Sonoran Native

Sonoran Desert New Year Greetings!

Saguaro fruit is ripe and ready to harvest by many desert creatures. The traditional Tohono O’odham Bahidaj–the saguaro harvest and the rain ceremonies that are an integral part–herald our true New Year in Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert.  But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain.  Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures!  So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus.  The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food.  The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain!  A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us.  Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!

Saguaro fruits as yet unopened and still green may not be ready to collect. Wait a few more days until they develop the “blush.” (MABurgess photo)

Ripe saguaro fruits perfect for collecting are still closed with a luscious rosy color or “blush” to them! (MABurgess photo)

He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”

So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….

Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided!  Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket.  Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness.  Here are some vivid photographic hints.

Saguaro fruit open showing the glorious inner fruit and rind.  At this stage fruit can still be harvestable for making syrup. (MABurgess photo)

Use your thumb to scoop out the mass of sweet pulp and seeds.  (MABurgess photo)

The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year.  If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.

At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season.  Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source.   Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Count yourself lucky if you find totally dried fruit still in the husk! This is Chuñ, the dried sweet fruit, storable or immediately edible, and better than any energy bar. (MABurgess photo)

Bahidaj Chuñ–dry saguaro fruit–is like candy, one of the finest of desert treats! (MABurgess photo)

With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year.  Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp.  Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.

Juanita, and Stella after her, always instructed young harvesters to place the empty husks on the ground near the generous saguaro, facing up to the sky, asking for rain…. I hope they are watching. (MABurgess photo)

You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue.  There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.

Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.

When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”!  It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors.  Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest.  The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit.  Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits.  National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!

My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven.  I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dinner from the Garden

Hello, Amy here on the road out of town. Last night my friend Barb made one last meal from her garden before leaving it for the summer. I had yet to pack, but eagerly accepted the invitation. I’m very glad I did!The bounty included the last of the winter leeks and parsley.Harvested this spring, garlic and dried fava beans appeared from her pantry. The small brown whole favas were cooked to tender in the solar oven.Also, corn!Beautiful pale yellow heirloom sweet corn, cooked plain, needed no adornment.Tender buttery-yellow summer squash and orange-yellow male squash flowers were a treat.Green beans are a labor intensive crop that don’t show up at farmer’s markets and csa shares as often as other crops. These were young and However, heirloom tomatoes are the main reason many people even attempt to garden in the desert summers. These were tart and juicy.

Barb tossed some of veggies with pasta and torn basil leaves.

Others, including eggplant were sauteed in olive oil and lightly seasoned.

We’re almost to the yoga festival, meeting a dozen friends.

Categories: Sonoran Native | 2 Comments

A Trip to the Mano y Metate Kitchen

Amy’s mole mixes on the shelf at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in reusable tins. .

It’s Carolyn here today giving you a behind-the-scenes look at one of my sister Savor the Southwest bloggers. For my forthcoming book on Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, I interviewed a number of small food manufacturers, and Amy Schwemm was one of them. So I’m going to share with you my story on how Amy got into the spice business:

Amy Valdez Schwemm opens the double doors of her industrial refrigerator and displays a collection of herbs and spices that would make Marco Polo and any Arab spice trader swoon. Plastic tubs and glass jars hold nine kinds of chiles, three kinds of nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, tortilla meal, cinnamon sticks, herbs, cacao nibs, imported chocolate from Oaxaca, and a secret ingredient—dried bananas.

These are the ingredients she uses to make the six dried mole mixes she sells through her company Mano y Metate. She has a stringent non-GMO policy for every one of them.

Amy owns a three-room professional kitchen with five large refrigerators, a huge black stove, and an array of health department-endorsed sinks. But she works her spice magic out of a room about 15 feet square. Just herself, a small scale, and that well-stocked fridge. The rest of the facility she rents on an hourly basis to other small food business—a caterer, two women who make kimchi, a baker of cheesecakes, and a couple of food trucks.

Amy uses a large industrial Cusinart to grind spices. It is really loud so she wears ear protection.

Schwemm began her food career working for Native Seeds/SEARCH which at the time sold a mole mix. She recalls that no one knew how to use it, but she remembered her grandmother making moles for the family. It was several years later with people asking for mole mixes that Schwemm decided this was something she could do. She took business and accounting classes and rented kitchen space from a small bakery. Meanwhile, Schwemm was helping to clean out her great aunt’s household accumulation and found a small mano for a molcajete, worn smooth from years of spice grinding. Another family member passed along the molcajete that went with it. Seeing Schwemm’s interest, the great aunt confessed she had given away her mother’s metate, but asked for it back. Thus the name of the news business was born: Mano y Metate.

Then began the task of trying to replicate the exact flavor of the authentic mole her great-grandmother had made according to her mother’s memory. Schwemm made numerous passes until finally her mother agreed that she had hit on the perfect combination. That blend of four kinds of dark chile, raisins, dried bananas, ground almonds and lots of sweetened Oaxacan chocolate became Schwemm’s Mole Dulce mix, her most popular. It is what is used at EXO coffee in their delicious Mole Dulce Latte.

Next in development was the much spicier Mole Negro with more bitter notes from unsweetened cacao nibs, four kinds of nuts, and smoky chipotle chile. An herby Mole Verde followed with jalapeno, green chile, cilantro, parsley and epazote.

Amy measures one of her secret ingredients: dried bananas. I guess it’s not a secret any more.

As the business developed, Schwemm kept experimenting, adding Pipian Rojo, a mixture of Santa Cruz mild child, pumpkin seeds, almonds and herbs, followed by Pipian Picante, a spicer version of Rojo. The most recent addition is Adobo with chiles, garlic and lots of herbs which works great as a dry rub before a steak goes on the grill.

All the mixes are packed in charming highly re-useable made-in-America two-ounce steel tins. Customers who are heavy users can save a little by buying the four-ounce packs in not-as-charming plastic bags. Mano y Metate products are available in small specialty store and independent food stores throughout Tucson and from Tubac to Seattle and from Santa Ana, California to Maine.

Over the years, Amy has given us great recipes using her spice mixes.  There is this for Tortilla Soup, another for fabulous Onion Rings, and another for a special holiday brunch with enchiladas and squash made with her fabulous mole negro mix.

Here is one of my favorites:

Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce Brownies

4 eggs (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 sticks softened butter (8 ounces)
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Mole Dulce powder

Mole Dulce powder for topping, 5 tablespoons or so, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 9-inch x13-inch baking pan (or two eight-inch square pans) with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs just until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat. Pour batter into pan(s) and spread to level. Shake Mole Dulce powder though a wire strainer to evenly distribute over the batter as a topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with crumbs instead of batter.

Schwemm says: I like the brownies thinner, so there’s more spicy, chocolaty topping per bite. Feel free to take them out of the oven sooner or bake them in a smaller pan if you like them gooey, but the edges of the pan always seem to go first around here.

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Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about ancient and modern foods of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website. She has a new book coming out (Fall 2020) on the 10,000 years of food history of the Santa Cruz Valley that is the basis for why Tucson was named the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

 

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“Yellow Moon” leads to…..Sweet Pea Harvest-Time!

Desert ecologist Dr. Tony Burgess enjoying the glow of Oam Mashad — “Yellow Moon” in Tohono O’odham is the lunar cycle or “month” when so many desert plants are blooming yellow.

illustration palo verde post June7,2019

Massive bloom of foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), in spring 2019, extended beyond the normal Oam Mashad, making it the longest lasting and dense-est flowering in botanical memory! (MABurgess photo)

THIS WEEK in early June is a narrow window of opportunity–one of those Manna-from-Heaven moments we are blessed with in our colorful and productive Sonoran Desert.  Tia Marta here, encouraging you to get out into the desert right away to enjoy this pulse of plenty!  What an experience it is, eating fresh sweet peas right off a tree! No fuss. No kitchen cooking.  It’s an easy outdoor treat that grandparents, little kids, even overactive entrepreneurs can all enjoy, along with our feathered and four-legged neighbors.

To ID our most directly-edible and flavorful bean-tree–the foothills, one of many palo verde species–note close-up that the top petal of its butterfly-shaped pea flower is WHITE, and its pinnate leaflets are teensy. (MABurgess photo)

Palo verde flowers, once pollinated by buzzing helpers, shed their petals and morph in May into clusters of bright green seed pods.  Foothills paloverde pods are not flat–check these photos.  Rather, they look like beads on a short string.

Not to be confused with foothills palo verde, the flat pods of blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have no constriction between seeds, and a bitter taste to my palate–not nearly as flavorful as foothills. [Avoid Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) with its orange petal and potentially toxic seed.]

Imagine each seed of a foothills palo verde (Kuk Chu’hu-dahk) pod inside a long green sheath, a constriction between each like beads on a necklace. (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham harvesting teacher and mentor, Juanita Ahil, taught me that Kuk Chu’hu-dahk kai is its best when eaten in the green stage, as the pea-size seeds are just swelling.  She told me, “Don’t wait til they are real fat, or the seeds will get a little tough and lose some sweetness.”   These sweet green peas are chucky-jam-full of legume protein, complex carbs and sugars, and phytonutrients in active mode.

In a short few days when temperatures soar, the soft green seeds shrink into hard little brown “stones,” which can be used in a totally different way, as a protein-rich flour (but that’s another story!)

With the gift of our cool wet spring of 2019, there is a good chance our sweet pea harvest season may extend into June beyond the “normal” first week.  But don’t hesitate!  Go browse with a basket or canvas bag to bring some home to share or prep into salad or snacks.  Long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses are suggested, as branches of foothills palo verde are sharp-tipped.  [A voice of experience:  In your enthusiasm to look up and reach for handfuls, don’t forget to look down for rocks or rattlers in your shared space.]

Note the structural similarity of a peeled foothills-palo-verde pod to edamame at your favorite sushi bar. They do look like botanical sisters. For a great “desert edamame” recipe go to my June13,2019, savorthesouthwest post (link below).

Beyond the simple pleasure of eating directly from the tree, you can also make “desert edamame” with palo verde pods.  They make a wonderfully unexpected hors d’oeuvre or potluck finger-food. Click on my June 13, 2015 post Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees for fabulous recipe ideas and helpful photos. More sources are at Bean Tree Farm’s website,  and desertharvesters.org.

To peruse and purchase my traditional Southwest foods and watercolor artwork, visit my website www.flordemayoarts.com or several special shops in Tucson:   NativeSeedsSEARCH, the Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Next fall-winter season, sign up to learn more about traditional Baja Arizona foods in our City of Gastronomy downtown tours at Tucson Presidio Museum.  I also teach timely hands-on wild foods harvesting workshops through Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Foothills palo verde pods plump and ready to pick for a sweet desert treat

Now…grab a pal and go ye into desert foothills to browse palo verde pea-pods –mindfully, joyfully, gratefully!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

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

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

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

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

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

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

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

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

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Delectable Cholla bud and Nopalito Recipe Ideas

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pickled cholla buds (MABurgess photo)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

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Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Preheat oven to 350F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/4 cup mesquite meal

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of sea salt.

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

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

 

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

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

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Citrus Season is Time for Marmalade

Mix citrus for a delicious marmalade with my favorite recipe.

It’s Carolyn Niethammer here today to share my favorite recipe for citrus marmalade. It comes from an early version of The Joy of Cooking that I received as a gift in 1965. The most recent Joy of Cooking doesn’t even have an entry for jams though I hear there is a resurgence of interest in making them. I love citrus marmalade, but don’t like the overly sweet grocery-story version. I like a little bitterness, more like the English version rather than the American style.  I’ve used this recipe for at least 30 years, varying the proportion of fruit according to what I have.

Some of the oranges come from a Sweet Orange tree in my front yard that my husband as a small child planted with his dad, Dr. Leland Burkhart, a half time extension agent, half time college ag professor.  Dr. Burkhart used to travel all over the state consulting with citrus growers. Since my own grapefruit tree died, I have to snitch a few of those from my neighbors. I also gather a few sour oranges from street trees in the neighborhood because I like the tang it gives my marmalade.  If you don’t have access to free fruit, the farmer’s markets are full of all varieties right now.

Farmers’ markets in the Southwest have abundant citrus for sale now.

Although I have been using this recipe successfully for years, a couple of years ago I decided to get fancy and carefully cut away all the white pith on the inside of the fruit rinds. Then the mixture simply would not jell no matter how long I cooked it. So….I learned this is where the pectin is, what makes the marmalade thicken up. Leave the white stuff on; it disappears during the soaking and cooking.

Use whatever fruit you have; don’t worry about the proportions. You could use all lemons. Last year I foraged an abundance of kumquats and used those. You might decide to make your version of spring marmalade special by adding some thinly slice barrel cactus fruit, or a little prickly pear juice if you have some, or even some berries. This is a very adaptable recipe. I always try to stress experimentation. Here’s a place to construct your own signature jam to your special taste preference.

The recipe is very easy, but you have to start the process a few days before you plan to do the cooking. The fruit soaks and softens in a corner of your kitchen. During the days when the fruit is soaking, gather up your jars. If you have those with the sealing lids, fine. If not use any jars. Put them in your biggest pot, cover with water, and boil for a few minutes to sterilize. If you don’t have the lids with the rings that seal, be sure to refrigerate the jam until use. If you give it away, caution the receiver not to stick it on a shelf and forget it.

I use whatever jars I have for the marmalade.

Mixed Citrus Marmalade

1 grapefruit

3 oranges

3 lemons

Sugar

Scrub the fruit, cut each in quarters, and remove the seeds. Slice very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit and juice and add 3 times the amount of water. Set aside and let the fruit soak for 12 hours. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Let stand again for 12 hours.

For every cup of fruit and juice, add ¾ cup sugar. Divide into two pots if you have them or cook one half at a time. Cook these ingredients until they reach 220-222 degrees F. on a food thermometer . It will seem like it takes a long time at first and then at the end it moves rapidly. If you don’t have a food thermometer, once you think it’s looking a little thicker, turn off the heat, put a little of the jelly on a china plate and put it in the freezer for a minute. If it firms up, it is ready. If it is still liquid, cook for a little while longer. It usually firms up a bit more once it cools in the jars.

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Ready for another challenge? It was a rainy winter this year in the Southwest which means lots of edible wild desert plants. You can find recipes for 23 of the  easiest to gather and the tastiest in my book Cooking the Wild Southwest available from Native Seeds/SEARCH and from on-line stores.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Browse and Bedeck with Desert’s Bounty–Mustards and more!

Meadows of bladderpod are carpeting Tucson’s West Side, parts of Avra Valley, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. Bare ground between creosote bushes has turned yellow! Enough for all!  (MABurgess photo)

How glorious!  We haven’t had a spring like this in the Sonoran Desert for so long!  With continuing rains, there’s such plenty around us that there is more than enough for all the pollinators, herbivores, insectivores, granivores, and omnivores that may wish to indulge in the wild-mustard smorgasbord–including two-leggeds.  We are drinking in–yea, indulging in–their beauty.  But we also can benefit from their phytonutrients and enjoy their spicy flavors.  Tia Marta here to share some fun ideas for including the “weeds” from the back-forty into your cuisine and your nutrition.   [As you know, I don’t really believe in weeds.  They all have purpose].

Dancing yellow Crucifers–Yellow Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordoni, members of the mustard family–are not only showy but edible too. Try them as a garnish or a spicy addition to salads. (MABurgess photo)

The name bladder pod refers to the spherical little fruit (seedpod) that looks like a tiny balloon with a divider down the middle, which forms after the 4-petaled flower is pollinated.

Yellow Bladderpod (aka Lesquerella gordoni) flowers gives your salad a wonderful little flavor-kick and a touch of beauty to boot. Nip off the very fresh tops of this wild mustard and toss it in with your favorite salad. (MABurgess photo)

Verbena gooddinggii–Goodding’s verbena–is forming lovely mounds of lavender in arroyos across the Sonoran Desert. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive. It also makes a fabulous landscape plant for xeriscape yards. Notice how the flowerless in each cluster turn from orchid to French blue after pollination. Try verbena as a garnish on any platter for a winsome look and edible addition. (MABurgess photo)

Lovely, fragrant Goodding’s Verbena makes a refreshing tea steeped for a few minutes. It has a hint of sweet on one part of the tongue and a little interesting bitterness on another. It’s as if flavor could be depicted as color! Pleasantly, verbena tea is a beautiful calming tea. It can safely mellow you out which is what tea-time should do for all–young and old! (MABurgess photo)

Peppergrass (Lepidium sp.) is not a grass at all! So what’s in a name? Well it is kinda spicy–I wouldn’t say peppery–just a gentle “bite.” It’s a delicate little mustard growing in profuse mounds and sprays this spring. You don’t usually notice it until you are up close. Check out the 2 bladder-pod flowers in the midst of the peppergrass seedpod stalks in this image. (MABurgess photo)

Peppergrass–another mustard family plant growing in plenty this spring–makes a zesty herbal addition to roast chicken (and other meats). It also makes an edible little garnish spray to liven up any platter. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta encourages you to go out and enjoy this amazing desert floral display.  You can visit special places like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or Tohono Chul Park to learn names of the flowers.  In natural places where you find meadows of mustards or verbena, know that they can provide you not only visual joy but also vitamins and minerals that only fresh greens can give.  Happy flower hunting!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

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