heirloom crops

Yellow squash blossoms with blue corn

 

Hello all, Amy here with my two little summer squash plants growing in the garden. 

They’ve been flowering beautifully, but I’ve only eaten one patty pan. 

Each squash plant produces flowers that make pollen (male flowers) and flowers that make fruit (female flowers). Each flower only opens for one day. On that day insects (or a human with a tiny paint brush) pollinate from one flower to the next, from the same or different plants, resulting in the famous swelling summer squash. Without pollination, the little fruit withers and dries. Looking at the stem below the flower is the fastest way to determine a fruit or pollen producing flower. Since I don’t plan to save seed and both plants are of the same species, I’m mingling pollen from the pale green patty pans and the yellow patty pans. I won’t see the difference in this year’s crop. Often pollen producing flowers bloom days before any fruit bearing flowers appear, so those are fair game to eat. Unfortunately, I also had many days with only female flowers and no pollen! I did not have any cheese on hand to stuff them like Carolyn used in this recipe, but I did have some lovely heirloom blue corn meal.

 

 

After dipping in beaten egg, I dusted the blossoms (a few male flowers from my Tucson CSA share and the females from my garden) in the salted cornmeal.

I also sliced a yellow crookneck from the share and treated it the same.

Then into hot oil…

While that was going, I RAN out to find something fresh to garnish this crispy little dish.

 I found garlic chives, flat leaf parsley and a volunteer “wild” tomato I’ve been babying in a pot since last summer.

After a final sprinkling of sea salt, I ate it immediately, very hot! 

A delicate treat from the garden. There’s plenty of summer left to eat giant green baseball bats. 

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

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

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

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

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wonderful Winter-Squash!

It may not be intuitive that WINTER Squash refers to a number of fantastic SUMMER crops!  Many winter squashes (or pumpkins) are in the same genus Cucurbita.  They can be eaten fresh in their youthful softness in summertime.  If left on the vine to mature into autumn, the same bulbous fruit develops a sturdy, tough skin, “shell” or “rind” which  makes them into great “keepers” through the winter.  You can save one whole, without refrigeration, until a feast or potluck occasion calls you to open it up to serve a crowd.

A volunteer at Tucson’s Mission Garden at a fall harvest. Two of the “Three Sisters” (Chapalote corn and Magdalena Big Cheese Squash) were dry and ready to harvest.(MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share some creative ideas for serving winter squash–aka pumpkins.   The harvest of heirloom pumpkins at Tucson’s Mission Garden last fall was sumptuous and I purchased one of my favorites, Magdalena Big Cheese Squash.  It is so named because NativeSeedsSEARCH plant explorers were given it many decades ago by a farmer in Magdalena, Sonora, and its shape resembles an old-fashioned cheese-wheel.

A fresh Magdalena big cheese squash cut open, ready to seed–Visually savor the glorious orange flesh full of beta-carotenes.  Even better to savor its taste!
 (MABurgess photo)

Exercise care in cutting this huge pumpkin. It can be tough and requires a hefty knife. You can clean the seed to dry and save for next summer’s monsoon garden, or to share with the Pima County Public Library’s Seed Library. There are enough seeds inside to use some to toast with garlic oil and salt for a healthy, zinc-filled snack (especially good to eat for boosting the immune system in flu season).

It took two of us to cut wedges of it, one to stabilize the fat fruit keeping hands out of the way.  We shared chunks with several friends and relatives, and, unbeknownst to each other, each sent an email exclaiming how it was “truly the best squash I have EVER tasted!”  There couldn’t be better recommendations.

Simply steamed, chunks of Magdalena Big Cheese are a totally blissful experience. Here I dusted it with Spike spice-blend –but it really needs nothing –just eating!

For a down-home easy dish, try stir-frying slices of Magdalena Big Cheese with marinated tofu and other veggies, and serve over rice.

Stir-fried sliced Magdalena Big Cheese pumpkin with soy-sauce-marinated tofu, onion, and pea pods. Delish! Serve over rice. (MABurgess photo)

If you have leftovers, or if you want to serve a more exotic dish, you can curry your steamed or roasted squash, mashing with curry powder, salt and pepper to taste, then serving it with side “boys” to complement the curry.  I place little bowls of crystalized ginger, TJ’s blistered peanuts, dried currants, grated coconut, and banana slices for guests to bedeck their curry with.

Curried Magdalena Big Cheese squash with garnishes of peanut, mint leaf, crystal ginger, raisins, and banana. (MABurgess photo)

I don’t just cook winter squashes.  They are so sculptural that I have to document them–to paint them!  You are cordially invited to see my squash and gourd watercolors displayed next weekend at our Flor de Mayo StudioSaturday and Sunday, February 8 and 9, 2020–at our ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR on Tucson’s West Side.  See the ArtTrails website for a map to Flor de Mayo Studio (also showing photographer Rod Mondt’s nature images).

Shapely Dine Cushaw –a big-as-life watercolor by MA Burgess–Join us for the ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR Sat-Sun Feb.8-9 to see more!

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosie Bravo’s Chimichangas

Hello, Amy here. Once I lived next door to Rosie, who made food that her husband Arturo peddled in the neighborhood. She made Sonoran classics including tamales de res, THE BEST tamales de elote, Mexican interpretations of Chinese food (for parties), and her own creations. One of Rosie’s creations was a spicy bean burrito, wrapped in bacon and fried, served with her own salsa roja.

Inspired by Sonoran Hot Dogs wrapped in bacon, she had no name for this delicious lunch, but it seems to me to classify as a chimichanga. The chimichanga has a few often sited origin stories, but it is a logical thing to fry stuffed flour tortillas just like you do corn tortillas!

 

To replicate Rosie’s dish, I started with Mano y Metate Adobo Powder. I cooked a couple tablespoons of powder in a splash of grape seed oil until it got bubbly and slightly brown.

 

Then I added a couple cups of cooked pinto beans and their cooking liquid. (Yes, these were from the freezer.) Of course, any bean would be delicious.

I let them defrost and reduced the liquid until it was almost dry. Then I mashed the beans by hand.

I heated a big wheat flour tortilla in by biggest pan JUST until pliable, an important step in making any burrito. Skipping this step makes for cracked, loosely rolled burritos. That is never good, but for this project would be a disaster.

The beans have to be spread pretty thinly, because these are only rolled without folding the ends, and because they have to be sturdy enough to fry.

Then a strip of bacon (or two) are wrapped around the burrito and fastened with toothpicks. (Yes, you could totally just fry the burrito without the bacon!)

Fry until golden and crispy. I had to add a little splash of oil to the pan, but by no means was it deep fried. Simply roll the chimichanga to brown on all sides. The bacon shrinks and attaches firmly to the tortilla as it cooks. If you started with a good flour tortilla, it might shed flakes of crispy dough, so handle gently.

I suggest eating immediately. (Yes, before you cook the next one.) Rosie used to pack each in small brown paper bag, to keep them crispy. But they are still wonderful at room temperature. ¡Buen Provecho!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Chile poblano and pomegranate season: Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

Hello all, Amy here. Every year in the late summer or early fall, I end up with pomegranates and fresh green poblano chiles at the same moment, and need to make Chiles en Nogada. The huge, green (but this time blushing red!) poblano chiles were from Tucson CSA/Crooked Sky Farms and a CSA member brought in the pomegranates from their bush at home.

There are many filling options for chiles rellenos (singular: chile relleno) but I love a traditional picadillo for this dish. I started by cooking ground pork with onion, garlic, and whole cumin. But beef, or a mix of the two, is good, too.

Then I spiced the meat with ground coriander seed, cinnamon, Mexican oregano, tomato, raisins, slivered almonds and green olives.

Charring fresh chiles over an open flame smells so wonderful! After evenly blackening the chiles, place them in a paper bag or saucepan with a lid as they cool and sweat off their skins. Peel without rinsing, as few pieces of skin are not worth watering down the chile’s flavor. While I was already making a mess on the stove top, I roasted a few chiles for other projects. Of course any chile or bell pepper could be used with this filling, so use what you have. Chile poblano, to some people at least, is the fresh version of chile ancho. I always add a disclaimer since chile nomenclature varies, and different chiles get different names and some names are used for different chiles!

Slit each chile and remove the core and seeds while keeping the stem and the rest of the chile as intact as possible. Stuff the chile with the meat.

For the sauce, soak about one cup walnuts in water.

Then drain and liquify in a blender with about one cup Mexican crema or sour cream and half a pound of queso fresco.

Salt to taste and adjust with a little water or more cheese or nuts to taste. Make plenty of this cooling sauce in case one of the chiles is very spicy! Top with sauce immediately before eating and garnish with plenty of pomegranate arils (seeds).

Unlike the fried version, this dish is great served hot, warm or room temperature, which it makes is good to serve a crowd. Another time I’ll post my great grandmother’s battered and fried version that is famous for a reason, but they need to be eaten as they are made. Also, when you have pomegranates, make this one. !Buen provecho!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, fruit, heirloom crops, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Amaranth for Alegría

Special for Savor the Southwest, Sept 2018

Jacqueline Soule here to close National Honey Month with a sweet way to use honey plus a summer growing plant – amaranth.  This article also tells how to make a treat for Dia de Muertos.
Amaranthus flowers by hardyplants wiki CfreeAmaranth is famed as one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, but it was used by many other people around the globe, including here in the Pimería Alta. Amaranth was and still is popular throughout Mexico for a number of drinks and foods. The greens can be used in a number of ways (as the Backyard Forager mentions), and so can the seeds.  To this day, amaranth seeds are popped much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or other syrup to make a treat called alegría, which means joy in Spanish.

amaranth 1112988_1280

Popping Amaranth for Alegría
Easiest is to purchase puffed amaranth cereal, but if you’ve grown your own seed, or foraged for wild seed, you will have to pop your own.
* The trick to popping amaranth seed is a cast iron skillet or wok with a tight-fitting lid.
* Heat the lightly oiled pan nice and hot.
* When you think the pan is hot enough, add one single tablespoon of amaranth and close the lid immediately. If it doesn’t start popping, your pan wasn’t hot enough.
* Within a minute of adding the tiny amaranth seeds, the popping will slow down. Swirl the pan a little to pop any un-popped seeds.
* Once the popping dies down, quickly shake the puffed amaranth into a bowl, and then make more.
* Oil the pan as needed, and repeat this process until you have enough popped seeds (2 cups for this recipe).  Don’t be tempted to add too much seed at one time, or you’ll end up with too many un-popped seeds.

cast iron pan 2202193_1280

Traditional Alegría
A very enjoyable gluten-free treat.
2 cups popped amaranth
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons light molasses or dark corn syrup (or more honey)
3 tablespoons butter

honey 1970592_1280

* Combine honey, molasses and butter in a large saucepan or skillet; bring slowly to a boil.

* Cook over medium heat five to seven minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture turns golden brown and becomes thick and sticky. I have never used a candy thermometer, but I estimate this mixture will be 325 degrees or more.

* Remove from heat and add the popped amaranth. Stir until amaranth is coated with the syrup.

* Transfer to 9 X 9 or 9 X 13 inch pan that has been lined with parchment or waxed paper. Or just pour it out on a cooled marble slab (not wood, it will stick). Gently push mixture into corners of pan – NOT with your fingers, it is hot! use a spatula or wooden spoon.

* Let cool, then cut into bars.

* Alternatively, when it is cooled but not set, place in sugar skull molds to make the ancient Dia de Muertos skulls.

Amaranth Día de muertos by A Yang Wiki CC3.0

Somewhat traditional Dia de Muertos skulls. Photo by A. Yang.

To learn more about Dia de Muertos, come by my free lecture at the Main Library at noon on October 30.

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 be signing copies of my books, including Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol, $14.95).
© 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: Beekeeping, heirloom crops, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: | 1 Comment

Summer fruit: pickled figs, grape salad

Hi, Amy here today, giddy with a pile of fresh figs and fresh grapes! The Black Mission figs are from a very old tree in my mom’s yard.

My mom dries them in a hot car and freezes them to preserve. This year I decided to try pickling some. I poured about one cup red wine vinegar into a pan, along with two tablespoons sugar and a teaspoon salt. Then I tossed in about a dozen fresh but firm figs and brought them to a simmer. I’m sure honey instead of sugar is fine, and any vinegar would work as well. You could add more or less sweet or salt to suit your taste. Quick pickles are as forgiving as they are delicious.

After simmering for a few minutes, I let them cool in the liquid. I refrigerated the figs and brine together, where they softened and darkened a little more. Perfect.

A few days later, a friend shared some seedless grapes from her garden. Amazing!!!! You can see some turning to raisins on the vine.

For a fresh, light meal, I put stemmed grapes with some tart Greek yogurt.

I sprinkled some sea salt thyme blend and called it a salad. Of course, any salt and herbs would be wonderful here.

For a sandwich, I spread Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese with herbs on a slice of Barrio Bread whole wheat levain (both from Tucson CSA) and topped with halved figs. Dinner to eat while watching the clouds and sunset.

Here’s to hoping for more summer rains in the desert!

Categories: Cooking, fruit, heirloom crops, herbs, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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