Gardening

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

Pretty & Pretty Zesty – Oxalis

Oxalis 1102808_1280Jacqueline Soule here today, posting at the end of the month – in time to get ready for next month!  For  February, I wrote about the edible flowers called heartease (also called pansy and violet).  Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day it’s time to add another edible flower to your repertoire – oxalis (also called shamrock and wood sorrel).  Oxalis has a long history of use as human food, including here in the Southwest.

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Oxalis Overview
There are over around 600 species of Oxalis, plus numerous horticultural varieties, and all of them contain the same chemical that gives rhubarb it’s tart flavor, oxalic acid.  Don’t be put off by the “acid!”  Vinegar is acetic acid, and you’ve had that before.

Oxalis tuberosa wiki free

Most Oxalis species have tubers, some quite large, and those are sold for eating as “oca.” They can be tart and are generally mixed in stews, soups, or with other tubers.  In Michocan, Mexico, the vegetable vendor recommended mixing them with potatoes and turnips to add flavor.  I promptly bought some and grew them for many years, eating only the leaves and flowers and preserving the roots to grow more of these lovely plants.

oxalis wrap 1974 webEnjoy.
Oxalis commonly sold as “shamrocks” have tiny, scaly tubers, about the size of a mung bean, so the leaves and flowers will be the part you will use. Flowers and leaves can be added to salads and soups for a zesty, citrusy tang. Or capitalize upon this lemony flavor and puree leaves with fresh dill and a drizzle of olive oil to use on fish – delightful!  The flavor of oxalis also works well to make a “lemon” chicken.

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So far I have also mixed diced oxalis flowers and leaves into omelets, fritattas, potato salad, egg salad, and put it in “wraps” with cream cheese, turkey, or ham.  A friend chops oxalis and adds it along with fresh oregano her goat cheese.

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Grow.
Oxalis plants grow well in the Southwest, but they may go dormant is summer. Not to worry, they come back from tubers as the weather cools – as long as you keep the soil dry while they are dormant.

The pink flowered species found in Tucson barrios grows well in our alkaline soils, and there is much botanical discussion as to it’s true name (I won’t bore you with the details). I call mine barrio oxalis when I share tubers with friends. What ever the correct name may be – it adds zest to many of my meals.

Oxalis tetraphylla 04

Caution.
Don’t eat oxalis just purchased unless it is labeled “organic.” Ornamental plants such as oxalis are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants are not legally treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

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 the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© 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.  Featured image is courtesy of the Netherlands Bulb Information Center.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Heartease

In a few short days it will be February – and it can be a dreary month, often rainy and cold, even in southern Arizona. All hearts need some easing in this upcoming shortest of months. Luckily, here in southern Arizona, February is the month we can easily grow one of the most hearteasing and cheerful flowers on the face of the earth. Heartease is the common name for Viola tricolor, best known as one of the mothers of the pansy. The simple beauty and delightfully friendly tricolored faces of heartease, pansies, and violets have long been admired by poets, artists, lovers, and cooks!

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Use.
Pansies and violets have a long history of human consumption. The flowers, fresh or candied, were a favorite edible decoration at medieval banquets. Tarts made from pansies or violets were a Victorian delicacy.

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Top a custard tart with berries and heartease.

Heartease flowers can be used to flavor and color salads, herbal butters, jams, jellies, syrups, desserts, herbal vinegars, and even wines. Studies indicate that flowers contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and C, so along with adding color to the salad they are healthy for you.

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All of these are high in Vitamin C.

Ethnomedicinally, pansies and violets have been used to treat health problems ranging from epilepsy to depression. A tea made from the leaves was prescribed for quelling anger and inducing sleep. Roman revelers wore wreaths of violets in hopes of preventing hangovers.

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Smoked salmon salad with purple pansies – colorful and yummy.

 

Grow.
Heartease, pansies and violets grow well in Tucson from seed sown in October. At this time of year it is best to buy “seedlings” or already growing plants. Replant seedlings into the ground or containers in partial to full sun, and keep these temperate climate plants watered.

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Tiny Viola odorata is incredibly fragrant and grows well in our area.

I like planting pansies and violets in containers with potting soil for three reasons. First, Viola do best in rich, moist soil with good drainage. Second, I put the containers up on a table with metal legs so the critters can’t climb up and eat my plants. Third, these charmers are up where I can easily see them and enjoy their beauty. Harvest them too, when I’m making a dinner salad.

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Yogurt with chia, berries, and hearease. A great way to start the day.

Caution.
Ornamental plants from “big box” nurseries are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants from a nursery are not treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

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 the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© 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, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Real Smut–Good Smut

Aroused by so much truly disgusting smut in the news these days (not “fake smut” at all), I am motivated to expose another perspective here.  Lets talk ‘smut of a different color’ to distinguish current human smut from sources of the word itself.  “Sooty,” “smudged,” “covered with black flakes of soot” seems to be how the term’s usage began, and of course that came to mean “tainted” or “stained,” its figurative, moral usage of today.

Corn smut–better known as “Mexican Corn-Truffle”–on teosinte (the ancient precursor of domestic corn) growing in the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store “landscape” (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to tell you about –believe it or not–Good Smut!  Smut the Food, CORN SMUT, an incredibly interesting, nutritious, even ceremonially-important food!  However, spured on by the USDA, farmers, not in the know about corn smut’s food history and value, have tried to eradicate it from US corn fields for years.  Corn smut is a reaction to spore invasion by Ustilago maydis which gets into young kernels and causes reactive growth.  Admittedly, corn smut does look unappealing, weird, even tainted or disgusting if you are looking for the perfect corn cob, hence the moves in modern agriculture to get rid of it. (Just search images of corn smut on the internet for an eye-full!)

Fungal growth of Ustilago maydis (corn smut) on commercial corn (internet source)

On the positive side, corn smut has had a very beneficial role in research on human breast cancers.  Looks are not everything–This “ugly” growth has been a blessed gift to life-saving biomedical research.  We might know very little about these cancers without DNA lab studies using corn smut fungus’ DNA.  “Corn Soot,” as the fungus was termed by the people of Zuni, NewMexico, was also used traditionally as herbal medicine to hasten childbirth then to reduce bleeding after childbirth.  [You can read lots more in a neat article by Kevin Dahl in Etnobiologia 7, in 2009, pp.94-99; or in Stevenson,M.L,1915, Ethnobotany of the Zuni, Ann.Rpt.Bur.Am.Ethnology 1908-1909, pp.31-102.]

Cuitlacoche (also spelled and pronounced huitlacoche) in the Aztec (Nahuatl) language, i.e corn smut food, has been used since time immemorial as a nutritious delicacy by Native People from MesoAmerica into what is now the Southwestern US.  Nutritionally, cuitlacoche actually has more protein even than its host, corn.  Corn by itself, however, does not contain a critically important amino acid building block in the human diet, lysine, which cuitlacoche provides. Corn smut would be a significant addition to a vegetarian diet.

Alas, because of its looks, corn smut has been almost completely relegated to oblivion in the USA.  Not too many years ago I used to buy it canned, moist and ready to use, at Food City in Tucson, but recently I’ve asked for it at several Hispanic foods outlets like LaCarniceria on W.St.Mary’sRoad, El Super in South Tucson, and at every Food City.  Nada–Young store attendants don’t even know the word!  Obviously cuitlacoche is out of favor.  Too bad, what popular market demand can do.  We will have to grow our own smut from now on, or travel deeper into Mexico to find the right stuff….

Small bulbous “buds” of cuitlacoche (corn smut) harvested from teosinte for cooking (MABurgess photo)

Because….there are some super recipes for this delicacy!  To create better press for corn smut as food, restaurants now market it as “Mexican Corn Truffle.” Some gourmet bistros have tried to create awareness of it, to no avail.  When and if you find corn smut at a farmers’ market, or if you grow it yourself, you can find some great CUITLACOCHE  recipe ideas online.  Just Google “Cuitlacoche Recipes” for fabulous “new” takes on tacos, quesadillas, soups, meat sauces, enchiladas, tamales, stuffed chicken….

Normal non-infected teosinte “cob” maturing on the stalk. Note the green kernels aligned vertically at angles. (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche (corn smut) on NSS teosinte cob (MABurgess photo)

Inspired by NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store Manager Chad Borseth (who sings the praises of corn smut), I like to make a smut stir-fry or sauce-base with onion, green chiles, garlic and corn “truffle buds” whole or sliced in olive oil.  Using the same ingredients with butter and eggs in the frypan, I make a Cuitlacoche Omelette or Scramble.  It’s an off-the-wall delicious surprise, simple, nutritious–IF you can find that critical ingredient!

Or, I saute diced corn smut with onions, mild green chiles, bison burger, and leftover potatoes, and slip it all in the oven for the flavors to meld.  It makes a heart-warming Cuitlacoche Casserole perfect for a wintery supper.

Here’s a visual caution:  When you cook cuitlacoche, the color sometimes will turn darker–like soot.  Aahhhh, but the taste is a delicate delight:  woodsy, earthy, richly mushroomy with a bouquet of fresh corn, hints of Hobbit food.

Teosinte corn smut diced for scrambling or adding to a cuitlacoche omelette (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche Casserole made with ground bison burger, onion, potatoes, mild green chiles, and diced teosinte corn smut (MABurgess photo)

For more on Huitlacoche, check out the NativeSeedsSEARCH article in SeedHead News by Dr. Melissa Kruse-Peeples at http://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/nss-blog/293-huitlacoche.

Happy reading!  Then order your favorite heirloom corn seed from the NSS 2018 Seedlisting, http://www.nativeseeds.org, or the Whole Seed Catalog and plan right now to PLANT them this next summer season in your own garden.  If cuitlacoche buds out at the tip of your maturing cobs then rejoice– and enjoy its traditional flavor and sustenance!

This kind of smut is well worth experiencing – and don’t forget to spread their spores.

Beautiful cuitlacoche, corn smut at the top of an ear of corn

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Celebrate Seasons

Jacqueline Soule here, busy in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, getting baskets of garden goodies ready for gifting.  Many of the topics we Savor Sister have discussed over the years are finding their way into those baskets.

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Some of the topics I featured in the last twelve months that are great for gifts:
* lemon cordial – December 2016
* pomegranate (made into jelly) – January 2017
* seeds (some used as herbs) – March 2017
* lemon pickle – April 2017
* turmeric root (chopped and dried) – June 2017
* sunflower (dried heads for friends with birds) July 2017

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All of these gifts from your Southwest garden require planning ahead.  Harvesting, drying, preserving the bounty of the earth takes time and effort at the time that the bounty is offered.  Sharing the bounty is – in so many ways – the entire point of this season, no matter what religion or non-religion you embrace.

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As the solar year cycles through, the days get shorter and shorter, the darkness of night gets longer and deeper, until, on one specific day, the days start getting longer again, and darkness decreases.  We humans now living with artificial light may miss the point of just how tremendous this turning back the dark is.

 

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To celebrate this season of renewed light we give gifts that were generated by light! Solar light that is – light that shines down on the earth, ripening the grain so we can make flour, ripening the cane so we can make sugar, growing the trees for cinnamon and cloves, causing the flowers that grow into vanilla beans, and then we combine them in many tasty ways.

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We would not be here, nor have any gifts to give, without the bounty of the earth and sun.  Even if you give gifts made of plastic and metal, the plastic comes originally from plants, and metal came up out of the earth.  Points to ponder as the sun cycle continues and the days grow longer once again.

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However you celebrate the season, I wish you joy and peace and bounty in the year ahead.

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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 the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© 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 may not be used.  Some photos in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweet New Ideas for the honorable old Sweet-lime

Surprisingly aromatic and gracefully sweet despite its continued green, the heirloom Mexican Sweet Lime is ready to harvest at Mission Garden. This ancient and honorable citrus was brought to Tucson by the Padres and is a proven producer in our desert kitchen-gardens and orchards. Note the characteristic “nipple” on the base of the fruit which distinguishes it from other citrus.  (photos by MABurgess)

Boughs are hanging heavy with fruit in the Mission Garden’s living history orchard at the foot of A-Mountain!  With chilly nights at last descending upon us, it is time for all of us in low desert country to harvest citrus for the holidays.  The heirloom SWEET-LIME, brought by Father Kino to the Pimeria Alta more than 3 centuries ago, is a living, lasting gift to us, conserved and propagated now by ethnobotanist Jesus Garcia of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Kino Mission Fruit-tree Project.

Citrus time again in Baja Arizona! I’ve harvested Meyer Lemon, Mexican lime, and tangerine from my trees, and I hope to buy an heirloom sweet-lime from Mission Garden to plant in mi huertita–my mini-orchard.

Tia Marta here, wanting so much to share this amazinging sweet-lime with you–and doggone technology has not caught up with my wish to have you just scratch and sniff it right now!  (When will techno-dudes ever perfect the digital transmission of olfactory joys?).   For the time being you will just have to visit the Community Food Bank booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market, or come in person to visit the Mission Garden any Saturday 10am-2pm (within the adobe wall off S.Grande Ave.  See http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org for directions.)

Mexican sweet-limes –sliced and ready to eat– There is NO puckering up with THESE limes; their gentle sweetness and bouquet will thrill your tastebuds! (And note gladly: the seeds are small and few.)

It’s easy to juice sweet-limes in a manual squeezer.

Ideas for sweet-lime juice:  Amazing what baby-boomers are getting rid of these days.  I found a manual juicer at a yard sale which is perfect for citrus halves and even for sections of pomegranate.

With sweet-lime juice you can wax creative.  For a festive punch, try it mixed with prickly pear juice that you have saved frozen from your August harvest.  Or, for more colorful punches, mix sweet-lime juice with grenadine, or your home-squoze pomegranate juice, or jamaica tea.  It also tastes great with mango.  Another admired Tucson ethnobotanist, Dr Letitia McCune, (www.botanydoc.com) is an expert in cherry nutrition so of course I had to try sweet-lime with tart cherry.  Yum!

Sweet-lime juice and tart cherry punch–a glass full of flavor and colorful cheer for the holidays!

Here are more ideas for sliced or diced sweet-lime fruit:

Sweet-lime, sweet sliced tomato, and rosemary Garni, topped with pine nuts and drizzled with olive oil.

Peeled and diced sweet-lime fruit makes an incomparable aromatic addition to a fruit salad. Here sweet-lime chunks are tossed with sliced red grapes and bananas, dressed with chia seed and agave nectar.

No need to throw away these fragrant sweet-lime rinds! Everything has a use.

Crytallized sweet-lime and tangerine rinds make a marvelous home-made holiday candy.

SWEET-LIME CANDY RECIPE:  For a simple-to-make holiday treat of sweet-lime and other citrus rinds, boil sweet-lime rinds for 5-10 minutes to denature some bitter oils, drain completely, add equivalent amount of organic sugar (i.e. if you have 2 cups of sliced rinds then add 2 cups of sugar).  Do not add ANY liquid.  In saucepan, cook on medium heat until a thick syrup forms (at the hard-ball stage).  With tongs, remove each syrup-coated slice and place to dry and harden on a cookie sheet or waxed paper.  Each will crystallize into a crunchy piece of aromatic candy to excite both the youthful and mature palette.

AN EVEN BETTER SERVING SUGGESTION:  (Ah-hah!–You have already thought of this!)  “Enhance” your punch into a fabulous SWEET-LIME MARGARITA by adding a jigger of your favorite local Bacanora, Sotol or mescal spirits to your sweet-lime punch.  Then pow!!–taste that “nutrition”!  If you happen to add prickly pear juice, you even have a built-in hangover helper.  Happiest holiday wishes to all!  Wassail wassail as we hail the heirlooms!

(All photos by the author, copyright 2017)

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

So Many Pumpkins…So Little Time!

Tohono O’odham Ha:l “TO pumpkin” –a striped cushaw winter squashes with their corky peduncle attachments–and bright orange Tarahumara pumpkins (a NativeSeeds/SEARCH harvest) MABurgess photo

Pumpkin-bashing may be fantastic sport after Halloween, and indeed it can create great compost with the right follow-through, but I’m in the camp of those waste-not-want-not folks who enjoy pumpkins and squashes for their wholesome flavors and vibrant nutrition (not to mention their esthetic colors and sculptural forms–see last month’s post).  Tia Marta here, delighting in the diversity of our Southwestern heirloom pumpkins and sharing some diverse ways to enjoy them.

An assortment of Dineh Hubbard-type pumpkins from a Navajo community in northeastern Arizona (MABurgess photo)

The so-called “Magdalena Big Cheese squash” from Sonora, shaped like an ancestral jackolantern, has a glorious color inside and great flavor, here pictured at Mission Garden grown from NativeSeeds/SEARCH seed. (MABurgess photo)

Pumpkins are easy and fun to grow over the summer if you have a nice sunny space where the vines can sprawl, a little plot of good deep soil for the roots, and consistent water.

[Do you think that the word squash has a bad rap?  You’ll notice that I prefer to use the word pumpkin for many of the squash group within the Cucurbit family that mature with a harder shell and an be saved for longer periods.]  Pumpkins can actually take many forms–not just the carve-able Halloween type.  I think of squash as the early, thin-skinned stage of several different pumpkin relatives in the Cucurbitaceae family.  There are four different species of pumpkins that Southwestern Native People have created into a diversity of successfully adapted crops over the centuries.  You can plant seed of all 4 species in one garden as they will not easily cross-pollinate.   Dig into the NativeSeeds/SEARCH website http://www.nativeseeds.org to explore the wide realm of Southwest indigenous squashes.

Three different pumpkin lineages–the light green “Mayo Blusher”(Cucurbita maxima), the striped “TO ha:l” (C. argyrosperma), and golden-orange “Magdalena Big Cheese” (C.moschata). Surprisingly, they can all be grown together and remain pure because the different species will not easily cross.

Now for the fun of “internalizing” these colorful and nutritious foods–  Look what happens when you open one up!

Rich orange betacarotenes of Mayo Blusher pumpkin can brighten many a meal– and a nutrition panel!  After de-seeding you can roast a half pumpkin turned open-side-down in the oven or solar oven.  Served with melted butter, there isn’t anything finer nor simpler to prepare!  (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham teacher and mentor Juanita Ahil told how, when she was young, her family would take a whole TO ha:l on long trips in their wagon.  When they rested the horses they’d make a fire, roast the ha:l whole on the coals, and when done cut and serve chunks in the shell communally with the family.  That was dinner–easy, packable, nutritious, sumptuous, no mess to clean up, just toss the shell.

Winter Pumpkin stir-fry–Skin and dice fresh Mayo Blusher (or any hefty heirloom winter squash) into chunks to stir-fry with onion or garlic. Enjoy as is, or add herbs and other veggies as desired. Don’t be hesitant to even try adding curry to this stir-fry for a healthy pizzaz.  Yum!  (MABurgess photo)

A delectable one-dish meal with stir-fry pumpkin:  Mayo Blusher turkey-skillet–the perfect way to use turkey left-overs!  You can use TO Ha:l, Magdalena Big Cheese, Dineh pumpkin, or any other winter squash (or other meats). to achieve flavor-filled variations on this wonderful dish. (MABurgess photo)

Carrying the stir-fry of heirloom pumpkin to the next level, try it in a stir-fry one-dish meal with meat.  Here I have sautéed ground turkey before adding it to the Mayo Blusher and onion stir-fry.  Add fresh diced green peppers or diced I’itoi’s onions for color and flavor–or if you have a picante palate, dice a jalapeño into the entire dish, gradually testing it to your own level of “heat.”  This is an innovative use of left-over turkey a few days after Thanksgiving.

With roasted or steamed Mayo Blusher (or other pumpkin heirloom) you can make a slightly sweet dish pleasing to a younger palate.  Add agave nectar to taste, pine nuts and/or pumpkin seeds to add crunchy texture.  (MABurgess photo)

After steaming or roasting your pumpkin (here I”ve used Mayo Blusher again as we had a bumper crop), add 1 cup of mashed pumpkin as a substitute for the wet ingredients in any coffeecake recipe. It will add flavor, color, and nutrition.  (MABurgess photo)

Many hard-shelled winter squashes/pumpkins have the helpful attribute of storability without refrigeration.  I kept a whole Tohono O’odham Ha:l in the shade of my back porch all winter long until March when I cooked it up.  Its weight was getting lighter but it had lost no flavor!  Steamed or roasted pumpkin leftovers can be stored frozen ready for quick defrosting, a more effective use of space than storing whole pumpkins.

Shiny Mayo Blusher (Cucurbita maxima)  seeds washed, dried, ready to save for planting–or to roast as a healthy snack

Tohono O’odham Ha:l seed saved from a pumpkin, cleaned & saved for summer planting or winter snacking

Honoring those ancient Southwestern farmers through the ages (and those who still grow traditional squashes and pumpkins), let’s rejoice in their agricultural creativity and plant a seed next summer.  Meanwhile, with heirlooms from farmers’ markets, we can reap the benefits of their beautiful culinary contributions.  Enjoy a pumpkin served in new and delightful ways this holiday season!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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