Gardening

Southwest Youth Plant the Seeds of Food Security

Young volunteers planting heirloom corn seedlings at Mission Garden, Tucson  (MABurgess photo)

It is so exciting and deeply inspiring to see how our Baja Arizona young people are taking to gardening!  From the looks of it, the future of our food will be in good hands!  Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo Arts here to let you know about just a few of the interesting projects several school programs have quietly begun.   Knowledge is growing out of the desert soil, along with delicious produce.

High school students at Youth Ag Day celebration at San Xavier Farm Coop learn how to de-spine and peel prickly pear fruit for making prickly pear lemonade.  It is not only delicious but also helps balance blood sugar and curb cholesterol! (MABurgess photo)

Our children are connecting with Nature, soil microorganisms, and living plants that can feed them–doing healthy activity that produces not only healthier bodies but also nutritional consciousness planted deep in the brain.  Funny how dirty garden fingers can make you smarter–What a neat link!

University of Arizona “Compost Cats” are on the go daily to “harvest” organic waste all over town. Here they are teaching students at Youth Ag Day how to turn kitchen and cafeteria waste into rich soil to feed the next crop. (MABurgess photo)

Who in the world would think a compost pile worthy of note?  Well this is a record-breaker.  The young Compost Cats have created a gift to the future of gardening and farming in Tucson by #1 changing peoples’ habits about recycling organic waste on a big scale. (There should be a better term than “waste” –perhaps “discards”–because….)   Then #2, these Cats have turned all that Tucson waste around to be a positive asset, a resource!

This mountain of compost is but a fraction of the “Sierra Madre of Super Soil” at San Xavier Coop Farm collected by the UA Compost Cats. They IMPROVE the soil with traditional composting, giving the crops a healthy nutrient boost. (MABurgess photo)

There’s nothing like being out there observing what happens in Nature! Here representatives from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA) show students at Youth Ag Day how ground covers and different plantings help infiltration of rainwater into the soil. With no plant cover, rain sluices away as floodwater. (MABurgess photo)

Our local southwest seed-conservation organization NativeSeedsSEARCH is providing a priceless resource to groups who can apply for their Community Seed Grants. (For details check out www.nativeseeds.org).  Recently a number of Tucson schools are growing amazing vegetable gardens with the seeds donated by NativeSeedsSEARCH, including Ochoa Elementary, Nosotros Academy, Tully Elementary, Roskruge Bilingual K-8 Magnet School, and Pima Community College.  You can read about Seed Grant Superstars in the latest issue of Seedhead News available by calling 520-622-0380.  Become a member and support this program for the future!

Tohono O’odham Community College Agriculture interns clean mesquite beans they have harvested for milling into a sweet, nutritious flour. (MABurgess photo)

TOCC Agriculture Intern Joyce Miguel and Cooperative Extension Instructor Clifford Pablo prepare the mill for grinding dry mesquite pods into useful flour–a new method for an important traditional food! (MABurgess photo with permission)

 

Teachers, like Tohono O’odham Community College Professor Clifford Pablo in the Agriculture Program and through Cooperative Extension, have inspired a couple of generations of youth to learn modern ag methods along with a deep respect for traditional foods and foodways.  His interns have become teachers themselves, and their agricultural products–grown as crops and wild-harvested–are being used for celebration feasts, special ceremonies, and sometimes even appear in the TOCC cafeteria.

Let’s rejoice in the good work that these young people, in many schools and gardening programs throughout Baja Arizona, are doing!  In the words of Wendell Berry, one of the great voices of our time about the very sources of our food, “Slow Knowledge” is what we gain from gardening and farming.  For our youth, the connection of healthy soil, healthy work outside, the miracle of seeds sprouting into plants that eventually feed us–this slow knowledge cannot be learned any other way.  We now know that such “slow knowledge” gained from assisting Nature to grow our food actually grows healthy neurological pathways in young brains and makes them think more clearly, be less stressed, achieve better understanding in math and language, and develop better critical-thinking skills.  What better prep for being leaders than to play in the garden as a youth!!

Link to the latest UA Alumni Magazine (fall 2018) for a heartwarming article by our Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer about the University of Arizona’s partnerships with local school gardening programs.

Watch the Mission Garden’s website www.tucsonsbirthplace.org for many gardening activities, celebrations, and workshops coming up that are perfect for kids and elders alike.  You can contact me, Tia Marta, on my website www.flordemayoarts to learn of desert foods workshops where interested young people are welcome.

Young people know that food security will be in their hands.  Indigenous youth and some disadvantaged communities seem to realize that “the government” will probably not be there as a fall-back food provider.  Youth all across Arizona are learning the skills of growing food sustainably and may even begin re-teaching the elders–in time.

Categories: Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Arroz Verde with Sweet Potato Greens

Happy autumn! Amy here, wanting to make arroz verde to go with beans my friend made. But the summer amaranth greens are too mature and the winter greens aren’t ready to harvest. My new favorite vegetable the past few weeks is sweet potato vines. Mild and tender, and not at all bitter. I had some cooked in Asian food, but I’d never grown or cooked them myself. A couple cuttings turned into a large planter full in no time! I’ll report back if I ever get any edible sweet potato tubers…

To make the dish, I started with cilantro stems that would otherwise go to waste, onion, green chile, and the sweet potato leaves plucked from the vines.

I roasted the chile and let it cool as it sweated it in a covered container. Then I peeled, seeded and chopped it.

Then cilantro stems, onion and a handful of sweet potato leaves went in the blender with the amount of water needed to cook a cup of rice (The volume of water varies by variety of rice.) The chile can go in the blender, but opted to leave it coarse. Actually, it could all be coarsely chopped instead of blended.

The green slurry went into a dish to simmer with the chile, salt and some Mano Y Metate Mole Verde powder.

While that heated, I browned the rice in olive oil. For me, the trick is to keep from stirring it too often, so it gets some nice dark spots. I spooned the browned rice into the green liquid, covered and simmered on very low heat.

Once the rice was tender and the liquid absorbed, I added some chopped sweet potato greens sauted with onion and garlic and folded all together.

 Enjoy with beans.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom beans, herbs, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ornamental Medicinals–for Showy Color and Healing Gifts

Yellow trumpet flower–tronador (Tecoma stans)–is super-showy in a desert landscape. It will bloom multiple times through warm and hot seasons triggered by rainfall or watering. Its foliage and flowers have been used as a tea for treating blood sugar issues of insulin-resistant diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

Attention:  native-plant-lovers, desert gardeners, Southwest culture buffs, curanderas, survivalists, artists and the just plain curious!  Set your iPhone Calendar ready to mark right now for a long-awaited event:   the Grand Opening of the Michael Moore Memorial Medicinal Plant Garden, this coming Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8am-10am at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Tia Marta here to give you a little “taste” of how you can incorporate what you learn about our native medicinal plants into your own landscaping–to add not only sensational seasonal beauty around you, but also to put their gifts of traditional medicine right at hand, in your own yard!

[A little knowledge can be dangerous, so DO use reputable reference books such as those by Michael Moore, Charles Kane, John Slattery, and DesertHarvesters.org  if you intend to use your desert landscape plants for medicine.]

This showy orange-flowered prickly pear, collected by Dr Mark Dimmitt in the Chihuahuan Desert (Opuntia lindheimeri), is now a favorite in desert gardens all over Baja Arizona. Plentiful young pads of all prickly pears (flat new stems called nopales in Spanish, nowh in Tohono O’odham)–are an important traditional source of blood-sugar-balancing mucilage plus available calcium for bones or lactation, when prepared properly. (MABurgess photo)

Prickly pear fruits (i:bhai in Tohono O’odham, tunas in Spanish, Opuntia engelmannii) add landscaping color and a feast for wildlife. They ALSO are important traditional medicine with their complex carbs used for sustained energy, blood-sugar balance and high available calcium for preventing and treating osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

Sweet catkin-like flowers of mesquite covers this handsome “Giving Tree” in spring, to mature into healthy sweet pods by late May and June. Its beauty is far more than bark-deep. Almost every part of mesquite can be used medicinally–leaf, sap, flower, bark, branchlets and bean pod! (JRMondt photo)

Native Mexican elderberry–sauco in Spanish (Sambucus mexicana)–makes an effective screen as a shrubby, dense tree. It bears cream colored flower nosegays that become clusters of dark berries (tasty but toxic unless cooked). Its flowers and foliage have been used also for curbing fever and as a diuretic. (MABurgess photo)

Two important books are burning on the presses  by our own Baja Arizona ethnobotany writer-philosopher Gary Paul Nabhan ,  entitled:

Mesquite, an Arboreal Love Affair and      Food from the Radical Center (Island Press)

available at upcoming events in Tucson.  Plus another new one– Eat Mesquite and More by Brad Lancaster’s DesertHarvesters.org, will be celebrated at the UA Desert Lab on Sept.19.  Mission Garden will also feature Nabhan’s latest Sept 29 sponsored by BorderlandsRestoration.

As the nights get cool, toss a handful of desert chia seed in your garden and scratch it into the soil for a sky-blue (and useful) addition to your wildflower mix. Medicinally, desert chia seed–da:pk in Tohono O’odham (Salvia columbariae)–has proven to be a cholesterol remover in addition to its traditional use for sustained energy and blood-sugar balancing.  Chia’s foliage has been used as a topical disinfectant and throat gargle tea. (MABurgess photo)

For a mound of glorious color in a rock garden, landscaped hillside or spring accent, our desert Goodding’s Verbena is perfect. And what a handy source at your fingertips for brewing up a soothing sedative tea that is even safe for children! (MABurgess photo)

You may find many of these showy medicinals like Verbena gooddinggii,  desert willow, Tecoma stans, native velvet mesquite, honey-mesquite and screwbean, or elderberry at upcoming fall plant sales at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Sept 29-30, Tohono Chul Park Oct.13-14, and at Desert Survivors Sept.25-29, 2018.

Beautiful flowers of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)–known as ahhn in Tohono O’odham, in Spanish as mimbre–are an important addition to desert landscaping. Not only can it be brewed for a gentle, refreshing tea, but its anti-fungal properties can be a rescue when needed. (MABurgess photo)

I hope these photos have been an inspiration for you to delve deeper and to plant a medicinal!  Members of Tucson Herbalist Collective (better known as THC), including Tia Marta here, will be on hand at the Michael Moore Memorial Herbal Medicine Garden Opening, Tucson’s Mission Garden Sept 22, to introduce you to many gifts of our desert medicinals, share samples of herbal teas, tastes, and answer questions.  Please pass the word about these neat events by sharing this blog with potential followers.  See you there!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September is National Honey Month

In a few short days it will be September – which is “National Honey Month.” Even if you never eat honey, you still enjoy how hard honey bees work. Bees pollinate an amazing number of crops that we use, including food, fodder, fiber, and oil crops. USDA reports that roughly one third of our daily diet relies on honey bees.

Honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought over from Europe early in the colonization phase, promptly escaped, and spread across the New World at a rapid clip. There is no way of knowing if they caused the extinction of native bee species, but indications are that there was more than enough nectar and pollen for all species, native and introduced.

When bees make honey, they take the nectar that the plants create through photosynthesis and remove most of the water (creating a super saturated solution). Since the plants link carbon dioxide and water together to form glucose and fructose, that’s mostly what honey is.  There are also traces of amino acids, vitamins, and specific phytochemicals that plants put into their nectar to reward pollinators.

Honey and human metabolism. Yes, glucose and fructose are sugars, and blending them into honey doesn’t change that. The glycemic index of honey is lower than refined white table sugar but glycemic response to honey is highly individualistic. The American Diabetes Association has a cautiously worded stance that honey might be preferred over sucrose. In general, honey has clear advantages over table sugar when it comes to traces of amino acids, essential proteins and immune boosting capabilities.

Honey and teeth. Honey contains only small amounts of sucrose, the sugar that causes plaque to adhere to teeth. Honey also contains phytochemicals which appear to have some antimicrobial action against oral pathogens. Thus honey is a better sweetener than table sugar, at least as far as the daily health of your teeth are concerned. The wound healing and antimicrobial properties of honey may be valuable in the treatment of periodontal problems, and in treating tissues after oral surgery, two topics currently being investigated.

Honey and energy. Honey is a concentrated source of fructose, glucose, and other di-, tri-, and oligosaccharides, as well as amino acids human bodies need for energy. Studies show that honey is an economical alternative to carbohydrate gels for athletes.

Honey and food. There are numerous ways to savor honey in cooking and meal preparation, not to mention creating alcoholic beverages. A simple salad dressing of honey, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil is delightful, and quick to make.

For more ways to use honey in this coming National Honey Month, search our posts for “honey,” read the guest blog by Monica King, or visit https://www.honey.com/


JAS avatarWant to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (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 copyright Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Gardening | Leave a comment

Southwestern Pintxos– Basque-style Tapas

 

On a recent trip to Spain we enjoyed an adventurous meal in a Basque tavern where we were introduced to Pintxos–the special Basque version of tapas–northwest Iberian finger-food.  These culinary mini-sculptures bring together the most unexpected combination of foods and flavors.  Each one is a creative work of edible art, visually and deliciously pleasing, handy for a pick-me-up meal or a many-course dinner.

Pintxos–traditional finger food of northwest Spain adapted for Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share ways I’ve adapted these traditional Basque food creations, incorporating our local Baja Arizona ingredients.  Pintxos (pronounced peent’shows) are fun to make.  They let your creativity take off.  The endearing individual servings make a pretty presentation.  Bringing a tray of pintxos to the dinner table makes for some drama too.  Your guests’ curiosity is piqued to find out what interesting delicacies make up each pintxo.  All eyes are focused, tastebuds on alert.  The eating pace slows down to savor-mode as each bite is tested—like sipping a new wine.  If being present matters to you, pintxos certainly makes it happen for everyone at the table.  [I can hardly wait to serve pintxos to adolescents to see what happens with their devices!]

A “shrimp boat” pintxo — a cool seafood “salad” for summertime, made with crab or tuna on a “boat” of tomato with “spinnaker sail” of chilled, cooked shrimp. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a perfect summer pintxo—a little Sea of Cortes Seafood “Boat.” First find some ripe tomatoes from your garden or your favorite farmers’ market.  Next source some fresh, sustainably-harvested crab meat or tuna and Sea of Cortes shrimp.

Culinary oregano (Oreganum vulgare) with happy bee pollinating the flowers in my Tucson garden (MABurgess)

Harvest a few sprigs of fresh oregano from the garden (yours or a friend’s.  This fragrant herb grows so easily in low desert gardens.  See Savor-Sister Dr Jacqueline Soule’s post by searching August 28,2015 “Joy of the Mountains” on this blog for fantastic oregano info. They grow readily from cuttings.)

Pintxo actually means “toothpick” or “skewer,” so have a supply of long toothpicks or bamboo skewers ready.  You will also need:  1)  fresh tomato, cut in half so that each half can rest as a “boat” without tipping.  2)  crab or tuna salad, made with  boiled egg chopped, fresh chopped oregano leaf and a tad of mayonaise to taste; formed into a ball, 3) cooked, chilled shrimp.  Skewer a shrimp vertically from the top and then down thru the tomato (see photo) so that the shrimp becomes the “spinnaker sail” in your little sculpture.

Other neat pintxos can be made as layered, open-faced miniature sandwiches.

 

The perfect base for several styles of pintxos is Baja Arizona’s own Barrio Bread baguette, which can be cut in different shapes to suite each different pintxo. (MABurgess photo)

These baguette slices for other pintxos I cut flat then diagonally to make diamond bases for the Asparagus Spear Pintxos. (MABurgess photo)

I went to Don Guerra of Barrio Bread to find our best local equivalent of the bread the Basque are using in Spain for making pintxos.  Having been in Spain himself, he knew immediately and suggested his baguettes made with BKWFarms‘ heirloom organic Padre Kino White Sonora Wheat flour as our perfect pintxo bread.  Indeed it is! Barrio baguettes lend themselves to cutting in several different shapes, a distinct shape for each different pintxo style.

For the next pintxo–the Four-layer “Salmon in the Tropics” Pintxo–I cut the baguette at an angle to make elongate ovals as the pintxo base.

First step–to make the Four-layer “Salmon in the Tropics” Pintxo–spread avocado thinly on an oval of Barrio Bread baguette

Step 2–spread marinated, cooked salmon thinly on the avocado layer

Step 3–place a thin slice of avocado right on the salmon

Step4–place a thin slice of fresh mango on the top (MABurgess photos)

 

So there you have the Four-layer Salmon in the Tropics Pintxo–a taste combo that I personally would never have thought of, were it not for the creative Basques.

If you aren’t hooked or at least amazed yet, here’s another fun pintxo idea, this time using our local asparagus and chorizo!  Have you ever heard of such an unexpected combination of flavors?  Well it really works!

Asparagus-Spears-with-Chorizo Pintxo

Chorizo-wrapped Asparagas Pinto–cooked in the solar oven! (MABurgess photo)

For this pintxo, you will need:

1) sliced diamonds of Barrio Bread baguette,    2)  fresh farmers market asparagus spears, 3) Mexican-style chorizo OR sliced Spanish-chorizo (available at Trader Joe’s or other specialty grocers) to wrap the asparagus, 4) boiled egg sliced, 5) topping of plain yogurt mixed with your favorite mild chile powder or Spanish pimenton powder.ch

Wrap asparagus spears in chorizo.  If you have Mexican-style chorizo, fry the chorizo-wrapped spears until chorizo is barely done then place on bread to bake in oven or solar oven.  If sliced Spanish-style chorizo is used, bake entire bread/asparagus/chorizo stack in oven or solar oven.  Bake pintxos until asparagus is al-dente (not too long, 300degrees 12-15minutes, or roughly 20-25minutes in a preheated solar oven).  Top with sliced boiled egg and Chile-yogurt sauce.

These pintxos are only the tip of the iceberg of ideas you can create with silvers of your favorite veggies, fruits, fish, or sliced cheeses and meats!  Try thin slices of  Mexican queso asadero melted into your pintxo or Spanish manchego cheese.   Or try a combo of thinly sliced sweet cajeta de membrillo (Sonoran style quince conserve*) and asadero cheese baked gently on a Barrio Bread baguette oval!

*Tucson’s Mission Garden is the place to learn about membrillo fruit and the delicious traditional Hispanic recipes for it.  During the fall harvest you can sign up for workshops to learn how to make your own cajeta de membrillo.

Best-yet pintxo: local thin-sliced ham on manchego cheese on Barrio baguette topped with farmers market mushrooms–and baked to perfection in solar oven (MABurgess photo)

For easy pinxto baking, reaping the gifts of our intense sun, you can order a sleek, easy-to-use solar oven from Flor de Mayo.  Check out www.flordemayoarts.com for a how-to video.  Tia Marta here encouraging you to enjoy new combinations of our local Baja Arizona provender in your own pintxo creations!

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preserving the Harvest

cook pot 1804760_1280Back in the day, the only way to preserve a harvest was to dry it. This is why grains, seeds, and nuts are popular crops and so entrenched cultures around the world for thousands of years. Meat could be dried or salted, but was most often eaten fresh.  Then, roughly 200 years ago, preserving food through canning began to be developed. We think of canning as a pioneer tradition, but it only became common in homes roughly 150 years ago.

jam 2091026_1280I am lucky enough to have learned canning from my grandmother (back in the last century). She was extra careful to follow the Extension Service guidelines for how long to process the food she canned because a childhood friend of hers got botulism from improperly canned food (we are talking about back in 1911 here).

pressure canning book

Jump to this century and the book – Modern Pressure Canning by Amelia Jeanroy (Voyageur Press $24.99). This volume is a shining gem of how to can – especially if you did not have someone’s elbow to learn at. If you already know how to can, this book is still useful to help you improve your technique, plus offer some tantalizing recipes to try. The beautiful photographs of the food, done by the talented photographer Kerry Michaels don’t hurt either.

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The chapter “Storage, Troubleshooting and Other Considerations” elevate this book from a “how to” to a “must have.” Among other tips, Amelia urges you to keep records. She shares the fact that with the help of such written records she determined what her family uses the most, and now she concentrates on that.

pressure cooker cc 3.0

I have resisted canning with a pressure cooker, because I was concerned about adjusting for altitude correctly. Amelia has solved this problem by including (on page 29) exactly what pressures to use at what elevation. That chart, plus the recipes, have me eyeballing the garden and dreaming of home-grown and home-canned harvest – months after the harvest.

Pickled sweet peppers with onion & garlic in an anise, peppercorn, and coriander brine M King web

Pickled sweet peppers with onion and garlic in an anise, peppercorn, and coriander brine, made by Monica King

Jacqueline Soule business portrait. Tucson, AZ. © 2012 Mark Turner

Jacqueline Soule

Want to learn more about growing your own food? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (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, fruit, Gardening | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Awesome Amaranth

Jacqueline here with a confession. I confess I am not a fussy gardener. I prefer plants that I can plant and forget about until harvest time.  Likewise, in the kitchen, I prefer foods that are easy to prepare, needing few steps to provide a satisfying meal. Lucky for me the Sonoran Desert abounds in such plants, and amaranth is just one of them – great in both the garden and kitchen.

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There are over 60 species of amaranth, and while several species are considered weeds, many people around the world value amaranths as vegetables, for the seeds, for dye, and as ornamentals. Amaranth grows best in the heat of summer, and it is not too late to plant some.

Some species of amaranth are eaten as greens – and are anything but green! Foliage ranges in hue from crimson, to red, to vivid magenta, all due to natural pigments called betalains. Whatever their color, they are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, B3, B6, C, vitamin K, and folate, along with dietary minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and especially manganese.

amaranth foxtail 2769772_1280

The root of mature amaranth is a palatable parsnip-like vegetable. It is fine added to stews or cooked and mashed.

Amaranth seeds, like quinoa, teff, and buckwheat, contain “complete protein” (a complete set of the amino acids needed by humans). These examples are called “pseudograins” because of their flavor and cooking is similar to grains, but unlike grain, they do not contain gluten. (By the way, “true” grains are in the grass family.) As with rice and other grains, use two cups liquid to one cup seeds.

quinoa 1243592_1280

Amaranth is related to quinoa.

 

Amaranth greens and seed are used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for their richness in minerals and vitamins – to help the body recover from a variety of ills, including infections, rashes, and migraines.

In India, amaranth is recommended for people with low red blood cell count. Several studies have shown that amaranth seed and amaranth seed oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.

Amaranthus retroflexus 844463_1280

Young amaranth leaves are tasty right off the plant, in salads, or they can be steamed as a potherb. In Greece, their native green amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is used in a popular dish called “vleeta.” Leaves are boiled, then served with olive oil and lemon, usually alongside fried fish.

Amaranth grows very rapidly and their large seed heads can weigh several pounds and contain a half-million seeds. Mature seed heads of amaranth are ideally harvested while still somewhat green, before the bracts open to release the seed. Thus seed will drop where you can more easily capture it, like within a paper bag.

These seeds can be boiled, parched or even toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a Mexican treat called alegría, which will have to be a topic for the future, or see the chapter Using Father Kino’s Herbs for a recipe.

greens and eggs 694677_1280

A quick dinner when you don’t want to heat the kitchen too much is steamed amaranth greens and scrambled eggs.

JAS avatarWant to learn more about growing amaranth? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Heirloom Cowpeas for a Summer Garden Surprise

You are in for a treat this summer–don’t wait until New Year’s Day feasting.  If you have “black-eye-pea prejudice,” or if you have never tasted a FRESH black-eye-pea, read on!  Black-eyes will be a reward for your palate–and positive reinforcement for the novice gardener.  First, action is needed:  With monsoon moisture it is time to get those seeds in the ground!  Tia Marta here to share some hot-weather garden advice, recipe inspiration, with some historical spice, about the sweet and nutritious black-eye “pea” Vigna unguiculata.

Lovely foliage, flowers, and pods of Tohono O’odham native black-eye pea U’us Mu:n maturing in a monsoon timeline garden at Mission Garden, Tucson (MABurgess photo)

A rose by any other name…..Really it’s not a pea at all!  (Here in Baja Arizona, true peas, English peas, Pisum sativum, must be planted in the cool season.)  Nor is black-eye a common bean either.  Other monikers for this frijol-like legume are cowpea (it used to be cow forage), and crowder pea (its fat seeds are packed against each other in the pod.)  Spanish called them frijoles de carete.  Cowpea varieties that became part of Chinese cuisine are called long beans.   The generic term for edible legumes including cowpeas is pulses, a term that nutritionists tend to use.

An amazing relative of cowpea– Chinese long bean–growing at Mission Garden in the new Chinese Timeline Garden, a Wong Family heirloom planted by Nancy Tom (DenaCowan photo)

Cowpeas were first domesticated in sub-Saharan Africa a few thousand years ago and made it on their agricultural-culinary odyssey to Spain during the Middle Ages, according to historian William Dunmire.  Cowpea came to the New World with Spanish explorers and arrived in the American Southwest with Padre Kino around 1706  (according to Bolton’s 1948 translation of Kino’s journals.)  Native People of what is now northwest Mexico and the US Borderlands quickly adopted this sweet, nutritious food.  It dovetailed perfectly into their traditional summer temporal gardens, their bean staples, and their taste buds.

Over years of selection for color, flavor, and adaptation to arid agriculture, the Mayo, Pima Bajo, Tarahumara and other Native farmers shaped this Old World gift into different colorfully-patterned landraces.  The Tohono O’odham, with selection, altered their adopted variety into a spotted vivid black and white bean, naming it U’us Mu:n or “sticks-bean” because the pods are long, straight or curvy, and clustered.  The Guarijio and Mountain Pima (now of Sonora) named theirs Yori Muni meaning “foreigner’s bean” as yori is slang for something akin to “gringo.”  (Names can reveal alot.)  Mexican and Anglo pioneers and later African-Americans continued to bring “new” varieties of black-eye peas into the Baja Arizona borderlands–which all thrive in our humid hot summers.

A rich harvest of Tohono O’odham U’us Mu:n grown at Mission Garden from seed saved by NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Your monsoon garden is bound for success choosing from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s many heirloom cowpea varieties –known success stories in the Southwest.  The seeds will be up in no time and flowering, great for gardening with kids.  Down below soil level cowpea roots will be feeding the earth with nitrogen.  Above ground they feed us well.  When pods are plump with seed, before they dry, harvest and cook the seeds fresh.  When you taste fresh black-eyes your eyes will roll back in ecstasy as your tummy goes “whoopee!”  After they dry, they can be kept for months, even years, but New Year’s is a good time to share them for good luck.

A prolific producer is pioneer heirloom Bisbee cowpea saved by NativeSeeds/SEARCH, available at the NSS Store (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

My favorite dish is a simple compote of cowpeas with garden vegetables.  As cooking beans goes, cowpeas are much speedier than common beans, as they do not need to be presoaked, although soaking an hour before cooking does reduce cooking time.  I quick-sauté my onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a little olive oil, add them to cowpeas and soak-water in a dark lidded saucepan, and put them in the solar oven.  They will be done and smelling delightful in 2-3 hours, depending on the summer or winter sun during the brighter time of day.  You can also make a hummus with black-eyes for a cool summertime dip.

Black-eye pea compote with garden vegetables –cooked in the solar oven! (MABurgess photo)

We grew a red cowpea heirloom from NativeSeedsSEARCH one summer that had foot-long straight pods.  The refreshing green mass of foliage, flowers and pods sprawled across the garden and kept producing for weeks.

For a rainbow of cowpea ideas for your garden, go to www.nativeseeds.org, click on shop then enter cowpeas in the search box, or go directly to the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell and browse for instant gratification.  Prep your soil, pop seeds in the ground, add water and get ready for botanical action.  By late August you will be pleasing palates with your own home-grown cowpeas, black-eyes, crowders, u’us mu:n–fabulous food by whatever name you want to give them!  Savor Sister Jacqueline Soule discusses growing beans in our area on her site, Gardening With Soule here.

The colorful and reliable Tohono O’odham cowpea in the NSS Conservation Garden–U’us Mu:n (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

Can you hardly wait to have such greenery and goodness in your garden?  All it takes is some seeds in the ground!  You can find even more detailed info about cowpeas at the NativeSeedsSEARCH blog and scroll down to May 14, 2018 post.  Tia Marta wishing you happy and prolific gardening with the monsoons!

Mosaic of cowpeas created by NativeSeedsSEARCH aficionados (credit NSS)

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Not All Sage Is

Salvia officinalis 281040_1280

Salvia officinalis, the sage now used for culinary purposes.

Jacqueline Soule here this week, offering apologies to my English teachers, but I hope I caught your attention with the title. I used it to call attention to the fact that many plants are called “sage,” but only some of them should be used for culinary purposes.

The culinary sage you purchase in the store is Salvia officinalis. This doesn’t mean it is the “official” sage, it means it is the medicinal sage. The word officinalis is Latin for “of or belonging to an officina.”  The officina was the storeroom of a monastery where medicines were kept.

Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' 341933_1280

Tricolor sage – looks good in the garden and can be used for cooking.

Plant Nerd Note: Like iris (Iris), the scientific name and the common name for salvia (Salvia) are the same.

Salvia is a massive genus, with over 1500 named species and varieties of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Many of these salvia are used, often for cooking or medicinal purposes, in ritual (Salvia apiana, the white sage), and to simply bring us pleasure as cultivated garden ornamentals.

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The white sage used in ritual, Salvia apiana.

Salvia officinalis once had many medicinal uses, including to help ward off bubonic plague (not a common ailment today). Studies done in recent years show that sage does have some medicinal value – including as a local anesthetic for the skin, as a hemostatic agent, and as a diuretic.* Sometimes savoring the Southwest includes savoring that “ahhh” of soaking your feet after a long hike.

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Salvia officinalis, the common culinary sage, is said to help reduce swelling in tissues.

In my garden I grow a slew of salvia.  Salvia officinalis or true sage is for the kitchen. Shrubby Salvia greggii (Gregg’s salvia, autumn sage) comes in vast array of colors (I have 7 different colors so far) and I keep it for the hummingbirds and for the edible flowers.

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Greggs sage, Salvia greggii, is a lovely garden plant with edible flowers.

Salvia coccinia, the scarlet sage, is non-shrubby and blooms in winter when the autumn sage doesn’t. The scarlet flowers are edible by humans and the hummingbirds hover within millimeters of the ground to sip the nectar.

salvia coccinia 1332975_1280

Scarlet sage does best in our area with afternoon shade. (Edible flowers!)

I have killed several plants of Salvia leucantha, the Mexican bush sage because I do not cover my plants when it freezes and this semi-tropical Mexican native is not frost hardy.

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Tropical Mexican bush sage needs protection from frost.

To finish on a positive note, both species of chia, Salvia hispanica, and Salvia columbariae grow well in my Sonoran Desert yard.  Salvia hispanica likes containers with nice rich potting soil and some afternoon shade in summer. Salvia columbariae grows in the desert soil and comes back as a winter wildflower every year, especially if I sprinkle the soil with water once a week. More on chia in a future article.

Salvia columbariae by Las Pilatas nursery

Salvia columbariae, one of the species of “chia.” Photo courtesy of Las Pilatas nursery.

Salvia hispanica

Salvia hispanica, one of the species of “chia.”

 

 

 

JAS avatarIf 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 Fruit & Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest (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.

* The information in this post is true to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantees on the part of the author or any shareholders in this website, who disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information. Be aware that if herbs are misused, they can be harmful.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, herbs, Kino herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , | 7 Comments

A Gastronomy Tour thru Time–from Ancient to Now!

Bedrock mortar hole where ancient desert people milled mesquite, legume pods, and other seeds  (MABurgess photo)

All around us in the desert–in our own Tucson Basin and beyond–there is evidence in the rocks that people long ago were gathering, processing, growing and eating bountiful desert plant foods.  The same plants (mesquite beans, amaranth, chia, corn…) are providing us today with a smorgasbord of yummy ingredients for new culinary creativity.  The pre-history and history of our diverse food cultures–not to mention the amazing inventiveness of our local chefs, farmers and gardeners–led UNESCO to name Tucson the first International City of Gastronomy in the US!

Tia Marta here to tell you about upcoming GASTRONOMIC TOURS created to celebrate our diverse local food heritage.  Are you ready for total immersion in culinary bliss?  Tucson’s Presidio Museum is sponsoring tours of our food heritage in the heart of Old Town.  Look for announcements about The Presidio District Experience:  A Progressive Food Heritage and History Tour.

Tucson’s Presidio San Augustine Museum–a living-history treasure at the center of downtown where visitors can envision life of 18th century Spanish conquistadores and their families on the new frontier.

In the style of progressive dinners or “round-robins” the tour will begin at the Tucson Presidio Museum, developing a sense of Tucson’s setting and cultures over the recent 10,000 years.  Participants will enjoy samples of traditional wild-harvested desert foods, then surprising Spanish introductions.  Next tourers venture forth afoot to taste Hispanic and Anglo family traditions plus nouvelle cuisine desert-style at some of our one-of-a-kind historic restaurants.  Past meets present in a symphony of taste sensations with spirits, entree, bebidas or dessert at each new venue.

These tours are educational-plus!  Feeding not only body and satisfaction-center, knowing Tucson’s gastronomic history feeds the mind and soul as well.  Tours are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, March 25, April 8, 15 or 29, from 1pm-3:45pm.  Check out http://www.tucsonpresidio.com , go to the event calendar and click on Heritage Tour for details and registration for each date.

Seedlings of heirloom white Sonora wheat seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH and BKWFarms, planted early Feb and gladly doused by mid-February rains, growing rapidly, to be harvested in May (MABurgess photo)

Now, with the goal of merging plant knowledge with many food cultures into one tasty recipe, I’d like to share a quick and easy idea to enhance a pot luck or dinner for a few:  Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits. 

A traditional milling of amaranth with stone mano on a metate.  Today, hard amaranth seed can be easily ground in a grain mill or coffee mill.  Traditional Tohono O’odham gatherers ate “rain spinach” or juhuggia i:wagi (Amaranthus palmeri) when summer rains started, then harvested these ollas of small seeds from the spiny stalks later when the weeds dried.   Plan to harvest your wild amaranth (aka pigweed) seed next September if monsoon rains are good.  Amaranth grain is 15-18% protein and high in iron, fiber and phytonutrients!  (MABurgess photo)

One of many species of Sonoran Desert saltbush, traditionally used by Tohono O’odham.  It can be dried and pulverized as baking powder. (Atriplex hymenolytra) (MABurgess photo)

Bringing together Amaranth, Mesquite, and sea salt from Tohono O’odham traditional fare, and Hispanic White Sonora Wheat introduced by Missionary Padre Kino, in a very Anglo-style biscuit from my Southern background,  here is a fast, tasty, local and nutritious complement to any meal:

Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits 

You will need:

1/2 cup mesquite flour [from NativeSeedsSEARCH or desert harvesters.org]

1/2 cup amaranth flour [home-milled from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s whole grain, or Bob’s Red Mill amaranth flour]

1 cup white Sonora wheat flour (or Pima Club wheat flour)  [from Ramona Farms, San Xavier Coop Association, or NativeSeedsSEARCH]

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup milk (or sour milk, rice milk, soy milk)

Mixing organic white Sonora wheat flour from BKWFarms, plus amaranth flour, roasted mesquite flour, and butter for Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain Biscuits (MABurgess photo)

Preheat oven to 450 degreesF.  [You can use a solar oven but it will not get quite that hot.  Solar biscuits come out harder–reminiscent of cowboy hard-tack.]. Sift together flours, baking powder, and sea salt.  Cut in the butter to small pellet size.  Add milk.  Stir until soft dough forms.  Either drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet for “bachelor biscuits” OR, turn the dough ball out onto a floured board.  Knead a few turns.  Pat or roll lightly to about 1/2-inch thickness.  Use any shape cookie cutter to form biscuits–small for bite-size, large for cowboys, initialed for kids.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 12-15 minutes until barely golden.  Serve hot, rejoicing in the diversity of heritage foods still available from local farmers or in nearby desert!

Rolling out mesquite, amaranth, white Sonora wheat biscuit dough with Mayo Indian palo chino rolling pin purchased from NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain (Mesquite-Amaranth-White Sonora Wheat) Biscuits hot from the oven (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A landmark in the heart of Tucson’s Old Town, this restaurant, shops and music venue occupy the oldest existing structure in the neighborhood, across Court Street from Tucson Presidio Museum

Two heirloom wheat flours introduced by Missionaries (White Sonora “S-moik Pilkan” and Pima Club “Oras Pilkan”) grown by a traditional Piman farmer at Ramona Farms; also grown at San Xavier Coop Association and organically at BKWFarms Inc in Marana (available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store)               (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find many traditional desert foods and artworks depicting these botanical and culinary treasures at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.   Flor de Mayo native heritage foods can be purchased at ArtHouse.Centro in Old Town Artisans at LaCocina Courtyard, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and online catalog http://www.nativeseeds.org, at Tumacacori National Historic Site, Tucson Presidio Museum Shop, Saguaro National Park Bookstore, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Join us at Mission Garden (http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org) Saturday, March 31, 2018 for a public tour by Herbalist Donna Chesner and ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess about Desert Foods as Medicine.

Hoping to see you in Old Town for a gastronomic tour this spring! Plan now for some of that immersion experience in local culinary bliss….

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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