Chad’s Sky Island Spice Company

Chad Borseth sells his wild-crafted products from his website and at farmers’ markets.

Chad Borseth grew up in rural Southern Arizona, roaming the hills, learning about the plants, picking up clues to what was edible, such as mesquite and Emory acorns. This past January, he started Sky Island Spice Company to introduce others to some of the flavors unique to the Sonoran Desert.  It’s Carolyn here today to introduce you to another of the small entrepreneurs who are sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for local desert products.

One of Chad’s products is solar-evaporated Sonoran Sea Salt. “It’s got a unique blend of minerals,” he says, “and lower sodium. But it’s high in magnesium and potassium. It also has a different mouthfeel.”  People who like to rim their margarita glasses with salt, will go for his  prickly pear and lime salt.

The solar-evaporated salt from the Sea of Cortez is infused with prickly pear juice and lime juice.

Because of the nature of wild supplies (that would be Mother Nature), Chad’s stock varies with the season. Through the year he will have granola made with acorns and mesquite, hot cocoa mix made with cacao and powdered mushrooms, and something he calls “nopaliditos,” salt-cured nopal or prickly pear pads. They are reminiscent of the saladitos beloved of Tucson kids. He adds flavor to our native chiltepines by smoking them over mesquite. Chad doesn’t confine himself to the desert; summer finds him in the pine forests looking for mushrooms and plants that grow in the higher altitudes. (No worries about the mushrooms–they are for his own use. The mushrooms in his products come from reliable commercial sources.)

Fiery hot chiltepines picking up flavor over mesquite coals.

Those with adventurous palates who are willing to be surprised (pleasantly), can sign up for the Sky Island Spice Company subscription box. At this point, Chad is limiting the subscriptions to just fifteen customers. Every month they will receive a box of three special items not in the regular stock. That might include such items as cookies or wildflower tea. The July box included syrup made from manzanita blossoms.

You can find Chad’s products on the web at Sky Island Spice Company or on Facebook.

Here’s an easy recipe to use Chad’s smoked chiltepins. It is from my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. The combination of chile and chocolate is a favorite of mine and adding the smokiness of both the smoked chiltepins and the chipotle chiles adds a sophisticated taste. Of course, you can add the chiles to your own homemade ice cream, but if time is short, a good quality commercial ice cream works fine.

Easy Chocolate-Chile Ice Cream

1/2 gallon commercial chocolate ice cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried and crushed chiltepins, seeds removed

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles

Transfer the ice cream from the carton in large clumps and transfer to a flat baking pan to soften evenly. (If you try to soften it in the carton, the outside will get too soft while the inside stays hard.)

Meanwhile, crush the chiltepins in a small mortar, removing the seeds. Sprinkle the crushed chiltepins and the ground chipotle chiles over the ice cream and stir to combine. Repack into the carton or transfer into a bowl and refreeze.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the foods and people of the Southwest. She has just completed a book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It will be published by the University of Arizona Press in the fall of 2020. Find her books on her website.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beat the Heat with Mesquite Treats!

Naturally sweet solar-oven baked mesquite peanut butter cookies are easy and fun! (MABurgess photo)

It’s blasting HOT outside!  Dry mesquite pods are rattling and falling off the trees!  It’s mesquite harvest time–so gather them quick before they take on any monsoon moisture.

Even in this heat my sweetie wants a dessert and can’t stand store-bought stuff.  OK, I got the solar oven out preheating in the sun.  I’ll bake some old time peanut butter cookies this time with a Southwestern twist–with mesquite!  (And, we’ll keep the heat out of the kitchen.)

For mesquite peanut butter cookies, in addition to mesquite meal you’ll need:  butter, brown sugar, vanilla, flour, baking soda, chunky peanut butter, and honey. Amaranth flour is a great option available at Safeway, Sprouts, WholeFoods, and NaturalGrocers.

Add crunchy peanut butter to creamed butter/honey/brown sugar, beat in egg and vanilla….Then stir in sifted flour mixture to make cookie dough….

Tia Marta here to share a quick and easy mesquite cookie recipe.  No problem–If you don’t mill your own mesquite pods you can find fresh LOCAL mesquite meal at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store .

 

MUFF’S MESQUITE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE RECIPE:

Preheat solar oven (or indoor oven) to 375 degreesF.

Beat until creamy:  1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup local honey, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

Beat in:  1 egg, 1/2 – 3/4 cup chunky organic peanut butter,1 tsp vanilla

Sift together:  1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4-1/2 cup mesquite meal (optional–substitute 1/4 cup amaranth flour for 1/4 cup of other flour), 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda

Stir dry ingredients into moist ingredients for dough.  Roll dough into 1″ balls.  Put on cookie sheet and press with fork. (see photo–Who knows where these traditional patterns come from?  Different cultures have different patterns for peanut butter.  Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking shows a linear pattern from her German tradition.)

Bake:  about 12minutes in conventional oven OR about 20 minutes in solar oven–until done.

Make small balls of cookie dough and roll each in mesquite meal….

On cookie sheet, press each ball of dusted cookie dough with fork in criss-cross pattern….ready to bake….

Preheat solar oven to around 350-375 degrees, then bake about 20 minutes (depending on the sun’s intensity) or until done. The sweet bouquet of cookie-bliss will let you know they are ready! (MABurgess photo)

My “serving suggestion” is to enjoy mesquite peanut butter cookies any time–especially with GOV (good old vanilla) ice cream or an ice-cold glass of tea on a hot day! (MABurgess)

Now here’s another quickie cool and refreshing mesquite treat, if you don’t have time to bake, but using similar ingredients.  It’s a Mesquite Peanut Butter Malted Milkshake— ready in a jiffy:

For a fast cool-down treat, blender up a mesquite peanut butter malted milkshake! You’ll have a meal-in-a-glass in no time–full of complex carbs, calcium, protein, and renewal! (MABurgess photo)

Muff’s Mesquite Peanut Butter Milkshake RECIPE:

In blender mix:

2 cups 1% organic milk (or optional rice, almond or soy milk OR frozen RiceDream)

1 Tbsp. mesquite meal

1/4 cup organic agave “nectar” or syrup

1/2 cup organic chunky peanut butter

2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 Tbsp Mexican vanilla)

1 Tbsp Carnation dry malted milk (optional)

a few chunks of ice

Blender the mix until frothy and serve in chilled glass.  Enjoy the rich nutrition and sweet refreshment of this mesquite meal-in-a-glass!

Carob powder is ground from the pods of a Near-Eastern bean tree, like an Eastern “sister” of mesquite with many similar nutritional components.  For a super-tasty cool shake that satisfies all the food groups (except chocolate!) and helps chill a summer day, add 1/4 cup carob powder to your blender mix.

Add carob as you blender your mesquite peanut butter shake and voila you’re transported into the gourmet snack dimension! (MABurgess photo)

Check out the Iskashitaa Refugee Network to see if they have carob available currently.  And find wonderful local mesquite flour ready for cooking at NativeSeedsSEARCH, (3061 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson; 520-622-5561), along with great mesquite recipe books by DesertHarvesters.org.   Find Freddie Terry, the Singing Beekeeper, with superior local honey at the Rillito Park Farmers Market Sundays.  To order your own Solar Oven, check out www.flordemayoarts.com or contact 520-907-9471 to locate good used solar ovens.

Let’s adapt to heat with these low-tech tools, desert foods, and recipes.  Enjoy the monsoons and happy eating with local mesquite!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Brown Goddess Dressing; Copycat Recipe?

Brown Goddess Dressing!!!! A mole vinaigrette over a cucumber salad with mint and candied pepitas!!!!!


Long a fan of salad on the same plate next to a mole-sauced entree, the idea of a mole vinaigrette sounded familiar and spectacular. I came across a 2017 article mentioning this salad from a restaurant named Lalito, opened by chef Gerardo Gonzalez in New York. The restaurant is still there but Chef Gonzalez is not, and there’s no sign of any Brown Goddess Cucumber Salad, or anything else with the dressing on their current menu posted online. Not ever eating there myself, who knows.

With no further direction, I attempted Mole Dulce candied pepitas. I started with a cup of pumpkin seeds dry toasting in a pan on medium heat.

After they darkened and smelled toasty, I added a tablespoon Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder, a tablespoon sugar and a half teaspoon salt.

Stirring, I added a couple tablespoons of water and cooked until sticky and glossy. Then I transferred to a plate to cool.

For the Brown Goddess Mole Vinaigrette, I used the same skillet to cook a tablespoon Mole Dulce powder in a tablespoon of mild oil (grape seed) over medium heat.

When it was a fragrant paste, I added a tablespoon white wine vinegar and cooled completely.

I tossed two small sliced cucumbers into the room temperature pan, topped with tiny spearmint leaves and few candied pepitas.

After taking a photo and eating some, I sliced the third (slightly opaque from my too cold fridge) cucumber, and remixed all. Topped with the rest of the mint leaves and a handful of pepitas, it was a great little summer meal.

Categories: Cooking, herbs, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raspados-A Sonoran Summer Treat

                  Summer fruit perfect for a raspado.

We’re heading into deep summer here in Southern Arizona. Days typically top 100 degrees. It’s perfect time for a raspado.  Raspados are sweet, creamy, fruity, sometimes a little salty, and always very cold. They are a cross between a Snow Cone, a slushie, and a fruit sundae. Perfect to cool you down from the inside out on a Tucson summer day. Since there is usually plenty of fruit, you could call it lunch.

A raspado from a shop that puts the ice cream on top with fruit layered between crushed ice.

The raspados that hail from Sonora are found throughout Southern Arizona and other spots where Mexican culture florishes. Similar treats appear throughout the tropical world, differing in detail from country to country.

The typical prep steps of the Sonoran style raspados are simple,  but they vary from shop to shop. In general, it is a layer of shaved or finely crushed ice, then fruit in syrup,  then the layers are repeated. A topping of  sweetened condensed milk trickles down. Canned Mexican crema can be used instead of the condensed milk. Sometimes vanilla ice cream is the final layer. Or the ice cream could be added halfway up. Typical fruits are fresh strawberries or peaches. Go tropical with mango, coconut, or pineapple. Then there can be nuts or chile in some form. If you followed Tia Marta’s suggestion for gathering saguaro fruit, you could add some of that for a special regional flavor.

My raspado with the ice cream in the middle, and more fruit on top.

The fancier raspados called Macedonias include several fruits and more creaminess.  Obviously, you’ll have to explore for yourself! Be bold with the flavors. There’s no way you can go wrong.

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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.

 

Categories: fruit, Mexican Food, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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.

 

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

“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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Raspberry Beet Stem Turnovers

Amy here today, with beautiful red beets! You know, beet stems look like rhubarb…what if…

I had beets from Tucson CSA and from a friend’s garden. There are plenty of beet root dishes I make, like roasted beet salads, pickled or fermented beets, and borscht. Also, I LOVE cooked beet greens, with their salty, mineral character, sautéed in olive oil and garlic or many other ways. I usually chop the stems and cook along with the leaves, but they have a different texture and make the dish more red than green. Like in beans simmered with greens, or in a quiche, I want less of that hue. What to do with extra beet stems? Since they look like rhubarb, would they work as a substitute????


Rhubarb, and wild desert rhubarb (See Tia Marta’s desert rhubarb upside down cake and pie on this blog) are much more tart that beet stems, so I could add lemon. Strawberries are the classic pair with rhubarb, but raspberries have the tartness I wanted. I harvested wild raspberries in the mountains last summer for the freezer, but they were long gone. A little carton of raspberries from the store had the same volume as the chopped beet stems I had, so that’s what I used.


I simmered the beet stems, raspberries, a lot of lemon juice and zest, sugar and a shot of vanilla, then thickened with cornstarch. A delicious compote. It totally worked!!!!!
There wasn’t enough to fill a pie plate, so I made a few turnovers.


A simple short pastry: butter cut into all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, a bit of cold water to make it come together, and refrigerated until firm.

After dividing the dough into 8 balls, I rolled one thinly. Then filled with the compote, moistened the edges with water and folded. On ungreased parchment paper, I crimped, poked steam vents, wet the tops with water and sprinkled with sugar. Maybe next time they’ll get egg wash or fancy sugar.


At 425 degrees F they took 20 minutes to get golden brown top and bottom.


They came out flakey, tart, and beautiful color. Don’t waste those beet stems!

Raspberry and Beet Stem Turnovers

by Amy Valdés Schwemm

Filling:

1 cup red beet stems, chopped

1 cup red raspberries

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Pastry:

1 cup all purpose flour

5 tablespoons cold butter

dash of salt, if using unsalted butter

1/3 cup cold water

 

Cut butter (and salt if using unsalted butter) into flour to make uneven crumbs. Add water to make a dough, form a ball and refrigerate until firm.

Simmer the beet stems with sugar and lemon juice until tender. Add raspberries and lemon zest, and cook until reduced and the raspberries fall apart. Mix the cornstarch in a tablespoon of water, add to the pan and cook until clear and thickened. Stir in vanilla and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Divide the dough into 8 balls. Roll one ball into a thin circle and fill with two tablespoons of the compote. Moisten the edges with water and fold. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; no need to grease. Crimp the edges with a fork or fingers and poke steam vents in the top with a fork or knife. When all are formed, wet the tops with water or a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, top and bottom.

Enjoy!

Categories: Cooking, fruit, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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