Posts Tagged With: American Indian Cooking

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Oh Yum! Tasty Mesquite Meal Enhances Pie Crust and Waffles

Bodie Robins offers a selection of delicious gluten-free baked goods at farmers markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

Bodie Robins offers a selection of delicious gluten-free baked goods at farmers markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

For thousands of years, mesquite pods were the primary food of people who lived on the Sonoran Desert. It’s Carolyn here today recalling that when I first started researching and experimenting with mesquite in 1972, hardly anybody was eating this sweet nutritious food. Although a few Tohono O’odham kept up with the old ways, it was on the verge of being forgotten.

Until recently,  it wasn’t easy to process mesquite pods. Early Native women made mesquite meal by pounding the pods in bedrock mortars. By the 1970s it hadn’t gotten much easier. But fortunately for all of us someone (I recall it was at the Desert Museum) figured that the pods could be crushed and sifted by a hammermill, a common piece of farm equipment. After some years, Desert Harvesters took up the challenge and offered to grind the pods of all comers for a modest fee. Getting a beautiful, smooth tasty flour was now easy. And the world of mesquite baking opened up.

Mesquite crust adds extra deliciousness to Big Skye's fruit pies.

Mesquite crust adds extra deliciousness to Big Skye’s sweet potato and fruit pies.

Bodie Robins of Big Skye Bakers is one of the folks who have brought mesquite baking into the twenty-first century selling mesquite baked goods at farmers’ markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

Bodie, an architectural designer, began baking with mesquite as therapy in 2008 when construction took a dive with the recession. His first experiment produced some dog biscuits that he shared with his neighbors. He decided there might be a future in mesquite baking when his neighbors admitted they were eating the dog biscuits themselves. With salsa!

Bodie took his product to a farmers’ market. But it turns out not enough people were willing to pay for high-end mesquite dog biscuits (many dogs are willing to just chew the pods, unbaked), so he began to experiment with other baked goods, trying various combinations of flours until he produced a version he liked.

Today he sells pies with mesquite crust, cookies, and cupcakes. Many of his customers are attracted by the gluten-free nature of Bodie’s mesquite pie crust. One very grateful middle-aged customer was thrilled to find a pie crust he could eat and told Bodie he hadn’t been able to eat pie since he was 15 years old.

Bodie entices his customers with a little table setting at his farmers market booth. Personally, I'm ready to dig right in.

Bodie entices his customers with a little table setting at his farmers market booth. Personally, I’m ready to dig right in.

A perfect loaf of gluten-free bread eluded Bodie until recently when extensive experimenting has finally led to a mixture of mesquite meal, brown rice flour, tapioca and sweet potato flour that turns out a delicious loaf.

“My customers are particular about the foods they buy and eat,” he says .  “They like to learn about mesquite. There’s a romance to it – an arts and crafts movement about food. I get everything from savvy young college kids to the elderly.”

Bodie gathers the mesquite pods he uses himself and has them ground at the Baja Arizona mill at the Sierra Vista farmers’ market. He goes through up to 200 pounds a year and if he runs out, he can grind a few pounds in his Vitamix. He produces his goods in his home kitchen under the home baker cottage industry law.

You can find Bodie and his Big Skye specialty baked goods at the Rillito Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m

Here’s a delicious recipe for waffles that Bodie developed. This recipe includes wheat flour, but if you are gluten sensitive, experiment with some other flours to find a mixture that works for you.

Mesquite waffles make a delicious breakfast or lunch.

Mesquite-Pecan waffles make a delicious breakfast or lunch.

Cinnamon-Pecan Mesquite Waffles

Ingredients

2 eggs separated

2 1/2 cups milk

¼ cup olive oil

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup mesquite meal

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

  1. Lightly oil and pre heat waffle iron.
  2. Separate eggs reserving the whites in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl mix egg yolks, milk and oil.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients together
  4. Add liquids to dry ingredients. Gently mix until smooth.
  5. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
  6. Fold in the egg whites to the waffle mix.
  7. Place 1/2 cup of batter onto hot waffle iron. Close lid. Bake until golden Repeat with remaining batter.

________________________________________________________________

Want more mesquite recipies? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. You can buy it at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store at 3061 North Campbell Avenue, in Tucson, or order it off the NSS website or from Barnes&Noble. If you need mesquite flour, buy it from Martha Burgess’s Flor de Mayo stand at the St. Phillip’s Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sundays or order it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Blog at WordPress.com.