Sweet Roasted Mesquite for a Happy Valentine’s

Valentine's Roasted Mesquite and Heirloom White Sonora Wheat Oatmeal Cookies

Valentine’s Roasted Mesquite and Heirloom White Sonora Wheat Oatmeal Cookies


[If only this were a scratch-and-sniff site….]

‘Tis the season for the sweetest, rarest, and heart-healthy mesquite treat of the whole year– Roasted Mesquite! During this relatively cool and occasionally soppy “wintery” weather, stored mesquite pods, which may have drawn in moisture from the humid air since harvesting last summer, can be roasted or toasted for ease of milling into a fine meal. The result is a transformation into something even sweeter than the already-yummy natural raw mesquite meal.



Tia Marta here to introduce you to Roasted Mesquite and to share some creative ideas for celebrating Valentine’s (and beyond).


When mesquite pods are roasted, their complex sugars burst with an almost chocolat-y bouquet. Roasted mesquite has hints of its “botanical cousin,” the carob, from the Near East (known as Saint John’s Bread in the Bible, as it fed St. John so well through his desert wilderness retreat). Those soluble complex carbohydrates that make mesquite such a heart-healthy food–giving sustained energy, helping with cholesterol, balancing blood sugar—come flavorfully to the fore when mesquite is roasted. Take note: all fitness fans, hypoglycemics, diabetic and gluten-free cooks! Roasted mesquite is a super booster-food especially for you. Its complex sweetness and its nutrition make it a gift for everyone you love.

Comparing roasted mesquite flour and natural raw mesquite flour (MABurgess photo)

Comparing roasted mesquite flour and natural raw mesquite flour (MABurgess photo)

You can use roasted mesquite meal in so many ways. In addition to baking with it, the distinctive aroma and richness puts it into the category of seasoning or spice. Shake roasted mesquite through a big-holed spice shaker to jazz up bland dishes or for sprinkling atop coffeecakes, muffins, sundaes, custards, frapaccinos, salads….Yum, it is waiting for your inventions. I make a little mix of garlic powder, sea salt, and roasted mesquite meal, then put the combo in a shaker and keep it handy by the stove or on the table to sprinkle on about everything. Try it on your steamed greens or in quinoa. When corn-on-the-cob season rolls around, there isn’t anything better than my roasted mesquite salt dusted on it. (Mesquite orchardist and agriculturalist Mark Moody will have fresh corn with roasted mesquite at Flagstaff farmers markets this summer—don’t miss it.)

Add a tablespoon of roasted mesquite meal to any hot cereal. It does wonders for oatmeal. Mesquite is the tastiest of all nutritional supplements. Whatever you add it to, you know you are boosting flavor and nutrition—making hearts happier!

Taste the glorious nutrition of a roasted mesquite and berry smoothie! (MABurgess photo)

Taste the glorious nutrition of a roasted mesquite and red berry smoothie! (MABurgess photo)

Try this delectable and easy Desert Delight–Roasted Mesquite & Red Berry Smoothieso colorful it can make breakfast into a Valentine’s feast. So rich it can be a Valentine’s dessert served with a spoon. (You can double or triple this recipe for company):

Presoak: 1 Tablespoon chia seed in 1 Cup organic apple juice for a few minutes.

In a blender, mix:

1 cup organic plain or vanilla non-fat yogurt.

2 Tbsp. Roasted Velvet Mesquite Meal*

1 cup frozen raspberries or blueberries

2 Tbsp. prickly pear juice or nectar

your pre-soaked applejuice-chia mix

½ or whole ripe banana

1 Tbsp agave nectar (optional as desired for more sweetness)

A few ice cubes (optional as needed for chill or dilution)

Blend on medium ½ minute until smoothie is gloriously pink. Serve in parfait glass with a thin sprinkle of chia seed or pinch of roasted mesquite meal on top as a garni.

Valentine's gluten-free roasted mesquite/almond coffeecake (MABurgess photo)

Valentine’s gluten-free roasted mesquite/almond coffeecake (MABurgess photo)

Ingredients for gluten-free roasted mesquite and almond coffeecake looks like an ad for Bob's Red Mill

Ingredients for gluten-free roasted mesquite and almond coffeecake looks like an ad for Bob’s Red Mill

And here’s a wonderful gluten-free recipe to share with wheat-sensitive friends:

Muff’s Gluten-Free Roasted Mesquite/Almond CoffeeCake:

(This is a heavier cake that sometimes turns out more like an energy bar when sliced.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or butter an 8×8” pyrex baking dish and dust with rice flour.

Sift together:

½ cup Roasted Velvet Mesquite Meal*

¾ cup organic brown rice flour and/or amaranth flour

½ cup almond meal

¼ cup tapioca flour

2 tsp guar gum or locust bean gum (for leavening)

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp sea salt

Mix In:

¼ cup agave nectar

¼ cup canola or other cooking oil

¾ cup soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk

Beat separately then add in:

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

Pour into baking dish. Bake 25-35 minutes or more until cake tests done. Serve with thanks to the nutritious bean trees of the desert!

Roasted mesquite cookies in valentine iron pan

Roasted mesquite cookies in valentine iron pan

Roasted mesquite cherry oatmeal cookies

Roasted mesquite heirloom wheat & cherry oatmeal cookies

Now for a relatively “healthy” cookie try this celebration treat with roasted mesquite—

Muff’s Roasted Mesquite & White Sonora Wheat Valentine Oatmeal Cookies (with pinyones and dried red cherries to honor George Washington’s birthday too)—a great cookie for any time of year.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together: 1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter softened, ½ cup organic brown sugar firmly packed, and ½ cup organic white sugar

Beat in and mix until creamy: 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl, sift together: 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 cup organic White Sonora Wheat flour**, and ½ cup Roasted native velvet Mesquite Meal*

Mix dry ingredients with moist ingredients until smooth.

Add, and mix in: 2-3 cups quick oatmeal (uncooked), ¼-1/2 cup pine nuts (pinyones) shelled, and ¾ cup dry cherries or dry cranberries.

Onto a well-greased cookie sheet, drop 1-tsp glops of cookie dough well-spaced. (You could use a heart-shaped mold or heart cookie cutter.) Press a dry cherry on top of each glop for décor.

Bake 10-12 minutes until barely golden brown, and enjoy the festive desert flavor of roasted mesquite with your Valentine!

Roasted Mesquite and Heirloom White Sonora Wheat Oatmeal cookies droozled with prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Roasted Mesquite and Heirloom White Sonora Wheat Oatmeal cookies droozled with prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

*For purchasing Roasted Mesquite Meal–seek and ye shall find. There are only a few places where you can source this seasonal culinary treasure, if you are not roasting and milling it yourself! Find it at the wonderful NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N. Campbell Ave, Tucson, www.nativeseeds.org). Our roasted mesquite is from native Arizona velvet mesquite, Prosopis velutina, grown and milled with the highest standards. For tastes, visit the Flor de Mayo booth on Sundays at St.Phillips Farmers Market (SE corner River Rd and Campbell Ave), or order at www.flordemayoarts.com via PayPal. It is also online at www.mesquiteflour.com and from the Prickly Pops booth at Thursday Santa Cruz Farmers Market.

**The special local ingredient for the cookie recipe above, heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour, is available at two Tucson locations. Several different grinds of Hayden Flour Mills’ heirloom flour is at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store. For super-fresh-milled “live” White Sonora flour, from local, certified organic whole grain grown by BKWFarms, you can contact Tia Marta by phone or email by the Friday before pick-up at Sunday’s St Phillips Farmers Market, along with the roasted mesquite meal.

For more ideas on how to cook with mesquite—roasted or natural–check out the recipe book Eat Mesquite! published by www.desertharvesters.org, and available at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store. Visit www.bajaaz.org, the website of Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture, for more mesquite details.

Newcomers as well as confirmed “desert rats” can see the actual plants which produce the local ingredients of our Valentine Cookies—mesquite trees and heirloom White Sonora Wheat growing at our special Baja Arizona parks. See and appreciate them in their winter-spring glory at the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Mission Garden (base of A-Mountain, Saturdays), at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and in the ethnobotanical garden at Tohono Chul Park.

Enjoying roasted mesquite treats is indeed another way of rejoicing in the desert’s natural bounty, and of supporting appropriate, sustainable desert agriculture. Happy Valentine’s, and may your heart be happy cooking with roasted mesquite!—from Tia Marta and Rod at www.flordemayoarts.com.



More Ideas for Wild Dates in Borderlands Towns

Washingtonia filifera near UA main gate (R.Mondt photo)

Our native fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, near UA main gate.  Original seed from Arizona’s KOFA Mountains.   (R.Mondt photo)

Yes, we can delight in the most fabulous wild dates right here in Baja Arizona. We don’t have to put out lots of energy into finding these tasty little morsels because they are now all over the urban landscape. Once, in olden times, they were confined to oases, but now they line every old neighborhood street in low-desert towns. Harvest at the right time and enjoy their bounty.

Our Native Fan Palm Washingtonia filifera, UA photo (Note the stout trunk)

Our Native Fan Palm Washingtonia filifera, UA photo (Note the stout trunk)

Tia Marta here to continue our culinary explorations of native fan palm fruit. Our street sentinels are more than vertical shade.  They bear other surprising gifts. Our so called California fan palms (“palma taco”) offer tiny sweet and plentiful fruits (the size of a plump pea), and were harvested and relished by Native People of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts long before Hispanics brought date palms (the pinnate-leafed palms) from the Old World.

Washingtonia robusta in a S.Tucson landscape

Washingtonia robusta planted in a S.Tucson landscape

When ripe in summer into fall, zillions of fruits hang from pendulous stalks of Washingtonia filifera, with 20 pounds or more of the little buggers in one cluster—talk about prolific! As mentioned in my blog-sister’s post two weeks ago, Carolyn and I were challenged by renowned ethnobotanist Dr Richard Felger to try our hands at creating some “contemporary” recipes for this ancient and well-adapted desert food—which is now disregarded as nothing more than a columnar street planting. We know from ethnographic accounts (see them summarized in Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert, UA Press, 2001) that for the Native Cahuilla of Southern California, the fan palm meant survival—a staple in their diet, used both fresh or dried and ground, hard seeds and all, into a flour for cooking or griddling. Another ethnobiologist friend Dr. Amadeo Rea (1997) documented Pima children collecting fan palm fruits as snacks. Dr. Felger intends now to bring this native palm back into new, appropriate use as a sustainable desert food crop.

Fruits newly harvested from the California fan palm Washingtonia filifera (MABurgess photo)

Fruits newly harvested from the California fan palm Washingtonia filifera (MABurgess photo)

Washingtonia fruit is mostly seed, but the small amount of pulp has a group impact (MABurgess photo)

Washingtonia fruit is mostly seed, but the small amount of pulp has an impact in numbers (MABurgess photo)

Harvesting the high hanging fruit clusters proves challenging. Native harvesters used a lasso. More recently some harvesters fit a sharp can lid to the end of a pole to cut off the entire fruit stalk. A Tohono O’odham saguaro harvesting kuipaD might suffice—or a long-poled tree-trimmer—both worth a try.


In addition to their success as hot-desert food producers, both fan palms native to southwest North America, Washingtonia filifera (the stout, shorter one) and W.robusta (the super-tall, spindlier one), provide excellent nutrition. It has been estimated that one fan palm’s fruit could sustain one human’s nutritional needs for more than 200 days! Get a load of these figures from James W. Cornett (Principles Jour.Internat.PalmSociety,1987):  Protein 3.1%, Carbs 77.7%, Fiber 10.4%, Calcium 110 mg per 100g, VitaminA(Carotenes) 180mg per 100g.  Comparing these wild date nutritional figures with the commercial date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), our wild fan palm is way ahead on all counts except carbs (carbs 94.1% in standard dates).

Washed and drained fruits of Washingtonia filifera ready for snacking! (MABurgess photo)

Washed and drained fruits of Washingtonia filifera in Tarahumara sifting basket, ready for snacking! (MABurgess photo)

Since the fruits of W.robusta (the tall one) are even tinier than W.filifera, I chose to do my foodie experiments with the latter one’s “bigger” datelets–both small.  Fruits of both are mostly seed, a stony seed surrounded by a thin layer of sweet skin and dry, date-like pulp. Here are two fun ideas I’ve come up with for using fan palm fruits, which can be done easily in any kitchen or patio. These ideas also might present interesting potential for commercial-scale food production. (I hope our wonderful local companies like Cheri’s Desert Harvest are listening to the significance herein!)                 So, here’s my first idea–really in three delicious parts:

Simmering fan palm fruits

Simmering fan palm fruitsSolar Fan Palm Syrup, Datil Molasses, or Datil Candy



Wash thoroughly and drain 4 cups desert fan palm fruits. Place in a saucepan with 8 cups drinking water to cover fruit well. On stove-top, gently simmer the fruits for at least 30 minutes, (if using solar oven, make it 1 hour). Add more drinking water to keep fruits covered. Let cool and stand in refrig for 1-3 days. This process is bringing out the complex sugars into solution. Again, when you have a little time, bring back to simmer 15-20 minutes. Taste the liquid. It should be deliciously sweet with a rich, almost smokey bouquet—but still thin. With a sieve, decant the sweet liquid from the cooked fruits, saving the fruits aside.

After sieving out the simmered fruit, the liquid is being concentrated in a solar oven with oven cover slightly open to release moisture (MABurgess photo)

After sieving out the simmered fruit, the liquid is being concentrated in a solar oven with oven cover slightly open to release moisture (MABurgess photo

[Here is where my experience reducing thin saguaro fruit juice kicked in. I knew that this thin, sweet liquid from the fan palm dates had to be cooked down slowly.]

Pour the juice into a solar-oven-worthy pan and put in preheated solar oven—without a lid on the pan. Let the glass cover of the oven be slightly open to allow steam/moisture to escape. Check after 15 minutes. If syrup is desired, check for correct syrup consistency.  Keep heating until thickened to pourable syrup.  Then, try this wonderful and healthful solar syrup over mesquite pancakes for the ultimate Southwestern breakfast!

Concentrated Solar Fan Palm Syrup--nothing added--just water and fan palm fruit!  (MABurgess)

Concentrated Solar Fan Palm Syrup–nothing added–just water and fan palm fruit!  Come taste it at the StPhil’s farmers market!(MABurgess)




With more time and further moisture reduction, there are more delicious options….. Here’s one:  For the best, richest “Datil Molasses” you ever tasted, let the liquid cook down for another 45 minutes or an hour (depending on sun intensity).  Be careful not to overcook, which might leave a sweet glue on the bottom of your pan. (The same reduction of liquid can be done of course on the stove-top or over a fire, like reducing maple sap, but hey, this is a desert product. We’ve got our fuel overhead! Let’s use it.)


Carrying the process of concentrating the syrup yet another step further…If an even more chewy candy is desired, you might use the concentrated sweet molasses in a candy mold or for gelling like a fan-palm gummy bear.

Here’s another totally delightsome, exotic yet simple idea for maximum pleasure from fan palm fruits…..


Wild Fan Palm Liqueur (MABurgess photo)

Wild Fan Palm Cordial (MABurgess photo)“Desert Oasis Cordial”

It takes about 4-5 weeks to make this rich cordial liqueur, so plan ahead. With a fall harvest of wild dates you could start making your Desert Oasis Cordial by Thanksgiving and have it ready for Christmas-time celebrations. But don’t wait—when the fruits are ripe, go for it.

This is how I did it:

Wash, wash, wash and drain at least 2 cups of ripe native fan palm fruitlets (W.filifera), enough to pack firmly into a mason jar.  Into the packed jar, pour vodka of your choice, filling all the space between the little fruits to the brim to cover them. (You could use tequila or EverClear for differing degrees of delight.)  Screw on lid and place jar in a cool dark corner of your kitchen, where you can be reminded to agitate it. After a week, open it and add more vodka to cover fruits, as the fruit tissue will have absorbed some of the alcohol. Shake and turn over the closed jar every week.  For the herbalists among us, you will recognize this process is basically tincturing the wild dates. After 4-5 weeks, decant (i.e. separate) the liquid from the fruit. The decanted liquid will be a rich dark chocolate brown color like Godiva liqueur only translucent. Taste it and serve sparingly in small cordial glasses. Store any remaining liqueur in a closed decanter for the next festive occasion.

W.filifera fruit AFTER tincturing and decanting makes a fabulous alcoholic treat (seeds to be discarded)

W.filifera fruit AFTER tincturing and decanting makes a fabulous alcoholic treat (seeds to be discarded) (MABurgess)

Decanting the marinated fan palm fruits from the liqueur (MABurgess)

Decanting the marinated fan palm fruits from the liqueur (MABurgess)

After both your Fan-Palm Syrup-making and your Desert Oasis Cordial-making, you will have delicious fruits left over in the straining or decanting process.

Don’t forget the simple joy of snacking on little fruits, doing the pulp-from-seed separation maneuver with your tongue and teeth. Move over, sunflower seeds!  The boiled fruits after syrup-making are still tasty.  Better still–the vodka-soaked wild dates give an extra kick, so don’t overindulge.

Both can be briefly quick-whirled or mashed in a blender, meat grinder, or CuisinArt to begin the process of separating the remaining pulp from the hard seeds.

After decanting the cordial, remaining fruit is whirled and put thru colander to separate pulp from seeds

After decanting the cordial, remaining fruit is whirled and put thru colander to separate pulp from seeds

[If someone has a good idea of how best to separate seeds from pulp easily, please share it!] Fruit leathers, energy bars, jams, “datil newtons”, spreads, supplements—there are SO many ways the remaining fruit pulp could be used, so that none of the nutrients and fiber need go to waste. Even the hard seeds could be parched and ground into a nutritious flour—as Native People did in earlier times, to their advantage.


"Desert Oasis Cordial" from wild fan palm fruits (MABurgess photo)

“Desert Oasis Cordial” from wild fan palm fruits (MABurgess photo)

BTW, after snacking on Washingtonia fruitlets, be sure to check your smile in the mirror for black flecks of the yummy pulp between your incisors.  I can see it now—the next fad question after “Got milk?” will be “Got datil?”  That could make for a wild date experience. Enjoy!

For a taste of the native fan palm fruits, come by our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers market, 9am-1pm. There we also have a demo of solar-oven cookery in action.  The cleverly designed solar ovens are for sale from us with a discount and no shipping costs. We’d like to see every household in Baja Arizona equipped with a solar oven for emergencies as well as for sustainable living.

You can find the perfect makings for the pancakes to eat with your Solar FanPalm Syrup for that Southwestern breakfast–mesquite flour and heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour— at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell, Tucson) and at Flor de Mayo’s booth at St Phillips farmers market.  See you on Sunday! Have your taste-buds ready for a wild date.

Gifts from September Gardens–intentional and otherwise

Tia Marta here to share some culinary ideas happening now in Baja Arizona herb gardens, and to extend an invitation to visit el jardinito de hierbas at Tucson’s Mission Garden to experience the herbs in action!

Estafiate--all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana--in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Estafiate–all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana–and Mexican arnica beyond (close-up of flower below), in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photos)

Heterotheca--Mexican arnica flower (MABurgess photo)

Of all the herbs in our Southwest summer gardens—presently rejoicing in monsoon humidity and in the soppy tail of Hurricane Norbert—I think the most exuberant has gotta be Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil……..

Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

In its versatility, Mrs Burns’ lemon basil provides many possibilities for the kitchen and the cosmetic chest, the first being olfactory delight. Brush its foliage lightly with your hands and you get an instant rush of enlivening yet calming lemon bouquet. Like Monarda or lavender, this lemon basil is definitely one to plant in a “moon garden” for nighttime enjoyment, or along a narrow walkway where you have to pleasantly brush up against it, getting a hit en route, always a reminder that life is good.

I wish this blog could be “scratch-and-sniff” so you could sense the sweet lemony aroma of this heirloom right now. Maybe technology can do that for us someday, but meanwhile, find a Native Seeds/SEARCH aficionado who has planted it and get yourself a sprig to sniff.   On any Saturday morning, come visit and whiff this desert-adapted basil at Mission Garden (the living history exhibit at the base of “A”-Mountain created by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace). There, among Padre Kino’s heirloom fruit trees, in the monsoon Huerta vegetable plot, a group of herbalists known as Tucson Herbalist Collective (usually referred to as THC—like far out, righteous herbs, man, whatever) has planted a patch of traditional Mission-period medicinal and culinary herbs within reach of the fence. Lean over and touch Mrs Burns’ lemon basil for a real treat. At present (mid-September) “her” basil is a mound of dense smallish leaves and is sending up a zillion flower stalks sporting tiny white flowers. High time to snip the tops to encourage more foliage. Snippings can be used to zest a salad, to bedeck a platter of lamb chops, or to dry for a long-lasting potpourri.

Close-up view of Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Close-up view of Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Mrs Burns’ lemon basil—not your typical, soft, floppy-leafed basil—is bred for desert living, with smaller, sturdier foliage. Yes, it does need water, but it can take the desert’s heat and sun. This heirloom’s history is worthy of note and relating it honors the Burns family. The person who put “Famous” into the name Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil was Dr. Barney T. Burns, one of the founders of the seed conservation organization NativeSeeds/SEARCH and an amazing seed-saver himself, whose recent passing we mourn and whose life we gratefully rejoice in. It was his mother, Janet Burns, transplanted from Canada to Carlsbad, NM, who, with a neighbor over several decades, continued to grow and select surviving, desert-hardy seed in Southwestern heat. Barney contributed her basil seed as one of the first arid heirlooms to become part of the NSS collection. Interestingly, these tiny seeds have since traveled around the globe. One year Johnny’s Seeds picked it up, grew it out for their catalog, and sent NSS a check for $600 in royalties, having profited considerably from its sale.

You can use Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil leaf in many marvelous dishes. Layer fresh leaves with slices of farmers’ market tomatoes and thin slices of feta or fontina cheese and droozle with flavored olive oil. (I like Queen Creek Olive Mill blood-orange.) And OMG—this basil makes phenomenal pesto. Include this lemon basil with roast chicken for the best lemon-chicken ever. Dry it and put it in stuffing. Add a few fresh leaves to salad for a taste surprise. Or, add a sprig to soups to add a tang. You can even bedeck a glass of V-8 or your Bloody Mary with a lemon basil sprig to fancy up your presentation.


Handmade soap with Mrs Burns' Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Handmade soap with Mrs Burns’ Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Once when I enthusiastically grew a 50-foot row of Mrs Burns’ basil, it produced for me bags of dried herb, inspiring some fragrant projects. I distilled the aroma-rich herb to make a gentle hydrosol spray which, I feel, carries medicinal/psychological qualities of soothing, pacifying refreshment. By first infusing this marvelous herb in jojoba oil, I create beauty bars—with Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil as the exfoliant in the soap—available at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, the Flor de Mayo booth at St Phillips Farmers Market, or at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

In my mass planting of lemon basil, I observed bees going totally ecstatic over the profuse flowers and so wished that I had had bee boxes close-by. If any desert bee-keepers want to try a new gift to their bees and to us consumers of honey, I recommend they plant this one. Can’t think of anything finer than Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil honey!

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Here in culinarily-exciting Baja Arizona, as we promote the uniqueness of Tucson as an International City of Gastronomy, it is fun to consider another of our unique local food plants, a wild and unlikely weed which pops up with monsoon rains in low places, including at Mission Garden and is respectfully spared there. Known as i:hug by the Tohono O’odham (pronounced eee’hook), devilsclaw or unicorn-plant by Anglos, and Proboscidea spp by taxonomists, ours is not to be confused with the herb devilsclaw of commerce, Harpagophytum procumbens native to South Africa. Our native i:hug (of which there are a few species, some yellow-flowered, some pink) is a weed of many uses.

Tohono O'odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

It is primarily known as the fiber used by Tohono O’odham, Akimel O’odham, and N’de weavers to create the striking black designs in their coiled basketry. Otis Tufton Mason’s tome Aboriginal American Indian Basketry, first published by Smithsonian Institution in 1904, shows beautiful specimens of unicorn-plant weaving, and mentions its use by many desert people including Panamint basket-makers of Death Valley.

I have a feeling that the devilsclaws that are volunteering now at Mission Garden are the children of plants that have been grown by Native People in that very place along the Santa Cruz for many centuries.

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

As an ornamental, unicorn-plant or devilsclaw can be a welcome surprise of greenery in late summer into fall, making a mound of large leaves sometimes 2’ high and 3’ wide. Tucked among its spreading fuzzy branches, under velvety maple-leaf-shaped foliage, will appear tubular flowers edged in pink. Should you need a cooling touch on a hot day, just lightly brush one of its big leaves and you are instantly refreshed. The velvety look of devilsclaw foliage is actually one of the plant’s defenses against water-loss. Each leaf is covered with fine hairs. At each hair tip is a gland containing a microscopic bead of moisture. Hair causes wind-drag, slowing evaporation from the leaf surface. What evaporates from the glands acts to cools the leaf—what remains can also cool our skin, should we touch it.

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Most interesting of all are the foods that our native devilsclaw can provide. After pollination of the flower, a small green curved pod emerges like a curled, fuzzy okra. When young, that is, under about 2 ½” long, and before the pod develops woody tissue inside, these small green unicorns can be steamed as a hot vegetable, stir-fried with onion, green chile or nopalitos, or pickled for a Baja Arizona snack.

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

When the long green pods of devilsclaw ripen, the skin will dry and slough off leaving a tough, black, woody seed-pod that splits with very sharp tips. (Beware how they can grab—they were “designed” to hitch a ride on a desert critter’s hoof or fur and thus spread the seed.) With care, and sometimes the need for pliers, open the pod and out will come little rough-surfaced seeds. If your incisors are accurate, and if you have lots of time to get into meditations on i:hug, you can peel off the rough outer seed skin. Inside is a yummy, oil-rich and fiber-rich seed that looks like an overgrown sesame seed. (In fact, scientists at one point had classified Proboscidea in the same taxonomic family as sesame but it now stands in its own.)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod.  White inner seeds delish after peeling (MABurgess photo)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod. White inner seeds are delish after peeling. (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames.  Peeled inner seed between fingers is ready to eat. (MABurgess photo)

When I see cutesy figurines of roadrunners or Christmas ornaments made with devilsclaw pods, my first thought is, wow, what a waste of a good treat, but then gladly, I realize that this unique plant produces more than enough fresh pods and mature pods to satisfy all the purposes of Nature or hungry and/or creative humans. Give i:hug a try!

Cool Summer Bean Dishes….with Heirlooms

Sonoran Caviar in Mayo mesquite bowl (MABurgess photo)

Sonoran Caviar in Mayo mesquite bowl (MABurgess photo)

For picnics, barbeques or simple pick-me-ups, here are some fun ideas to bring a variety of heirloom beans into your summer fare.  We usually think of beans as winter food, but in the heat of August these tasty bean treats will help chill you out with gusto.

Tia Marta here to share ways of bringing the original “fast food” into your summertime menus.  Fast–that is, cook ’em first and have them “at the ready” for dressing them to suit any mood or occasion.  I am a founding member of the Heirloom Bean Fan Club, always amazed by the array of bean possibilities we have in the Southwest available to us.  Here in Baja Arizona we are blessed with inherited gifts of delectable, nutritious, desert-adapted beans from Native farmers, traditional Hispanic families, Black, Chinese, Anglo and other newcomers.  They grow well in our backyard gardens, bedecking our tables with colorful goodness.

All American sun oven set up on patio table-available thru Flor de Mayo (MABurgess photo)

All American sun oven set up on patio table-available thru Flor de Mayo (MABurgess photo)

When the summer sun fully hits our porch about 10am, out comes our sun-oven to help us pull the heat of preparation out of the kitchen.  Unfolding its reflector “wings,” I place a saucepan of pre-soaked Native tepary beans–the ones the Tohono O’odham call s-wepegi ba:wi or red tepary–covered by plenty of drinking water, nothing else necessary.  About every half hour or hour (you don’t have to be too regimented if you don’t feel like it), I go out and re-adjust the orientation of the sun-oven, vertically and horizontally, to keep it as close to perpendicular to the sun as possible.  The teps will be smelling good and testing done about 2pm if the sky has remained relatively bright.

Tepary beans, done by 2pm in solar oven, temp 300 (MABurgess photo)

Tepary beans, done by 2pm in solar oven, temp 300 (MABurgess photo)

Now, with my well-cooked teparies, if I’m not ready for kitchen cookery action I let them cool down then store them labeled in the frig or freezer.  If I am in cook mode, I drain them, reserving the liquid for soup, and let them cool while I chop veggies.  My plan–“Sonoran Caviar”–the best salad ever invented for desert rats in need of a pinch of picante.  This is the culinary creation of desert survival instructor, raconteur, and one-of-a-kind character George Price, and my thanks go to him for bringing even more excitement out of teparies!  Give it a try.

George's Sonoran Caviar--teparies with NSS heirloom garlic (both available at St Phillips Sunday farmers market)

George’s Sonoran Caviar–teparies with NSS heirloom garlic (both available at St Phillips Sunday farmers market)

Sonoran Caviar recipe:


4 cups cooked brown tepary beans, drained and cooled (from less than 1 lb dry beans)

1 cup diced red onion

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 crisp Anaheim Chiles, diced, skinned, and de-seeded

1 Tbsp crushed garlic

1 Tbsp Tony Chacere’s Original Creole Seasoning (to taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp black pepper ground

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.  Chill in refrigerator for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.  Stir again before serving.  Buen provecho, George (Be advised that this one serves 6 hungry folks including teenage boys.)

[His Sonoran Caviar will get rave reviews at any pot luck or picnic.]

Flor de Mayo beans in Mayo palm basket (beans and baskets from Sunday St Phillips market)

Flor de Mayo beans in Mayo palm basket (beans and baskets from Sunday St Phillips market)

In the realm of cool summer dishes, I can always count on Heirloom Flor de Mayo Mixed Bean Salad (my namesake!).  When I was in college, Mother sent me a little book by Barbara Goodfellow, Make it Now Bake it Later from the ’60s.  It has inspired my hostessing ever since, especially my adaptation for this sweet recipe which delights in everything from your garden:

Marinated Mixed Bean Salad with Flor de Mayo heirlooms (MABurgess photo)

Marinated Mixed Bean Salad with Flor de Mayo heirlooms (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Flor de Mayo Mixed Bean Salad Recipe:

(Fool-proof for picnics and barbeques–and it keeps well for days in the frig)

1 cup (or more) cooked heirloom Flor de Mayo beans for bright color (or another SW heirloom such as Ojo de Cabra, Rio Zape, Bolita, Cannellini–all taste wonderful in this marinated salad)

1 cup cooked green beans or snap beans from your garden (or organic canned)

1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (organic canned garbanzos/chickpeas) from your winter garden

1 cup cooked GMO-free corn kernels (off the cob or canned)

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 Tbsp chopped shallots, chives,  sweet onion, or I’itoi’s onion from the garden

1/2 cup organic sugar or agave nectar

1 cup organic cider vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

Drain cooked beans.  In mixing bowl dissolve sweetener and spices in liquid.  Add beans, chopped green pepper and onion, then mix.  Let stand in refrigerator overnight, mix again.  When serving, reserve liquid for other marinades.  Serves 6 generously.

Mortgage Lifter burrito in whole wheat tortilla--first step for making heirloom bean roll-up appetizers

Anasazi Bean burrito in whole wheat tortilla–preliminary for making heirloom bean roll-up appetizers

Another fun way to get your complex carbs and vegetable protein is to make heirloom bean dips– then to get fancier using the dip, the next step is Easy Heirloom Bean Roll-ups.  For the fastest, most crowd-pleasing bean-spread, I use either Mortgage Lifter beans or Anasazi beans–both great.  Mortgage Lifter is a giant white runner bean, also known as Aztec white runner or Bordal.  Grown in your garden, it will vine over itself and its neighbor plants with big white flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Easy Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers Recipe:


2 cups cooked Mortgage Lifter beans, or purple & white Anasazi beans

4 oz low-fat cream cheese (1/2 block of neuchatel)

1 Tbsp Red Devil hot sauce

1 tsp ground cumin seed

pinches of sea salt, to taste

3 or 4 medium whole wheat tortillas

Drain cooked beans (reserving liquid if you need to make a thinner texture after mashing).  Mash beans and cream cheese together with pastry cutter or bean masher.  Mash in all other ingredients. [You can sometimes find traditional Tarahumara madrone-wood bean mashers at NativeSeeds/SEARCH or at Flor de Mayo.]  At this point you have the best dip ever, and also the filling for instant burritos ready to feed to drop-in visitors.  Read on for further Roll-up directions…..

Heirloom bean "roll-ups" Step 1--with Anasazi beans

Heirloom bean “roll-ups” Step 1–with Anasazi beans

Rolling up heirloom bean hors d'oeuvres--Step 2 before cutting

Rolling up heirloom bean hors d’oeuvres–Step 2 before cutting

To finish these festive heirloom bean appetizers…spread the bean mixture onto 3/4 of one tortilla leaving a chord of the circle uncovered.  You will see why when you roll it up.  Begin rolling the tortilla tightly from the bean-covered edge and continue to roll snugly.  The bean spread will squeeze toward the unrolled edge, filling it.  The rolled tortilla will be held together by the bean spread.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and dip.

Place tortilla rolls on wax paper and chill in freezer or frig long enough to become firm for cutting.  Place chilled rolled tortillas on cutting board one at a time.  Slice in 1/2-inch rounds and place the disc-shaped spirals on a serving tray.  Chill until served.  Bedeck each Heirloom Bean Roll-up with a sprinkle of paprika or a cilantro leaf.  Each tortilla should produce about 6-8 roll-ups.  (With any leftover bean mixture, enjoy it as dip or in a burrito.)  These appetizers are a tasty celebration–and a tacit bow to Southwestern farming traditions.

Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers and yellow pear tomatoes in chicken hors d'oeuvre tray (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Bean Roll-up Appetizers and yellow pear tomatoes in chicken hors d’oeuvre tray (MABurgess photo)

By the way, you can find all of the wonderful Southwest heirloom beans to use in these recipes either at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, or at our Flor de Mayo booth at the charming St Phillips farmers market on Sundays in the shade of spreading sycamores and mesquites.

Traditional Native tepary beans--colorful mix available at Tohono Chul Park gift shop, NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Flor de Mayo booth at farmers market

Traditional Native tepary beans–colorful mix available at Tohono Chul Park gift shop, NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Flor de Mayo booth at farmers market

For the experienced or the novice desert gardener, now is the time to do the last planting in your monsoon garden.  One of my Tohono O’odham mentors taught me that the second week in August is really the last opportunity to put bean, corn, melon, or squash seed in the ground.  Even better to give your garden a jump-start by planting starts!  Right now at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store you will find a variety of healthy seedlings hungry to be in the soil–and on sale.  Come give them a future–and a delectable future for your palette in the months to come….

Happily planted--seedling Magdalena Big Cheese Squash seedling from NativeSeeds/SEARCH monsoon plant sale still on!

Happily planted–Magdalena Big Cheese Squash seedling from NativeSeeds/SEARCH monsoon plant sale (still going)

Happy gardening–and healthy eating to you from Tia Marta!

Where Monsoon Melons Reign….


Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

I see them peeking up out of the moist soil and spreading their many-fingered leaves out, inviting sunlight……there in the secluded orchard behind adobe walls at the base of A-Mountain. Hooray, the Tohono O’odham watermelons are rising again in the living history huerta at Mission Garden!…….

Seedling Tohono O'odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Seedling Tohono O’odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Ah, these monsoon rains have made it happen again—they thrill soul and body, triggering seeds to sprout and bringing the desert to life all around us. I can hear all the little stomates letting out their, “Whoopee! Whoopee at last! We didn’t know if we could hang in there much longer!”

Tia Marta here, wishing you joy with the renewing humidity and moisture blessing the earth—mat o sha ju:–when it rains. It seems all people know deep in their hearts that we need to, and want to, be singing in the rain. In the poetry of wordsmith Ofelia Zepeda, “Wa nt o m-ne’i g ju:kĭ ne’i. I would sing for you rain songs….” What higher compliment or loving expression could one hear in the desert than that? [For more tastes of her poetry, find Zepeda’s book Ocean Power (1995) and other works at University of Arizona Press.]

One of my most admired traditional Tohono O’odham gardening mentors, Laura Kerman, used to watch the southeastern sky as the clouds were building. When she knew rain was close and her skin was getting softer, that meant it was planting time again. To gardeners steeped in more temperate biomes, it’s a different yet palpable signal for planting time, the feeling of the sap rising. Here in the desert it is the reconstituting of our very integumen that we feel—then we know…(and yes some of us truly feel it in our bones too.) It brings a deep urge to plant seed in the ground, an urge imbedded in our physical being, deep in our psyche, somehow in our genetic memory.

At this very moment I can sense that the seed racks at every hardware store are getting lighter. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store and webstore are restocking seed packets at a fast pace to keep up with the monsoon pulse of gardeners.

My tastebuds think ahead as I scan the racks and webcatalogs. What flavorful squashes will I try this season? What fragrant and refreshing melons? What healthier grain, heirloom bean, ancient corn variety? Delicious and appropriate ideas are sprouting at the Mission Garden living history orchard. You can plan a tour any Saturday morning to inspire your own gardening bug. [www.tucsonsbirthplace.org]

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

I think the plant that loves rain most is Amaranth.  (Such an insult to call our wild native amaranth a “careless weed” or “pigweed”! Better, the Tohono O’odham moniker which translates “rain spinach,” ju:hukia i:wagi. Within a week after a rain the tender young greens that pop up uninvited in your garden can be plucked to make a most healthy dish.)   For planting delightful color and beta-carotene-rich greens, try Guarijio Grain Amaranth, originally from the little-known tribe from southern Sonora and saved by Native Seeds/SEARCHers (Amaranthus hypochondriachus x A.hybridus or “guegui” in the Mayo and Guarijio tongue).  Guegui gives extra bonuses beyond greens: after showy red flower plumes grace your garden, you can bag seedheads to retrieve a plentiful grain that is 15-18% protein. Cooked amaranth seeds make a fine pilaf or rich hot cereal. Try popping amaranth seed in a hot dry skillet then add them to salads or to lighten up biscuit dough.

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

As I plant melon seeds I am thinking of the delectable future they promise.  Native Mayo People of coastal Sonora and Sinaloa have perfected Mayo Minol Grande , a canteloup-like melon adapted to the heat that can perform well in Baja Arizona gardens. It makes a beautiful breakfast complement or a summer dessert served à la mode on a generous wedge of the orange fruit.

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH--another summer treat

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH–another summer treat

Similar in color to Mayo Minol but with smoother outer skin is the Melon de Castille which grew successfully in last summer’s Mission Garden. [Seeds of all of these can be found at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store or in the online catalog http://www.nativeseeds.org.]

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

At harvest time last summer, Mission Garden volunteers enjoyed an orgy when the rich red-fleshed Mayo watermelons were ripe, in an effort to save seeds to return to NSS. Good duty—such a forward thinking and benevolent activity is seed saving—and someone’s gotta do it.
Melons in your garden will indeed need water so plan on a reliable drip system and some form of water-harvesting berms to direct any rainfall runoff. Plant your melon seeds at the lowest part of your garden where water tends to accumulate. Give the vines room to sprawl out, even over not-so-good ground, so long as the roots are in rich soil.

Tohono O'odham keli ba:so--by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Tohono O’odham keli ba:so–by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Traditions of Desert People—the Tohono O’odham—provide a model of truly sustainable living in the Sonoran Desert. From them we have been given seeds of two of the best-adapted and tasty melons of all: a honeydew-like cushaw melon known as keli ba:so (pronounced gurli-bahsho), and the Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon.  Open up a keli ba:so for a sweet treat to use in a refreshing liquado or smoothie, or in a melon-ball salad perhaps laced with mint-agave nectar sauce. Translating the name keli ba:so opens up another dimension—the wonderful humor of the Desert People. The name (used especially by women) refers to the super-wrinkly texture of the outer melon skin and means “old man’s chest.” In retaliation, men have a different name for the same melon, “ohks tohn.” You might guess where this is going—it translates “old lady’s knees.”

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy--that's Tohono O'odham yellow watermelon

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy–that’s Tohono O’odham yellow watermelon

Watermelons must have had an exciting ride to the New World some 400 years ago, arriving in what is now central Mexico from Africa with the first Europeans. Apparently the flavor and plant-ability of watermelon, and indeed its transport-ability, were so appealing to Native Peoples of Mexico that the fruit spread from its introductory source like wildfire. By the time the Spanish explorer Alarçon arrived at the northern end of El Mar de Cortes meeting Yuman people for the first time at the Colorado River’s mouth, watermelon was already part of their agriculture and diet! This fact stumped historians and ethnobotanists for years—(like how could the same watermelon have been cultivated in both hemispheres?)—until they finally figured out the speed with which a favored food can migrate. Watermelon–the original fast food.

Tohono O'odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Prepare yourself for a whole new flavor experience with Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon. Its sweetness is non-cloying and gentle with an almost musky rich bouquet—a different taste realm from any red watermelon you’ve ever tasted. Put slices of this luscious watermelon on an hors d’oeuvres tray, or slice it alternating with red watermelon for a colorful picnic buffet. Joining orange Mayo Minol, cubes of lime-green keli ba:ṣo, red Mayo watermelon, and T.O. yellow watermelon completes a rainbow of color and flavor to create the ultimate Southwest fruit salad.
Happy monsoon planting and gardening to you as you practice sustainable agriculture in your own backyard! With the term introduced by Wendall Berry, may your “slow knowledge” grow as you tend your melon vines and cheer on the pollinators in anticipation of summer’s sweet and nutritious bounty of melons and amaranths!
As the monsoon season progresses, watch for the San Xavier Coop Association’s T.O. yellow watermelons for sale at the Thursday Santa Cruz farmers’ market at Mercado San Augustin. For more ideas, advice and seeds for monsoon garden heirlooms, visit the NSS store on North Campbell Ave.  Also, come by our Flor de Mayo booth at the new St Phillips Sunday farmers’ market in its charming, refreshing oasis setting. Rod and Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo have experience, recommendations, and stories to share, and perfect monsoon seeds for the season. See you Sunday at St. Phillips!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground!  All they need is a little help!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground! All they need is a little help!


Mesquite–Ancient Food for the Future

Yes, we gotta admit it—Tucson and ALL OF BAJA ARIZONA is a FOOD-COLONY!  To feed ourselves here, we currently import over 96% of our foods from out of state or out of country. If there were to be a transportation stoppage or disaster (perish the thought), we have less than 4 days’ food supply in local groceries. (info from Fry’s managers and Pima Co Emergency Mgmt.) This is a scary and sobering reality, and we need to remedy it for the good of all.
When it comes to food security in the Desert Southwest, if we are smart we’d best turn to those whose ancestors not only survived but thrived here, before European food fads invaded, and long before bio-technology pretended to save us–Let us listen to Native People!  If we look to traditional O’odham cuisine, and to that of all low-desert Traditional People in the Southwest, we learn that one of their most important and consistent staple foods was MESQUITE. Meal ground from the whole, ripe, dry pods was prepared in diverse ways by every tribal group, and stored safely against lean times, providing them amazingly tasty nutrition.

Now….its up to “newer arrivals” to the desert to expand our cultural tastes–and enjoy lessons from local tradition….

Harvesting ripe velvet mesquite pods--an old Chuk-shon tradition (RodMondt photo)

Harvesting ripe velvet mesquite pods–an old Chuk-shon tradition (RodMondt photo)

Everyone enjoys mesquite’s shade, its smokey flavoring and fuelwood in BBQs. But what about mesquite as food and food-security? Sweet and yummy are first.  Culinary versatility is up there.  Nutrition is paramount.  Recent nutritional analyses show what Native People have ALWAYS known intuitively, that mesquite’s sweetness is healthy (complex) sugars, and that it gives sustained energy (from slow-release complex carbs.)

A major plus for arid-lands food-security is that mesquite trees grow plentifully in the desert WITHOUT ANY HELP from humans. Having evolved with large Pleistocene herbivores, mesquite’s survival strategy is to over-produce quantities of tasty pods to entice mammoths or (extinct) ungulates to eat them and spread their seeds, scarified and delivered in ready-made fertilizer packages. In more recent centuries, cattle have provided a similar service to spread mesquite.  Hungry bi-peds can benefit too from mesquite’s plentiful productivity. With global climate change and the promise of expanding deserts, mesquite offers us a healthy staple food and a fitting dry-lands crop for our stressed Planet.

Velvet mesquite pods (Prosopis velutina) in green phase (maburgess photo)

Velvet mesquite pods (Prosopis velutina) in green phase (maburgess photo)

[Mesquite pods are ripening as I write–so heads-up!]

A most timely gathering of mesquite experts—both traditional and innovative—is about to happen at  a MESQUITE CONFERENCE open to the public and not to be missed………Attention–Novice mesquite-harvesters, cooks and culinary artists, bakers and chefs, nutritionists and clinicians, ranchers, farmers, gardeners, athletes and fitness fans, survivalists, nature buffs, climate-change planners…. this conference is for you.

MESQUITE: NEW AGRICULTURAL TRADITIONS FOR AN ANCIENT FOOD  will be held in Benson, Arizona, all day Friday, June 13, 2014, at the Cochise College Campus, 8:30am-4pm.
There will be talks by leading Mesquiteros, including traditional Tohono O’odham harvester Clifford Pablo, new crops innovator Dr. Richard Felger, the one and only mesquite agronomist Mark Moody, wild-harvester Amy Valdes Schwemm, creative desert rancher Dennis Moroney, animal feed expert Dr. Howard Frederick, desert foods ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess, and Cooperative Extension outreach educator Mark Apel.

In addition, generously sharing their knowledge, techniques and recipes will be demonstrators, including desert foods writer Carolyn Niethammer, wild-food teacher Barbara Rose, solar cooking expert Valerie McCaffrey, mesquite millers from San Xavier Farm Coop and Tohono O’odham Community College, and children’s book author Laurie Melrood. This is the place to contact producers of mesquite meal for your home cooking, for nouvelle local-source eateries, and breweries. Get your tastebuds ready for samples of delectable new culinary mesquite delights!

Sponsored by Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture and University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, with extra support from USDA Western SARE, we have been able to keep the registration fees to a minimum– accessible to anyone. $30 covers the whole day conference including luncheon ($20 for students or members of BASA). Space is limited so register soon. Registration is online via the BASA website http://www.bajaaz.org. For further info call 520-331-9821.
Once registered, please group your travel plans in carpools. For carpooling ideas check out the Native Seeds/SEARCH or BASA facebook sites. Let’s not let anyone miss this conference who needs to be there!


Select sweet velvet mesquite pods dry and ready to grind (maburgess photo)

Select sweet velvet mesquite pods dry and ready to grind (maburgess photo)


Delicious honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) with ripening pods.

Delicious honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) with ripening pods.

ADDITIONAL MESQUITE HAPPENINGS–Plan to Harvest, Plant, and Celebrate Native Bean-Tree Abundance Before the Rains…

DESERT HARVESTERS is organizing events to help people dramatically enhance the quality of their mesquite pod harvests, what to make with them, and how to better sync with the Sonoran Desert’s seasonal cycles in a way that enhances our shared biome.
We are teaming up with local culinary businesses to increase offerings of native foods in their cuisine, and to encourage landscaping with native food plants in water-harvest earthworks beside their buildings.

Mark your calendar for Thursday June 19, 2014!

Guided Mesquite Harvests and Plantings
Hosted at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market
100 S. Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ

5pm harvest on foot, 6pm harvest by bicycle
Led by Desert Harvesters including Amy Valdés Schwemm and Brad Lancaster
$5 to $10 per person (sliding scale)

These hands-on harvest tours show you how to:
• Identify and sample the best-tasting mesquite trees
Every tree is different, but some varieties are consistently much better than others. Taste the differences. (We will also likely harvest from desert ironwood and palo verde.)
• How to harvest safely, ethically, and responsibly
Harvesting pre-rains is best practice to avoid invisible toxic mold. Harvesting from the tree avoids fecal or fungal ground contamination. Check out http://www.ediblebajaarizona.com/calling-all-mesquiteros/ for more on why pre-rain harvests are the traditional practice, and so important.
• Use cool tricks such as the harvest cane.
• How and when to plant the best bean trees
Participants are encouraged to bring sun protection, reusable water bottle, and carry-bags for harvested pods.

Iskashitaa, an organization that helps resettled refugees integrate into the Tucson community, will be offering their beautiful hand-made harvest bags and fresh-squeezed juice from fruit they’ve gleaned. Also there will be AravaipaHeirlooms’ prickly pear pops and chiltepine-infused cold brews from Exo Roast Co.

Bean-Tree Processing Demonstrations
Before and/or after the Guided Harvests and Plantings
4pm to 7pm–FREE
Taught by Barbara Rose, desert foods farmer/fermenter/cook extraordinaire of Bean Tree Farm (see their website for more awesome workshops), will show you how to turn milled or whole desert ironwood seeds, palo verde seeds, and mesquite pods into tasty dishes. Native foods such as mesquite flour, cactus fruit pops, drinks, syrup, and cholla buds will be available for sale, along with seeds and seedlings of the best-tasting native bean-trees and chiltepines.

AND THEN DON’T MISS Sunday, June 22, 2014!

Pre-Monsoon Mesquite Milling
Sunday, June 22, (alert–in the event of rain, it will be moved to Sunday, June 29)
6am to 10am
Bring Your Own Pods!
Pods for milling must be clean, dry, and free of mold/fungus, stones, leaves, bugs and other debris. Cost: $3/gallon of whole pods, with a minimum of $10.

Also at the milling event:
• A native wild foods demonstration – highlighting what’s in the wild-harvest season now
• Exo’s mesquite-, mole-, and chiltepin-infused coffees
• Mesquite baked goods and cactus fruit popsicles
• Seeds and seedlings of select native bean trees and chiltepines — so you can plant yours in time for the rains.

Our thanks to hosts Exo Roast Co. and Tap & Bottle,
403 N. 6th Ave.,Tucson, AZ
Harvesters’ Happy Hour at Tap & Bottle
Come join fellow harvesters in fermented merriment. Tap & Bottle will have local brews on-hand, some infused with local native ingredients. And they will donate a percentage of all the sales to Desert Harvesters. Learn more online at: http://www.DesertHarvesters.org


Mesquite can help us into a food-secure future– fittingly, sustainably, healthily, and sweetly– as we face heating and drying of our desert home.  What a gift mesquite is, as we begin to declare our independence from being a FOOD-COLONY!