Get Gardening! a Post-Turkey Exercise Plan

When you’ve barely slept off your Thanksgiving feast, while deep thanks are still in your heart and your significant other is deeply absorbed in TV football, here’s an option that can lead to joy, nutrition, productivity, fulfillment, and calorie burning:  planting a little winter-spring garden!

Seasonal seeds and I’itoi onion starts for your winter garden in low desert.  Check out the seed-ideas for winter veggie gardens at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store.

Young I’itoi’s onions emerging. Use them this winter and spring for chives or shallots–indeed the gift that keeps on giving!

Peas love desert winters and will give wonderful pods next spring. So easy to grow! O’odham Wihol (peas) have become well-adapted to low desert since their welcome introduction about 350 years ago.

Tia Marta here to encourage you to think FUTURE FOOD!  That is, take the simple steps–right now–to envision food from your own little piece of earth.  Time to simply put some seeds or starts into the ground.  Now–while the desert is rejoicing in rain!  Now–before your to-do list or other emails divert your better intentions.!

Your little desert plot of good soil need not be spacious.  It can even be in lovely or homely pots on your patio.  Hopefully this post will fill you with inspiration, motivation, and access for planting your own food!

Little   bulbils from the bloom-stalk now ready for planting….


Begin gardening with the end in sight!  We must believe in the FUTURE of our FOOD then take steps to make it happen.  Gardening is an act of FAITH and HOPE, so let’s get down on our knees and do it!

For seasonal gratification, try Tohono O’odham peas, either in a pot or a garden edge where the vines can climb a wall or trellis. For the much longer view of gratification, try planting agave clones.  It may be 10-15 years before they are ready to harvest but the wait will be a sweet, nutritious gift for you, or your grandkids, or some other hungry desert dweller dealing with global warming.

Hohokam agave (Agave murpheyi) bulbil clones planted in pots for growing out and sharing….

Desert Laboratory Director Ben Wilder and Desert Ecologist Tony Burgess sampling sweet roasted agave heart at Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival, Mission Garden

Winter/spring is grain-growing time in low desert!  Organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries are ready for planting or cooking, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson (locally grown at BKWFarms)

White Sonora Wheat kernels –so easy to plant in crowded pots or in small garden plots

Young White Sonora Wheat sprouts enjoying the rain–and ready to harvest for juicing–healthy local food right from your patio!

Young starts of heirloom Magdalena acelgas (chard) grown from seed available at Mission Garden or NativeSeedsSEARCH store or online

Heirloom Magdalena acelgas will give you sumptuously delicious harvests of greens all winter–as these at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Colorful rainbow chard in handsome pots grown by herb-gardener-alchemist-friend Linda Sherwood.  Isn’t this a stunning ornamental –and edible–addition to the patio?!

These are just a few fun ideas of the veggies suited for planting this season.  Find lots more ideas by visiting Tucson’s Mission Garden , the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store , and Flor de Mayo website.

There’s no finer way to express Thanksgiving, or to exercise off your feasted calories, than to be outside in the dirt.  So I’m wishing you happy winter gardening on your patio, backyard, or why not your front yard!!  Now get out your trowel and pots, and those seeds you’ve been accumulating, get your hands dirty and sing a prayer-song as you plant your future food with faith and hope!


Black Teparies Make a Come-Back!

Rich black teary beans dried, ready to hydrate for cooking

Rich black tepary beans dried, ready to hydrate for cooking

In some light they are a dull charcoal difficult to spot if the pods shatter onto the ground. Sometimes they appear shiny black or opalescent. Somehow black teparies appear to have an antiquity about them–mysteriously harking back to a time rich in prehistory. Tia Marta here to tell you a little about the black tepary bean’s odyssey back into cultivation and into the cooking pots of Southwesterners once again.

Shiny black teparies close up

Shiny black teparies close up

Back in 1912, before WWI and the rapid plunge the “remote” Southwest unavoidably took into East-Coast food fads, there was a crop survey done of the many types of tepary beans being grown and used by different Native American families and communities throughout the Borderlands. The diversity at that time was astounding—some 40+ different colors, forms, sizes, speckles, of tepary beans were reported. Within about a decade there remained only a couple of dominant tepary colors—“red” (an orangy-brown) and white. [For more history, check out Volume 5, No.1 of Desert Plants Journal published by the University of Arizona CALS. Specifically this issue is devoted to tepary beans, and includes an article by yours truly.]

The neat thing about cultivars that are still genetically close to their wild ancestors is that they still contain a diversity of genes that can “pop out” occasionally as visibly different seeds. In the case of the teparies, every so often in a harvest of white teparies, for example, there may turn up a few coral pink, or blue speckled, or even black beans. At the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Experimental Farm, an amazing crop researcher, Mike Sheedy, was, for several years growing teparies to isolate some of these genetic “sports”. He used assistance from his kids (In farming, child labor rules just can’t apply) to help pick out the odd-ball seeds from hundreds of pounds of harvested teparies. Over the years, he grew the separated colors in isolation from each other to preserve color purity. Before research funds ran out he had “re-created” an ancient lineage of black teparies—i.e. he has assisted the ancient genes to come again to the fore, to bring the “invisible” genotype back into the “visible” phenotypes. At termination of his research project he generously donated the black tepary collection to the traditional Pima farming family of Ramona and Terry Button.

Native Black Tepary Beans & Flor de Mayo 1-lb pkg

Native Black Tepary Beans & Flor de Mayo 1-lb pkg

Now—tah-dah!—at last black teparies are in agricultural production on ancestral lands! The public can purchase these little food gems of antiquity now at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson) , at the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market , or online via

S-Chuuk Bavi from Ramona Farms

Black teparies are very different in taste from the red or white teparies—although all teparies are much richer than their more distant cousins like the common bean, lima or black-eye pea. Black tepary, schkug ba:wĭ of the Tohono and Akimel O’odham, is the deepest, nuttiest of all, with an earthy bouquet and a slightly bitter after-note reminiscent of coffee. Well, you will just have to try your own taste buds on them!

The public will have an exciting opportunity to taste black teparies prepared by none other than our beloved Tucson Chef Janos Wilder (of Downtown Kitchen fame) at the upcoming Farm to Table Picnic feast at Mission Garden, Sunday afternoon, October 18, 4-6:30pm. Janos is not letting on what his special black tepary recipe will be, but we can be sure it’ll be sensational. [The picnic is by pre-registration only so buy your tickets soon! Online purchase is via the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace site]

Potted blooming chiltepin plant for edible landscaping

Potted blooming chiltepin plant for edible landscaping

All of the heirloom foods served at the Farm to Table Picnic are being grown (even as I write) locally in Baja Arizona, either at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Conservation Farm in Patagonia, or at the Mission Garden itself, or by sponsoring farmers and ranchers such as BKWFarmsInc, the 47-Ranch, and Ramona Farms. Some of Tucson’s best chefs are donating their skill and time to prepare different dishes for us. It will be a great opportunity to put the fun in fundraising for two worthy local non-profits, to share the delicious tastes of our heirloom foods of the Borderlands, and to share community joy in what we are able to produce together locally.

For adventuresome cooks, dessert addicts, and chocoholics, I would like to share two variations on brownies made with—yes, you guessed it—black tepary beans! You will not believe how yummy these are.

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne on cooling rack

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne on cooling rack


First, cooking black teparies (as with all teparies) takes some time—and premeditation.  The day before you want to use them, sort, wash, and pre-soak your black teparies. I hit them with a quick boil and let them sit overnight to hydrate slowly. Change the water the next day, adding fresh drinking water. Simmer until soft (it may take 2-3 hours on stovetop or 4-6 in crockpot). You want them beyond al dente in order to puree them in a blender or CuisinArt for the following recipes.


Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Bean Brownies-Cockaigne


1 cup cooked and pureed black tepary beans

1 stick butter= ¼ lb= ½ cup butter

5 Tbsp dark 100% cocoa powder, unsweetened (1 oz.)

¼ tsp sea salt

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup loose organic brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs well-beaten

¼- ½ cup nutmeats (I use pinyon nuts to keep the Southwest theme)

Directions for Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8” baking dish and place a wax paper cut to fit the bottom of pan. Melt butter (preferably in top of double boiler). Stir in thoroughly 5 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder. Let the mixture cool. Add sugars and sea salt to mixture and beat until creamy. Add vanilla. Beat 4 eggs and add to mixture stirring until uniform in color. Add 1 cup pureed black teparies and hand-mix. Pour batter into greased bake pan. Sprinkle top of batter with pinyones or other nutmeats. Bake 45-50 minutes until it tests done with toothpick.   Cool pan on a rack. Cut in small squares to serve because it is so rich and moist. Enjoy their delicious flavors AND the healthy qualities of high protein/high complex carb teparies, protein-rich eggs, and the benefits of dark chocolate!

Gluten-free black tepary brownie-cockaigne ready to eat

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne ready to eat–wheat-free, light, nutritious and delicious!

My next black tepary brownie recipe was first inspired by food-writer and “Blog-sister” Carolyn Niethammer’s recipe found in her book Cooking the Wild Southwest (p.133)–a must-have in every SW cook’s kitchen shelf. Here I’ve made some interesting gastronomic additions…including the use of our fantastic local heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour, crushed wild chiltepines, and Mano y Metate’s fresh-ground Mole Dulce powder produced by our local Molera herself, Amy Valdes Schwemm.


“Hot-Dam”* Black Tepary Brownie Bars [*in the best sense of the expression]


5 Tbsp unsweetened 100% cocoa powder

½ stick (1/4 cup) melted butter

¾ cup organic cane sugar

¾ cup org brown sugar, not-packed

2 eggs, beaten

2 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup pureed cooked black teparies

¾ cup organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour**

3 or 4+ crushed wild chiltepin peppers*** (number depends on your desired picante level)

¼ tsp sea salt

1-2 Tbsp Mano y Metate ground Mole Dulce powder

2 Tbsp raw pinyon nutmeats

Adding White Sonora Wheat flour and crushed chiltepin to molten chocolate mixture

Adding White Sonora Wheat flour and crushed chiltepin to molten chocolate mixture

** Freshly milled White Sonora Wheat is available at our Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday’s St Philips farmers market ( Call ahead for quantities larger than 1 kilo—520-907-9471.

***whole wild-harvested Chiltepines are available at the NSS Store, 3061 N Campbell, and at Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips farmers mkt. Chiltepin plants to grow can be purchased at NSS plant sales.

Flavors to guild the lily--Wild chiltepin peppers, ironwood bear molinillo grinder, and Mole Dulce powder

Flavors to guild the lily–Wild chiltepin peppers, ironwood bear molinillo chiltepin grinder, and Mole Dulce powder (all available at NSS store and Flor de Mayo at St Philips farmers market)



Directions for “Hot-dam” Black Tepary Brownie Bars:

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease 8×8” baking pan with wax paper set in bottom. Melt butter and mix powdered cocoa in thoroughly. Add the brown sugar and organic white sugar and vanilla to the butter and cocoa, and beat. Beat 2 eggs and stir thoroughly into the choc/sugar mixture. Wisk in ¾ cup pureed black teparies. Sift together: ¾ C white Sonora wheat flour, ¼ tsp sea salt, and the well-crushed chiltepin peppers. Stir dry ingredients into liquid mixture. Add pinyon nutmeats. Pour batter into bake-pan. Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp of Mole Dulce powder on top of the batter. Bake 25 minutes or until it tests done (when fingerprint pressed on top springs back). When cooled, cut into small bite-size squares to be served with hors d’oeuvre picks—you will see why…..(and don’t rub your eyes after eating.)

"Hot-dam" Black Tepary Brownies ready to enjoy!

“Hot-dam” Black Tepary Brownies ready to enjoy!



Tia Marta is hoping you enjoy these fruits and flavors of the Sonoran Desert assisted by fruits of tropical North America—a marriage made in dessert-Heaven! With every bite we should be thanking ancient tepary farmers, and the recent ones who have brought back the Black Tepary from near genetic-oblivion.



Coming this week to Tucson is a food event not to miss: the Farmer to Chef Connection, this Wednesday, September 16, at Tucson Community Center, 12:00noon-5:30pm, sponsored by LocalFirstArizona. Google their site for tickets and come enjoy a smorgasbord of local tastes.

Also be sure to mark your calendar for October 18 and join NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace at the very heart of Tucson’s Birthplace –the Mission Garden at the base of A-Mountain—for the first-ever outdoor Farm to Table Picnic. It will be a feast to remember. Make reservations now and we’ll see you there for fun, flavor, history and friendship!

Pumpkin Time in Baja Arizona!

Male flower Magdalena Big Cheese squash (MAB photo)

Male flower Magdalena Big Cheese squash (MAB photo)

Tia Marta here to celebrate the pumpkins and squashes that are now plumping up in every garden and popping up in farmers markets. These sculptural fruits of the vine are our visual signal of autumn and herald cool weather cuisine. So many people ask, “What’s the difference between pumpkins and squashes?” Really there is not much difference, except that, to some ears, “pumpkin” sounds fun but is never eaten, while squash sounds like something your mother made you eat and you didn’t discover how good they are until you discovered Mexican food! (Yum, calabacitas.) Often pumpkins refer to the jack-o-lantern type squash—a Cucurbita pepo—but many squashes of other Cucurbita species are also called “pumpkin” so the term is not cut and dried.
While chubasco rains keep sprinkling our desert, my squash vines have continued to elongate and to flower into the fall. I’m hoping to have winter squashes coming on until the frost hits. Meanwhile, I can go out each morning to assist in pollinating any female flowers with the hefty stamens of the male flowers. Then, what a treat it is to take the plucked, spent male flower and sauté it with eggs for breakfast!

Tohono O'odham Ha:l and curry pumpkins at SanXavierCoop booth, SantaCruz Farmers Market (MABphoto)

Tohono O’odham Ha:l and curry pumpkins at SanXavierCoop booth, SantaCruz Farmers Market (MABphoto)

Native People domesticated several varieties of squash or pumpkin centuries before Europeans invaded North America. We all know the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving story, but here in the Baja Arizona borderlands we should be giving a lot of thanks to the Tohono O’odham, the Yoreme, the Guarijio, and the Raramuri for the gifts of fabulous squashes they have given to all desert gardeners and farmers. From the Tohono O’odham comes the giant cushaw winter squash, known as Tohono O’odham Ha:l or “Papago Pumpkin,” (Cucurbita argyrosperma) with its bulbous pear shape and thick corky peduncle (its vine attachment.)

Tohono O'odham Ha:l "Papago Pumpkin" showing characteristic corky attachment and colorful stripes (MABphoto)

Tohono O’odham Ha:l “Papago Pumpkin” showing characteristic corky attachment and colorful stripes (MABphoto)

From the Yoreme or Mayo comes the round, oranged-fleshed Mayo blusher (Cucurbita maxima). From the Guarijio comes a grand segualca (Cucurbita moschata). And from the Raramuri or Tarahumara, comes the striped mini-pumpkin with sweet orange flesh (Cucurbita pepo). This last one is the pumpkin Native Seeds/SEARCH grew in plenty last year and returned to drought-stressed Tarahumara farmers in a cross-the-border sharing. Check out for images of each of these lovely squashes, or visit the Mission Garden at the base of A-Mountain to see maturing fruits from the monsoon planting. Then plan ahead for next year to plant some of each in your own monsoon garden for great winter cookery and for sharing with neighbors.

All of these Native pumpkins/squashes are the ultimate in desert adaptation. They grow well in the heat with monsoon rains, AND, they keep for long periods of time without refrigeration over the winter. Talk about an easy, low-tech way to preserve food! I have kept the hard-shelled Tohono O’odham Ha:l outside in the shade of my back porch from October’s harvest into May of the following year when temperatures soared. That’s what you call a keeper.

Tarahumara pumpkins Oct2014 from 2013 harvest (MABphoto)

Tarahumara pumpkins Oct2014 from 2013 harvest (MABphoto)

With last fall’s harvest of Tarahumara pumpkins, I started another experiment in non-refrigerated storage. I kept 2 medium-sized pumpkins inside on a tile floor out of direct sun. Over the summer they turned from green striped to bright yellow-orange on the outside. I had no idea this week what they would be like inside when I opened them at last for cooking. To my surprise and gladness the flesh was still firm and gorgeous—bright with beta-carotenes—and the seeds were plump and not-yet-sprouted.

Rich flesh and seed of Tarahumara pumpkin (MABphoto)

Rich flesh and seed of Tarahumara pumpkin (MABphoto)

Pumpkin seeds cleaned to dry and save for next year's planting (MABphoto)

Pumpkin seeds cleaned to dry and save for next year’s planting (MABphoto)

With such luscious pumpkin seeds, some had to be saved for next summer’s garden and some had to become snacks. Here is what I did to them. Give it a try with your next opened pumpkin:

Spicy Sweet Pumpkin Seed Snacks
(Makes 1 cup)
1 cup of pumpkin seeds, cleaned
1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
¼ tsp of chile powder (choose mild, medium, or hot, depending on your palette)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
(Some recipes call for boiling seeds first, for 10 minutes in 4 cups of water then draining before the next step. It helps to soften the hulls but may remove some nutrients. This step is optional–I don’t bother.) Transfer seeds to a bowl, toss with the honey, oil, and spice ingredients until fully covered, then spread them out evenly onto a baking sheet that has been coated lightly with cooking oil or non-stick spray.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, tossing once, or until the seeds are crispy and lightly golden brown. Let them cool before serving — they will get even crispier. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc which is great for fall-weather immune fortifying. They also contain L-arginine which is especially good for guys. Enjoy this tasty Southwest snack!

Chile-and-honey-roasted pumpkin seed snacks (MABphoto)

Chile-and-honey-roasted pumpkin seed snacks (MABphoto)

Next I prepared the Tarahumara pumpkin itself for a truly local autumn dessert. It takes a cleaver to carefully open a winter squash and to chunk it into segments small enough to fit into the saucepan. After you scoop out the seeds and fiber, you can boil, steam or bake the pumpkin chunks with skin or shell on. When softened and cooled, scoop out the pulp. Don’t hesitate–serve it with butter and sea salt as a hot vegetable right away. With the remainder, mash or puree it, storing it in freezer for later using in pies, empanaditas, or—as you’ll see below—in a fabulous Sonoran Pumpkin Cake!


Tarahumara pumpkin cleaned and chunked for cooking (MABphoto)

Tarahumara pumpkin cleaned and chunked for cooking (MABphoto)

SONORAN PUMPKIN CAKE with White Sonora Wheat and Mesquite
(inspired by NativeSeeds/SEARCH pot-luck favorite volunteer Ed Hackskyalo)
Recommended for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other autumn occasions.

Preheat oven to 350.
2 cups sugar (or alternative sweetener such as agave nectar or honey)
1 cup vegetable oil or softened butter (adjust less with liquid sweeteners)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 – 2 ½ cups heirloom White Sonora Wheat pastry flour (fresh-milled flour needs adjusting)**
¼ – 1/2 cup mesquite pod meal**
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups “Papago Pumpkin” or other native squash, cooked and pureed (or pumpkin puree)

Combine sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Sift dry
ingredients into a separate bowl; stir into liquid mixture, beating well. Stir in pumpkin puree.
Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for
35 to 40 minutes. Turn out onto racks to cool.

l package (8 ounces) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, measure then sift (use less to taste, as less sweet is nice contrast to cake)
½ – 1 teaspoons vanilla extract (as needed for smoothing)
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl; beat well until smooth. Makes enough
for a 2-layer pumpkin cake. Frost pumpkin cake with cream-cheese frosting and sprinkle with chopped pecans or pine nuts for extra decor.

**Organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries and flour, and local mesquite pod meal ,are available from Flor de Mayo at St Phillips farmers market on Sundays, or or 520-907-9471. Whole grain organic White Sonora Wheat-berries for home-milling and mesquite meal are also available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, or online

Sonoran Pumpkin Cake made with organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat and mesquite  (MABphoto)

Sonoran Pumpkin Cake made with organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat and mesquite (MABphoto)

Sonoran Pumpkin Cake tea time on wheat china to honor the Wong Family farmers who are helping to save the ancient white Sonora wheat (MABphoto)

Sonoran Pumpkin Cake tea time on wheat china to honor the Wong Family farmers who are helping to save the ancient white Sonora wheat (MABphoto)

Now in their fifth generation of farming, the Wong Family of BKWFarms in Marana, have taken a rare heirloom wheat–the White Sonora Wheat that Padre Kino introduced into the Sonoran Desert over 300 years ago and “saved” by Native Seeds/SEARCH seed conservationists–and have made it a certified organic and sustainable crop again for the Southwest.  Bravo to the Wongs for making this low-gluten food treasure available to us!

Organic Wheat Farmer Ron Wong, Big Jim Griffith, and Karen Dotson of BKWFarms at Tucson Meet Yourself 2014 (MABphoto)

Organic Wheat Farmer Ron Wong, Big Jim Griffith, and Karen Dotson of BKWFarms at Tucson Meet Yourself 2014 (MABphoto)

BKWFarms and Flor de Mayo gave out samples of White Sonora Wheat-berry sprouts and a fabulous Sonoran Shortbread made with the White Sonora Wheat flour at the recent Tucson Meet Yourself festivities.  Coming up….Come try samples at the Flor de Mayo table this next weekend at the Chiles Chocolate and Salsa Event, Tohono Chul Park, Oct 25-26.   Every Sunday at St Phillips Farmers Market you can find taste surprises made with White Sonora Wheat-berries or mesquite at the Flor de Mayo booth–Stop by and visit Tia Marta and Rod!  And tell your friends in Phoenix not to miss our Flor de Mayo display at the Dia de los Muertos celebration, Desert Botanical Garden Nov 1-2.