bracken fern, and that it is edible. He did advise cooking it in two changes of water to deal with “carcinogenic substances.”

We’ve had a unusually cool spring in Southern Arizona, so cool that we didn’t get up to our cabin until late May. But spring was very slow coming that high (it had snowed earlier in May), and the ferns were just coming up. I was in luck. I only picked a handful because I wasn’t sure I’d even like them and I didn’t want to waste any.

However, a rinse, the two changes of cooking water, and a quick saute in butter and lemon juice provided a little snack with a slightly nutty taste just as delicious as promised. There will be no second chance this year, it’s a fleeting season. By the time we get to the mountain cabin again the ferns will be unfurled. But I will for sure be up there next year in May and this time I will gather more!

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

Shoots nicely cooked with butter and lemon juice and ready for eating.

Update:  I did my original gathering and cooking in the third week of May. We returned to the cabin the first week of June and there were still ferns just emerging and the tops of others further along were still furled and tender. I had forgotten to take butter and lemon juice, so I cooked the tips in olive oil and drizzled a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar over them. Great! So depending on the year, the fern season at 8,000 feet runs for maybe a month.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest. You can see her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. In the fall of 2020 her book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy will be released by the University of Arizona Press. In it she details the last 10,000 years of culinary history of the Santa Cruz Valley and why the inhabitants of the area are still eating the same things after all these years!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Delectable Cholla bud and Nopalito Recipe Ideas

 

Blooming staghorn cholla and foothills palo verde bathe the Sonoran Desert in color. Surprisingly, this 2019 spring season has been so cool and moist that we are still harvesting cholla buds and fresh nopales in May. (MABurgess photo)

“Act now while this offer lasts!”–so says Mother Nature in the Sonoran Desert.  She only offers her bounty in certain pulses or moments, and we must harvest while her “window of opportunity” is open. Tia Marta here to share some delectable ideas for serving your own desert harvest from our glorious bloomin’ cholla and prickly pears.

The YOUNGEST pads of new growth on prickly pear are the ones with tiny leaves at the areoles (where spines will later grow). (MABurgess photo)

After singe-ing off the tiny leaves and spiny glochids using tongs over a flame (either campfire or gas stove), slice and saute young prickly pear pads in olive oil. Now they are ready to use in lots of great recipes…(MABurgess photo)

Young prickly pear pads (many species in Baja Arizona) have no woody tissue yet developed inside. In their youthful stage (see photo) they are not only edible but also super-nutritious! The photo is our native Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) with flower buds forming. Traditional Tohono O’odham call the edible young pads nawi.

After spines and areoles are singed off you can chop and scramble nopalitos with eggs, bake them into a quiche, pickle them, OR simmer them in a delicious mole sauce….The fastest and easiest way to prep a gourmet nopalito meal is to use Mano y Metate’s Mole Mixes.  Savor blog writer Amy Valdes Schwemm has created several different sabores of mole–many without chocolate.  My sweetie loves Amy’s Mole Adobe as its savory spice binder is pumpkin seeds with no tree nuts.

Nopalitos in Mano y Metate Mole Adobo sauce–here served with a mesquite tortilla (from Tortilleria Arevalo available at farmers’ markets in Tucson.) Nopalitos en Mole over brown rice is delicious too.

Get out your tongs and whisk brooms to harvest the last of the cholla buds this season!

A staghorn cholla cactus flower bud (Cylindropuntia versicolor) still with spines in need of cleaning. Buds with petals not yet open are the ones to pick–carefully.(MABurgess)

A harvest of staghorn cholla buds in screen box to remove spines from areoles (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham harvesters know this cholla species as ciolim–pronounce it chee’o-lim.

Once de-spined, cholla buds must be boiled or roasted to denature its protective oxalic acid. Then, tah-dah!, cholla buds lend themselves to wonderful recipes similar to nopalitos in omelettes, quiches, stir-fries… They are flavorfully exotic, tangy, definitely nutritious containing gobs of available calcium and energy-sustaining complex carbs!

Pickled cholla buds (MABurgess photo)

I love to pickle my fresh cholla buds to enjoy later as garnish for wintertime dishes. For the salad recipe below, I’d canned them with pickling spices, but an easier alternative is to marinate them short-term for 24-48 hours in your favorite dressing for a quick fix.

 

Muff’s Easy Marinated Cholla Bud and Sonoran Wheat-berry Salad Recipe:

First–prep ahead–heirloom White Sonoran Wheat-berries:   boil 1 cup dry wheat-berries in 4 cups drinking water for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until water is fully absorbed and grains are puffed up, then chill.

Also prep ahead— marinate fresh boiled cholla buds in pickle juice, or your favorite marinade or salad dressing for 24-48 hours in refrigerator.

Then–Chop any combination of your favorite fresh veggies–sweet peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, etc….

Toss veggies with cooked chilled wheat-berries and marinated cholla buds.  Add spices and pinyones if desired.  Dress with remaining cholla marinade.  Allow to chill before serving, neat or on a bed of fresh salad greens.

 

The yummiest cholla bud and wheat-berry marinated salad ever! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s honor, tend, and enjoy these desert foods that have fed generations of desert people for hundreds–thousands–of years, keeping them healthy and strong!  Thanks to traditional harvesters, newcomers can more deeply appreciate and take good care of this beautiful desert.

An energy-saving idea:   You can save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen this summer by cooking your cholla buds or your wheat-berries in a solar oven!  Check out a light-weight streamlined model solar oven at www.flordemayoarts.com.

[White Sonora Wheat-berries are available at NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson.  Not to fret if cholla and prickly pear harvests are done for this spring in your neighborhood!  During the rest of the year, you can find dried cholla buds at NativeSeedsSEARCH, at San Xavier Coop, OldTown Artisans, and at Flor de Mayo and fresh nopales in the Mexican foods section at groceries like Food City.]

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake!

Wild desert rhubarb–canagria–is up from its hiding place deep in sandy desert soil triggered by our wonderful winter 2019 rains– ready to harvest for upside-down cake! (MABurgess photo)

Known as hiwidchuls by traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters, canagria (literally “sour cane”) by Spanish-speaking amigos, Rumex hymenosepalus by science nerds, Arizona dock by herbalists, and wild rhubarb by those who might know its relatives in northern climes, this rarely-seen tuberous perennial has responded gloriously to our winter rainfall.  It is currently bedecking the riverbanks along the Pantano, Rillito and Santa Cruz where Native People have gathered it probably for millennia.  But it won’t be there for long–so act now if you want a tangy-sweet treat!

Tia Marta here to share a fun recipe that celebrates this short-lived desert food:  Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake.  (If you seek a rationalization to counter sugars and fat, check out its available Calcium, plus helpful soluble and insoluble fiber.)

Wild rhubarb stalks look like celery with a pink tinge. Peel off any tough fibers, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces to use as the lemony flavor in the “bottom” of your cake–which becomes the top when turned upside-down. (MABurgess photo)

Put chopped canaigria into the butter-and-brown-sugar melt in the iron skillet, and dredge them til all coated with sweetness. It helps to have your skillet warm, as a head-start before baking. (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb leaves can be boiled twice to eat as greens.  The plant also has many important uses other than food–tannins for medicine, dye from its root, and food for a native butterfly.  Read more about hiwidchuls in my February 2017 savor-post using rhubarb as the keyword in the SearchBox above.

 

I’ve used other ingredients in this recipe from our Baja Arizona palette of delicious heirlooms to make it super-local.

RECIPE FOR WILD ARIZONA RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (“Skillet Cake”):

Preheat oven to 350F.

Into an iron skillet, melt 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter.

Stir in and stir until dissolved 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar. (I use 1 cup to balance the rhubarb’s lemony sourness.)

Place diced wild rhubarb on top of butter/sugar mixture (as in photos above).

Pour batter right over the wild rhubarb/butter/brown sugar mix in bottom of skillet. (MABurgess photo)

When done, the cake will pull away from sides of skillet. At this point you can keep it in pan to cool down and heat again later, or turn it over immediately. (MABurgess)

To make batter, sift together: 3/4 cup White Sonora Wheat flour

1/4 cup amaranth flour (e.g.Bob’s Red Mill)

1/4 cup mesquite meal

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of sea salt.

Separate 4 eggs, yokes from whites to beat separately. Beat egg whites gradually with 1 cup sugar and whip until stiff.

Add  1 Tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp vanilla to beaten egg yokes.  Fold egg yoke and whites mixture together then gradually add sifted flour mixture.  Pour batter over the still warm or hot rhubarb in skillet.  Bake about 30 minutes or until it tests done.  To serve right away, place a pizza pan or plate on top of the skillet bottom side up, then carefully turn the paired pans over.  Your warm cake will drop easily onto the inverted (now right-side-up) plate.  Remove the skillet carefully.  To gild the lily, you can garnish your cake top with whipped cream.  Enjoy the zippy tang and good nutrition of a wild rhubarb upside-down-cake made with our special heirloom wheat, mesquite, and amaranth!

 

We took our cake out on a camping trip, quick re-heated it in the skillet over the campfire, and turned it over to serve on a pizza pan for a fabulous and nutritious breakfast pastry. (MABurgess photo)

For access to heirloom products and artwork of heirlooms from Flor de Mayo, check out NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and catalog,  and museum shops at Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park.  And visit my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com.  (Enter your favorite native food word and find great recipes at this very blog–search box at top right.)  Enjoy every bite of flavor with gifts from our beloved Sonoran Desert!

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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