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….