Posts Tagged With: Carolyn Niethammer

Celebrating Succulent Food-Plants–Sonoran Centuries and Cholla

Glowing marginal teeth of Agave shrevei from central Sonora. Known there as lechuguilla ceniza (ashy color), and as totosali by the Warijio people, it was traditionally pit-baked for communal eating. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to take you on a visual tour of our strikingly beautiful Sonoran Desert century plants and cholla which have, for centuries, fed Sonoran Desert people–and continue to do so in interesting new ways!  This is a “photographic appetizer” for the grand gastronomic and libation experiences planned for April into May–an invitation for you to participate in Tucson’s amazing Agave Heritage Festival and Cholla Harvest Workshops.  [For a full schedule of the many culinary, ethnobotanical, artistic and musical agave events, go to http://www.agaveheritagefestival.com.  For info on cholla harvests go to http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org or call 520-907-9471.]

The Hohokam Century Plant, Agave murpheyi, is planted at Mission Garden to simulate a Hohokam archaeological site where ancient desert people farmed it.  This will be one of the agaves to taste at the Mission Garden’s pit-roasting event as part of the Agave Heritage Festival. (MABurgess photo)

Mescal cenizaAgave colorata–a sculptural Sonoran century plant, was traditionally pit-baked by Native People of NW Mexico.  It gives a superbly attractive focal point in an edible landscape!  (MABurgess)

Natives of the low Sonoran Desert region surrounding the Sea of Cortes, especially Yuman, Tohono O’odham (calling it a’ut) and Seri people (calling it ahmmo), traditionally used various varieties or subspecies of Agave deserti to cook as an important staple in their diet.

Agave deserti (this subspecies from the Anza-Borrego State Park in SE California) was pit-roasted by Native People, adding a rare and delicious sweet to their often sparse menu. (MABurgess)

Roasted agave heart of Agave murpheyi ready to divide and eat! (MABurgess photo)

Agaves bloom only once– a magnificent flower show after a long lifetime–hence the name “Century Plant” as the 15-25 years before maturing seems like a century.   Harvesters, mescaleros, watch year after year until they observe when the center of the leaf rosette begins to show the flower-stalk emerging, the signal the plant is changing its stored starches to sugars for blooming.  (There is a giant agave in central Mexico, Agave salmiana, from which harvesters remove the young flower stalk to create a center “well.” Sweet sap, agua miel, wells up daily, for weeks.  Cooked down and concentrated, that’s the so-called “nectar” being sold as a sweetener to gringos.  Good sweetness–nice product–wrong name.  Nectar is what pollinators drink from flowers; agave sweetener is made from internal sap.)

Agave “nectar”–really sap–makes a healthy sweetener for my prickly pear and chia lemonade. (MABurgess)

When the agave is about to bloom, to make roasted agave (for maguey or mescal), the whole mature plant is harvested, thick leaves chopped off (used for fiber), and the center or head, the cabeza that looks like a pineapple, is roasted in a rock-lined pit.  Cooking often takes 2-3 days and nights.  Once roasted, the fibrous pulp is a nutritious, sweet, chewy treat with complex healthy carbohydrates.

Roasted agave (maguey) leaf base ready to eat, showing fiber and pulp. Wish you could taste its smokey flavor! (MABurgess photo)

Bootleg Sonoran bacanora mescal, made in backyard stills from Agave angustifolia, rests in the succulent linear leaves of its unassuming century plant source.  Importers are now bringing this indigenous Sonoran mescal, bottled legally, into the US–now available at unique saloons such as EXO Coffee and specialty liquor stores.  (MABurgess)

If you haven’t tasted mescal, the distilled spirit made from roasted and fermented agave, you have a treat coming.  In a particular district of Jalisco, Mexico, it is made from  Agave tequilana –the blue agave–known only from there by the more familiar name tequila!  Select Sonoran Desert Agave species produce mescals that some connoisseurs consider even better than tequila.  At the Agave Heritage Festival you can taste several such spirits, to make that determination for yourself!

The beautifully cross-banded, fountain-shaped Agave zebra, from the hottest mountains of NW Sonora, was known for making mescal by local Sonorans prior to the 1950s.  Its stripes and fountain-form adds dramatic accent to an edible landscape.  Young agave plants can be purchased at Tucson’s primo succulent plant source, Plants for the Southwest for growing your own. (MABurgess photo)

Variegated Agave americana makes a vivid desert ornamental. It may have been one of several agaves cultivated by ancient people of the Southwest. (MABurgess photo)

At this year’s Agave Heritage Festival, at celebratory, culinary, artsy and educational events–from Mission Garden to Maynard’s MarketDesert Museum to Carriage House Tucson,  Tohono Chul to Tumamoc Hill,  UA to Pima College, with horticulturalists, scholars, artists, musicians–we will delve into the lore and many gifts of the Agave family.  Learn hands-on–even tastebuds-on— from esteemed experts, ethnobotanist Jesus Garcia, Southwest foods authors Carolyn Niethammer and Gary Paul Nabhan, culinary artists Chef Janos Wilder, Barry Infuso, and Don Guerra, scholars Karen Adams and Maribel Alvarez, to name just a few!  Sign up soon at http://www.agaveheritagefestival.com, giving yourself a gift while supporting such special organizations as NativeSeeds/SEARCH, Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Tohono Chul Park.

Alongside the Agave events, as the succulent season progresses, there are other desert foods to harvest and taste in new recipes, inspired by both traditional knowledge and ideas for sustainable desert living into the future.  Cholla buds and nopalitos from several cactus species will be featured in upcoming workshops.  To call up lots of neat info from past http://www.SavortheSouthwest.blog posts, insert the word “cholla” into the search-box above for a feast of ideas, then……

 

Vivid flower of staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) with spiny bud ready to harvest.  Learn how to carefully pick, de-spine, cook and prepare this super-food in wondrous recipes at Mission Garden and Flor de Mayo workshops.  (MABurgess photo)

As cholla cacti begin to bloom, it’s time to harvest the buds!  Join me Friday, April 20, 2018, at the Mission Garden Cholla Harvest Workshop — Sign ups at http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org.  Or, on Saturday, April 21, come to Flor de Mayo’s Cholla Harvest on Tucson’s west side–contact www.flordemayoarts.com and 520-907-9471.  Cooking School classes are happening at Janos’ Carriage House, http://www.carriagehousetucson.com, and Gastronomy Tours downtown are being scheduled at the Presidio Museum, http://www.tucsonpresidio.com.

I hope you have enjoyed my Photo Gallery and that you may enjoy many a succulent Sonoran Desert dish and libation this season–more ways to honor Tucson as an International City of Gastronomy!

May we all toast the spirit of Agave Goddess Mayahuel!

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

Barrel Cactus Seeds Make Irresistible Appetizers

♦Want more information on wild food and herbs in a live situation? Carolyn and Jacqueline will be speaking and demonstrating on March 25 at 1 p.m. at Singing Winds Bookstore in Benson for an Organic Food Fiesta. What’s more organic that a prickly pear or barrel cactus fruit direct from the wild? Join us. There will be tastings. Now, on to today’s post.♦

It’s Carolyn today bringing you a simple recipe to help you shine in a social situation. We’ve all had the experience of  politely asking what you can bring when invited to a dinner party. “How about an appetizer?” the hostess (or host) suggests. Oh oh, now what? We know the perfect appetizer should be both delicious and amusing. Chips and dip? Way too trite. A vegetable tray? Healthy, but nobody eats them.

These Wild Seed Cheese Appetizers are the perfect solution.  They are a good conversation starter and you can star as a savvy wild-food expert. The appetizers come together very quickly if you already have a stash of seeds; not too bad even if you have to hunt up some barrel cactus fruit.  Barrel cactus are one of the easiest wild foods to gather: they are usually about knee-level, the plants have vicious thorns but the fruit is free of spines, and as Savor Sister Jacqueline told us in an earlier Savor post, they can bloom up to three times a year, making ample fruit available.  If you happen to have some saguaro seeds, they will work as well. And like all seeds, they bring great nutrition. After all, in that tiny package they contain all the nutrition necessary for starting another whole plant.

This is what you are looking for is a cactus that looks like the one in the top photo. No need to use tongs to gather. When you get home, first wash the fruit and cut each in half and this is what you’ll see:

Halved barrel cactus seeds showing the nutritious seeds.

You can dry the seeds in the fruit or scoop them out and spread them on a cookie sheet.  If you are trying to rush the process, toast them for a few minutes in a dry frying pan. When dry, the seeds will have a little white material. Shake the seeds in a bowl and the white matter will rise to the top and you can blow it off.  If you are including the seeds in something like cake or muffins, just ignore the white and it will disappear into the batter.  You can find a recipe for gluten-free cake using barrel cactus seeds here.

The appetizer recipe is basically a cheese-butter-flour mixture most easily made in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you can combine the ingredients with a heavy spoon and some elbow grease. Chile powder adds a delicious zip to the cheese balls.  I used chipotle powder,  but you can use chiltepine or another flavoring of your choice.

Now here’s a use for that melon-baller that’s been bouncing around in your drawer unused for years.  Using it to scoop up the dough made perfect sized appetizers.

Scoop out small balls of cheese dough with a melon-baller. I you don’t  have one, use a spoon and roll dough into balls.

Put about a half cup of seeds in a small dish and press each ball of cheese dough into the seeds. Then line them up on a cookie sheet to bake.

Appetizers ready to go in the oven.

And the finished appetizers, ready to serve.

A plate of cheese appetizers topped with crunchy and nutritious barrel cactus seeds.

There is a necessary warning before I go further. These little devils are so delicious you will be tempted to just take a bottle of wine to the party and keep these at home, all for yourself. Rich, spicy. So yum.  Here’s the recipe:

Cactus Seed Cheese Appetizers

½ pound shredded cheddar cheese

½  pound (2 sticks) soft butter

2 ½ cups flour (can use part whole wheat or non-wheat flour)

1 teaspoon salt

½ to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder or cayenne

¼ cup barrel cactus or saguaro seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix all ingredients except the seeds. This is most easily done in a food processor, but can also be done with a heavy spoon and some elbow grease. Roll small balls using a melon-baller if you have one. Put seeds in a shallow bowl. Press each cheese ball into the seeds deeply enough so that they adhere. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 350 degrees F. for 13-15 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes cookbooks showcasing the use of edible wild plants of the arid Southwest. They include The Prickly Pear Cookbook, Cooking the Wild Southwest, and American Indian Cooking, Recipes from the Southwest. You can buy them through Native Seeds/SEARCH, Amazon, or ask your independent bookstore to order them for you.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Desert Harvesters Cookbook Celebrates Glories of Wild Desert Foods

Hello everybody. It is Carolyn today with an exciting new book for you. I’ve been studying and writing about edible wild plants of the Southwest deserts for more decades than I want to fess up to, and one of the most energizing things for me is when other people catch the bug and begin gathering and experimenting.

Last year we had John Slattery’s great book Southwest Foraging with colorful photos to help us identify plants new to us (see review here). Now we have even more riches in Desert Harvesters’ new book Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living.

The 170 recipes range from the very simple to lightly challenging. While heavy on dishes using mesquite, the book includes recipes for some less exploited plants such as desert ironwood, palo verde, wolfberry, and creosote (creosote capers!).

One of the most exciting things about the book is the range of contributors. While there are familiar names in the local foraging world, including fellow Savor Sisters Muffin Burgess and Amy Valdés Schwemm and myself, Janos Wilder, Brad Lancaster, Barbara Rose, Jeau Allen, and Jill Lorenzini, you will also find dozens of other folks who have also shared their recipes. What fun to see how cooks have included Sonoran desert plants in favorite family recipes. That’s exactly how to introduce a new food to family members leary of something strange—by incorporating it into something familiar.

This book goes far beyond recipes with essays on solar cooking, neighborhood water harvesting, and medicinal uses of some of the plants.

Ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Felger, who was my first mentor and thus has been writing about and advocating for  “wild agriculture” even longer than I have, contributes an article that tells us that 10,000 years ago Prosopis (mesquite) formed the nutritional foundation of some of the first human populations along the Pacific Coast of South America, long before the use of corn in their society. And we do know that mesquite was also the staple of the desert Tohono O’odham. As Dr. Felger has been advocating for decades, it is time we begin (or go back to) fitting our food production to fit the climate rather than changing the environment to fit the crop just as earlier desert inhabitants did.

Now for a recipe. For years the artists in Cascabel have put on a pancake breakfast in the beautiful San Pedro Valley. Here is the recipe they have used, developed by Pearl Mast.

Nothing beats mesquite pancakes on a winter morning.

Pearl’s Mesquite Pancakes

(Makes about 12)

1 cup mesquite flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 tablespoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 tablespoon oil

1-2 cups of buttermilk, sour milk or fresh mile

1 tablespoon vinegar (optional)

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, oil, 1 cup of milk and vinegar. Add wet ingredients to dry. Add more milk to thin the batter. Cook on medium heat and enjoy with your favorite syrup or toppings.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the Southwest deserts in her books American Indian Food and Lore, The Prickly Pear Cookbook, and Cooking the Wild Southwest. They are available at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store or on-line bookshop or your favorite on-line book seller.

 

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

Date Bars with Mesquite

Mesquite meal, oats, and dates combine for a sweet and nutritious snack.

Now that the temperatures have dropped, we can once again turn on the oven to bake some goodies. Carolyn here today to talk about one of my favorite recipes. Because both dates and mesquite meal are quite sweet, you can cut way back on the sugar. My version cuts two-thirds of the sugar in the original recipe. Although you could actually completely leave out the sugar in the base, in baking at least a little sugar is needed to help with texture and browning. Adding the warming spices of fall make the bars special. I added some cardamom, because it is unusual in our culture, and a little cinnamon. If you happen to have some of Amy’s mole mixes, a tablespoon of one of those would add real punch.

In order to make the finished date bars easy to remove from the pan, line the pan with foil or parchment paper with some wings on the sides to lift out the finished bars.  I hate it when I have to hack at bars to get them out of the pan.  Use a little more than half of the crumb mixture on the bottom; I figured I used about three-fifths.

Line the pan with paper or foil to help lift out the finished bars.

You will have plenty of time to cook the date filling while the base bakes. I was surprised how quickly the pieces of chopped dates softened into a smooth paste.

Dates and water cook quickly into a smooth paste.  Use low heat and stir frequently.

 

When you add the final layer of crumbs, you can add a sprinkling of nuts if your intended audience can eat them. Adjust the baking time by watching for the bars to brown around the edges. Let them cool

in the pan an hour or so before lifting them out with your paper or foil. I cut mine into 24 pieces. They could be even smaller.

Cut small pieces because the bars are quite rich.

I made these bars to take to a potluck. They would also be a good addition to a selection of Christmas cookies.

 

Ummm….delicious with a cup of coffee or tea.

Here’s the recipe:

Oatmeal date bars

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup mesquite meal

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup very soft butter

2 cups chopped dates (3/4 pound)

1 cup water

1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate

1 tablespoon grated lemon or orange rind (optional)

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a 9-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper with an inch or two extending over the edge. Spray with cooking spray or spread a tiny bit of oil over the lining.

In a large bowl, combine oats, whole wheat flour, mesquite meal, salt, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Press a little more than half of the mixture into the bottom of a 9- inch square baking pan. Bake 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking combine dates and water in a small saucepan over medium heat.. Bring to a simmerl, and cook until thickened, probably around 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice or orange juice concentrate, and remove from heat.

Remove crust from oven when it is beginning to brown at the edges, spread the filling over the base, and pat the remaining crumb mixture on top. Sprinkle with chopped nuts if using. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in preheated oven, or until top is lightly toasted. Cool before lifting from the pan. Cut into small pieces (I did 24) as these are very rich.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the foods of the Southwest, both wild and domesticated.  Find her books at her website, at Native Seeds/SEARCH, at at on-line booksellers.

 

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

Savor Homemade Corn Tortillas

Carolyn here today to expound on the glories and benefits of homemade corn tortillas. With inexpensive corn tortillas wrapped in plastic available everywhere, why bother to make your own? Same reason to make your own bread: flavor and nutrition. The fragrance and flavor of a tortilla right off the grill is is warm and homey and the perfect base for a simple meal.

Homemade tortillas over a fire at Linda’s ranch in Mexico. (photo by Linda McKittrick.)

Corn tortillas are made with masa harina, or corn that has gone through the nixtamal process with lime and is then dried and ground (or maybe ground and dried). If you want to start from scratch with the corn,  Savor blog sister Amy can lead you through it in a previous  post here. 

Back in April, public radio had an interesting piece on a Mexican cook who maintains that tortillas made from heritage corn are vastly superior to those made from commercial bagged masa. You can read the very interesting article here.

The problem is that corn alone, whatever corn you use,  isn’t all that nutritious, lacking protein and some other nutrients. As with all foods, combining ingredients can lead to more balanced nutrition.

Grated turmeric root adds nutrition and a lovely golden color to the tortillas.

I added both garbanzo flour and amaranth flour as well as some grated turmeric to the masa  for some tortillas I made recently and the results were delicious. (See recipe below). Amaranth is high in protein and the amino acid lysine. You could also use quinoa flour for more nutrition.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have the dough, you need to shape it. In Tucson, traditional Mexican cooks pat out tortillas in perfect rounds. It’s an art. Further south, cooks use a tortilla press, either handsome wooden ones or the more utilitarian metal.

Hermina Serino uses a wooden tortilla press in her booth at the San Phillips Farmers Market in Tucson.

Plain metal tortilla press.

The trick to getting the dough off the press in one piece is to use pieces of plastic below and on top of the ball of dough. The other trick, which I learned in a cooking class in Oaxaca, it to peel the tortilla up from the hinge end, not the lever end. The hinge end is just enough thicker to help you peel it without tearing.  Once you have it in your hand, drop it directly onto a hot griddle or frying pan. Let it cook for a few seconds, then flip and do the other side.

Peel the tortilla up from the hinge end of the press.

For even more nutrition, you can add a sprinkling of seeds (I tried both chia and barrel cactus) to the dough before pressing the tortillas.

Sprinkle some chia seeds on the tortilla dough before pressing.

Tortillas cook quickly on a well-seasoned griddle. You can see the gratings of turmeric in this picture

As you finish the tortillas, store them in a folded tea towel until ready to serve.  They are fine as they are, or if you wish to cook further, you can saute in a little bit of oil. Top with fillings of your choice: meat or vegetables and beans.

A simple meal includes one tortilla with chicken and green salsa and another with grilled beef with red salsa.

More Nutritious Tortillas

3/4 cup dried instant masa

1 tablespoon garbanzo flour*

1 tablespoon amaranth flour*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon grated fresh turmeric or dried turmeric (optional)

1/2 cup water (approximately)

First cut a plastic bag into two large squares to use on the tortilla press. Mix the flours and the salt in a medium bowl. Add half the water and mix. Add more water slowly until you get a dough that just sticks together. You don’t want it too soft. This takes a little practice. If you add too much water, just sprinkle in a little more masa. Roll the dough into balls of about 2 tablespoons each. Heat the well-seasoned frying pan or griddle. Press a tortilla and transfer to grill. Don’t worry if every one doesn’t turn out great. Just rebundle the dough and try again. Makes 6 to 8 tortillas.

(*Purchase these flours in health food stores or make your own by grinding the dry garbanzos, amarath or quinoa until fine in a coffee or spice grinder.)


Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants and Southwestern food. Read more at www.cniethammer.com.  Buy her books at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store or website or on Amazon.

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Mexican Food, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Solstice Celebrated with Saguaros

On Summer Solstice morning, a white-wing dove coos to the saguaro fruit to hasten its ripening, and takes its first taste. When red fruit opens, doves will dip in for a luscious meal and come up with red heads!  (photo JRMondt)

Have you seen it yet?–the rare red-headed white-wing dove of the desert?  “Red-headed Ok’ko-koi” is only around for a short while during the bahidaj.  He is the herald of saguaro fruit harvesting season.

These longest days of the year (and the hottest!!) are the Sonoran Desert New Year of the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People. It is the beginning of “action time” in the desert, tho’ it may look blistered and dead from inside an air-conditioned space.  Lots is happening.  Listen to sounds of quail and dove at dawn; watch scurrying lizards at noon; sense bats at night.  Desert life out there is pollinating flowers and dispersing seed in prep for monsoon moisture.

Fallen bahidaj on the rocks will be critter food.  For people, catch it before it falls. (MABurgess)

Tia Marta here to share ideas about the giant saguaro’s gifts of good food to its fellow desert helpers.  With San Juan’s Day celebrated June 24, I pause to also acknowledge the birthday of my dear friend and mentor, Juanita Ahil, who first led me into the desert on an early June morning to introduce me to some amazing desert treats, discussed in this post.

Pick the fruits that show a blush of rosy red on the top.  (MABurgess photo)

A saguaro fruit, opened with its sharp “pizza-cutter” calyx, is filled with sweet raspberry-red pulp and crunchy black seeds. (MABurgess photo)

 

Juanita would scoop out the nutritious pulp from thick fruit rinds–with thanks and blessings.  We’d take several juicy bites before filling buckets of bahidaj to make syrup.

Juanita would add water to the pulpy fruit to loosen the mass, then strain out seeds before concentrating the sweet water to syrup. (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

Over her open fire, she would stir a pot full of fruit and water until the water turned red, then strain the mass through a basket-sieve, saving the seed for other purposes. (See blog-sister Carolyn Niethammer’s post on “Black Beauty Wafers” of saguaro seed.)  After sieving, it was the long process of boiling down the sweet water to a dark syrup–like making maple syrup.  Don’t be surprised if you see Bahidaj Sitol selling for what looks like exorbitant prices; consider the time it takes to make!  Juanita would contribute a share of her hard-produced syrup to her Tohono O’odham Community for fermenting into wine for the rain-ceremony, with prayers for the desert’s rebirth.  Surplus syrup was so concentrated, it could be kept unrefrigerated, carrying summer’s sweetness into the winter.

Here are some delectable ideas for cool, super-simple desserts with saguaro syrup:

 

Muff’s “Sonoran Melba” topped with pine nuts and chia seed (JRMondt photo)

Directions for Muff’s SONORAN MELBA WITH PINE NUTS AND CHIA

Over a serving of vanilla or vanilla-bean ice cream, pour 1-3 tsp pure saguaro syrup (bahidaj sitol).  It doesn’t take much, as it is so rich!  Sprinkle top with 1/2 tsp chia seed and 1 Tbsp of pine nuts (shelled).   Taste and go nuts in ecstasy!

Rod’s “Saguaro Split”–topped with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts (JRMondt photo)

Recipe for Rod’s SAGUARO SPLIT:

Divide a half banana in half longitudinally. Serve a big scoop of ice cream in between–any flavor– like chocolate chip or French vanilla.  Top with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts of choice.  [Here the “lily is guilded” for sure.  Who needs a cherry on top when you have the rare treat of saguaro syrup?!]

Setting out fresh bahidaj pulp to dry on wax paper. (MABurgess)

Try dehydrating saguaro fruit in a solar oven with the lid partially open to allow moisture to escape. It doesn’t take long. Note the rock holding the oven cover open.(MABurgess photo)

I also love to make chuñ–the dried bahidaj fruit which you can sometimes find hanging on the branches of a palo verde, the nurse tree next to the saguaro where fruit has fallen.  Scoop out the pulp from its rind, place blobs on wax paper, dry them outside under a screen or in your solar oven.  Eat and enjoy chuñ as a totally healthy snack; it is high in complex, slowly-digested sugars, vegetable protein and healthy oils in the seeds.   Or, get creative with chuñ–as in the following recipe:

 

 

 

Sweet chun dried in the sun is even better than figs! (BTW–Now– in the dry heat of Solstice-time before the monsoons–is prime time to harvest mesquite pods too!  Check out desert harvesters.org for more info.)  (MABurgess photo)

Recipe for Tia Marta’s JUNE CHUÑ healthy fruit salad:

1/2-3/4 cup diced apple (approx 1 small apple diced)

1/2 cup organic red grapes cut in half

3 Tbsp dried cherries, cranberries, or chopped dried apricots

1/2-2/3 cup organic plain lowfat yogurt

1-2 tsp agave nectar (optional, to taste)

1/4 cup chopped dried bahidaj chuñ

Mix all ingredients except chuñ ahead and chill.  Sprinkle some little chuñ chunks on each serving as topping. Serves 2 or 3.  This is fancy and sweet enough to be used as a dessert. Enjoy the natural complex carbs, sweet nutrition, and delightful crunch!

Cool “JUNE CHUN”–a fruity and crunchy salad or dessert (MABurgess)

So, Happy Desert New Year!  And happy harvesting in the coolth of early summer mornings, rejoicing in the gifts saguaro gives to its fellow desert-dwellers–from the white-wing doves and ants to us two-leggeds!

[If you are beyond the Sonoran Desert and want to try some of these desert delicacies, you can contact http://www.tocaonline.org (website of Tohono O’odham Community Action, Sells, AZ) or http://www.nativeseeds.org (NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ; or 520-622-5561) to order them.  Many other traditional desert foods are available at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.]

Braving the heat, inviting the monsoons and prepping for summer planting, NativeSeeds/SEARCH will be celebrating San Juan’s Day at the NSS Conservation Farm in Patagonia, AZ, this Saturday, June 24, 2017, 11am-3pm.  Bring a dish for the pot luck and a spray-bottle of water for blessings.  For info call 520-622-0830.

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarte au Citron: Best Ever Lemon Pie

 

Spring in the desert means great citrus.

Carolyn here today with one of my favorite recipes, perfect for spring. Many people in the desert have lemon trees in their garden or have access to a neighbor’s bounty. Farmers markets also have lots of citrus in the spring. Making this recipe always reminds me of two dear friends. I begged the recipe several decades ago after eating at a dinner party hosted by Susie Morris and David Devine. I adored the pie, but dreaded making it because I always grated my knuckles along with the lemon zest. Then, a few years ago in repayment for a very minor favor, another friend, Margaret Pope, gave me a new type of zester. It is a miracle tool that makes zesting citrus peel quick and bloodless.

This zester makes producing citrus zest quick and easy.

You can use a commercial pie crust or use the directions for a lemon-flavored crust below.  Some directions call for combining the flour and butter in a food processor, but I think that cuts the butter too small. It’s those larger pieces of butter between layers of flour that make your crust flaky. I use an old-fashioned  pastry cutting tool for this.

Cutting the butter into the flour for pie crust.

To make the filling, you need to separate the eggs. Even a little bit of yolk in the whites with inhibit the amount of volume when you beat them. The trick here is to have three bowls: one for the whites, one for the yolks and the working bowl. Crack the egg over the working bowl, catching the yolk in the shell and letting the white go into the bowl. If there is no yolk in the white, add it to the bowl for whites. If the yolk breaks, set the whole egg aside for scrambled eggs for breakfast and get another egg.

Use the yolks to make the lemon custard filling. It cooks rather quickly, so use low heat and stir and stir. Stop when it is the consistency of mayonnaise.

The custard should be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Next, you will beat your egg whites. The filling for the pie is similar to lemon meringue pie, but rather than the custard on the bottom and meringue on top, you fold together the egg whites and custard.

Gently fold the the custard into the beaten egg whites.

Tarte Au Citron

Pastry:

1 ¼ cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ice water

½ cup butter

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Filling:

4 eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ cup lemon juice

zest of two lemons

1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water

pinch salt

Optional garnish: Whipped cream and mixed berries

Tarte shell: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut butter into the flour. Add  egg yolk, ice water and lemon juice. If you are in the desert, you might need to add more water as our flour has little moisture. Roll out and fit into a 8- or  9-inch tart pan. Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees. (Use pie weights, beans or rice over a sheet of foil or parchment paper to keep pastry from puffing up).  Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake another 10 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside.(Can substitute own recipe for pastry but this is really good)

Filling: While the crust is baking, you can start the custard. Separate eggs. Beat yolks with half the sugar. Add lemon juice, zest and cornstarch. Transfer to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often, until consistency of mayonnaise, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and rest in bowl of ice water to cool completely. Again preheat oven to 400 degrees if it is cold. In a bowl, place egg whites and salt. Beat gradually, adding remaining sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir about a quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining whites.

Spoon lemon mixture into the pastry shell. Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the filling is set, about 15 minutes. Serve alone or with whipped cream and berries.

Cool on wire rack. Serves 8 (or maybe 2).

Whipped cream and berries are a luxury addition to a slice of Tarte au Citron.

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Carolyn Niethammer is the author of five cookbooks on Southwest foods. You can see her books here.

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

Wild Rhubarb Rises Again!

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

It’s an unusual winter season when Canaigre (also known by many other names:  Wild Rhubarb, Desert Dock,  Hiwidchuls in O’odham language, Latin name Rumex hymenosepalus) creeps up out of its sandy hiding places to bloom and seed before spring weather gets too warm.  When conditions are right, it can dot the desert floor in early spring with its floppy leathery leaves and pink stalks similar to domestic rhubarb.  This recent cool season Nov.2016-Jan.2017, with its period of penetrating rains, has been the right trigger for awakening canaigre.  Right now it’s time to attune our vision to finding it!  If the weather heats up rapidly, as happened in the last couple of springs, its tender leaf rosettes will dry and crinkle leaving a brown organic “shadow” of itself on the sand, its stored life safely underground in fat roots.  Tia Marta here to share some experiences with canaigre or wild rhubarb.

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Canaigre isn’t just everywhere in the desert.  It’s elusive.  It usually likes sandy loose soil, like the flood plains of our desert rivers in Baja Arizona and Sonora, along major arroyo banks, and on pockets of ancient sand dunes.  Where you see one you usually see many.

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

My late friend and mentor, Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil, would take me to her favorite harvesting grounds at the right time each February and March to collect the rosy stalks–if they had emerged.  Over the last 40 years, with deep regret, frustration and anguish, I’ve seen her special “harvesting gardens” go under the blade as development turned wild rhubarb habitat into apartments, golf courses, and strip malls.  Hopefully our Arizona Native Plant Society (www.AZNPS.com) will be able to advocate for setting aside some remaining sites on public lands, similar to the BLM Chiltepin Reserve at Rock Corral Canyon in the Atascosa Mountains.  Where wild rhubarb was once super-plentiful, they and their habitats are now greatly diminished, even threatened.

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Details of the parts of the plant that Juanita traditionally harvested are shown in Mimi Kamp’s sketch.  Contrary to some ethnographic reports, Juanita did not use the leaf petioles for food; she harvested the flower stalks, i.e. the stems, leaving the leaves to make more food for the plants to store for the next season.  Traditional knowledge is so attuned to Nature.  Hers was an awareness of the plant’s needs balanced with her own appetite.  Other reports of traditional use of wild rhubarb mention cooking the leaves after leaching/steaming out the oxalic acid from them which is not healthy to eat.

Juanita would also dig deeply into the sandy soil directly under an unusually large, robust hiwidchuls to harvest one or more (up to maybe 1/4 of the tubers) to use as medicine.  I recall her digging a big purplish tuber the size of an oblong sweet potato at a depth of 2 1/2 feet on the floodplain of the Rio Santa Cruz where ball parks now prevent any hiwidchuls growth at all.  She would dry it and powder it to use later on scrapes to staunch bleeding.  Her hiwidchuls harvesting dress was dotted with rosy brown patches of color dyed from the juice splashed on the cloth when she cut the tubers into slices for drying. (See Jacqueline Soule’s post on this blog from 2014, also Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants books, for alternate uses.)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up  with buds and flowers  typical of buckwheats (MABurgess photo)

Canaigre/wild rhubarb is in the buckwheat family sporting clusters of little flowers that produce winged seeds.  Their papery membranes help catch the wind for flying to new planting grounds.  The green celery-like flower stalk or stem turns pink or raspberry-tinted as it matures.  That was when Juanita would cut the stem at its base to use for her hiwidchuls pas-tild, wild rhubarb pie!

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb's membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb’s membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

In a good year, Juanita would harvest literally bundles of hiwidchuls stalks and we would set to work baking.  Her pies were sweet and tangy.  Here is what she would roughly put together in her off the cuff recipe.  But almost any rhubarb pie recipe should work with the wild rhubarb.  You can find great info on Southwest Native uses of canaigre in Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book American Indian Food and Lore.

Juanita’s approximate Hiwidchuls Pas-tird RECIPE

Ingredients:

ca 4-6 cups chopped young wild rhubarb stems

1/4-1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour

2-3 Tbsp butter

ca 2 cups sugar

pie crust–2 layers for top and bottom, or bottom crust and top lattice crust (A good variation is mesquite flour added to your crusts)

Directions:  Prep stems ahead.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Chop young rhubarb stems in 1/2 inch cuts.  Stems are full of vascular bundles and can become very fibrous as stems become fully mature, so youthful stems are best.  (Be warned:  One year we harvested a little too late and our pies were so “chewy” with fiber that we had to eat our pies outside in order to be able to easily “spit out the quids.”)  Cook hiwidchuls chopped pieces in a small amount of water until tender.  Add in sugar, butter and flour and cook until mixture is thickening.  Pour mixture into your pie crust.  Cover with top pie crust and pierce for steam escape, or cover with lattice crust.  Begin baking in hot oven (at 450F) then reduce heat to medium oven (350F) for 45-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling through lattice or steam holes.  Enjoy it hot or cold!

 

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Now let’s head out into the desert washes to see if there are more stands of hiwidchuls popping up out of the ground, making solar food to keep themselves and other creatures alive and well!   Let’s get ready to be collecting their seeds (which also were used traditionally by Native People as food) in order to propagate and multiply them, adding them to our gardens for future late winter shows of color, good food and good medicine.  Happy gardening and eating from Tia Marta and traditional knowledge shared!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chile Rellenos, Reimagined

To make this dish, start with some nice roasted chiles.

To make this dish, start with some nice roasted chiles.

Carolyn here today, feeling a little nostalgic. My mother taught me how to cook,  beginning with stirring Jello when I was five years old. Then later there was junior high home ec and a Girl Scout cooking badge.  Mom would be 102 next week if she were alive and she would have been a more adventurous cook if her kids had been more adventurous at the table.   I wouldn’t say my brother and I were picky eaters, but we didn’t want anything too unusual. It wasn’t until I spent the summer in Europe between my junior and senior year in college that I began to broaden my palate and did a complete change. For the next decade, I wasn’t interested in any food that wasn’t authentically ethnic.

So when Mom told me she had this new recipe called Chile Cheese Puff, I couldn’t have been less interested. The name alone sounded so Family Circle or Good Housekeeping, absolutely everything my friends and I were not in the early 1970s. (Remember, much of what we call The Sixties happened in the early Seventies). But at some point I came around, tried the recipe and liked it. And when I needed some chile recipes for my second cookbook The Tumbleweed Gourmet, I included Chile Cheese Puff. For some reason I didn’t think to rename it.

This book went out of print long ago, but there are still used copies on Amazon.

This book went out of print long ago, but there are still used copies on Amazon.

Basically this is a baked chile relleno. Without the deep frying, it is much healthier, but almost as delicious. It’s a great dish to make for a light dinner when you need inspiration. If you live in the Southwest, you probably already have all the ingredients on hand. This recipe calls for stuffing the chiles with jack cheese, but you could use beans or mashed squash as well.  You can roast and peel your own chiles, usually Anaheims but poblanos are delicious. Or get the ones in a can.

Chile Cheese Puff

2 cans (4 oz each) whole green chiles

or

6 to 7 fresh peeled chiles

1/4 pound jack cheese (or beans, squash or tofu)

2 cups milk

4 eggs

1/3 cup instant flour (Wondra)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash pepper

1/2 pound gated longhorn or cheddar cheese

Grease a 6 inch by 9 inch baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Clean seeds and ribs from chiles, trying not to tear them. Cut jack cheese in strips and stuff chiles. Alternately, stuff with mashed beans, squash or tofu.

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These chiles had very thin walls and shredded when I peeled them. For this dish, it doesn’t matter. Just reassemble them, with half on the bottom and half covering your filling.

Arrange chiles flat in a row in prepared baking dish.

Divide eggs. In a medium bowl, whip whites until frothy, whip in yolks. Add flour, milk, salt, pepper and gently combine.

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Pour over chiles. Sprinkle with gated cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes until puffed and golden.

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Add a salad and you have a great light meal.

Add a salad and you have a great light meal.

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Carolyn Niethammer’s five cookbooks cover wild foods of the southwest deserts and other southwest cuisine. Find her books at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store, on Amazon or order from your favorite independent bookstore.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

The Best Mesquite Brownies

Carolyn Niethammer with you here today talking about one of my favorite subjects, mesquite meal. The first crop of mesquite pods ripened early this year on the lower desert. Here in Tucson, Desert Harvesters sponsored a milling in June. (A milling is this miraculous process of putting whole pods in a hammermill and getting lovely, silky flour at the end.) Because of the early summer rains, there is a huge second crop of pods ripening on the trees now(see the photo above). If you missed the first round, there will be opportunities to get your pods ground in communities throughout Arizona later in the fall after the weather has dried out.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

So what to do with all that mesquite meal after you have had your fill of pancakes?

I have been cooking with mesquite pods since the early 1970s and have published in my cookbooks lots of recipes using the ground pods. But until now, I’ve never been completely satisfied with a mesquite brownie recipe. But this one that I made for a potluck at Native Seeds/SEARCH earlier this summer is close to perfect. I used pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) because I think the flavor goes well with mesquite, but pecans would work too. If you cannot bear to bake anything without chocolate, feel free to toss in some chocolate chips and maybe a little cocoa powder as well. The familiar warm flavor of mesquite will still come through.

 

The recipe has a considerable amount of fat and sugar, but those are the ingredients that make up what we consider a proper brownie. Just go easy on how many you eat.

If you aren’t up to making your own mesquite meal, you can purchase it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store or order on-line from NS/S or Flor de Mayo. Mesquite meal is also available at farmers’ markets throughout Arizona.

Ummm, don't these look good?

Ummm, don’t these look good?

Best Mesquite Brownies

2/3 cup melted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup mesquite meal

2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup pepitas or chopped pecans

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine mesquite meal, flour, baking powder and salt if using. Set aside.
  3. Combine melted butter and oil in a large bowl. Stir in sugar and add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Stir in mesquite and flour mixture. Add chocolate chips if using.
  5. Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. When cool, cut into squares.

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Cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

Mesquite brownies cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

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Want more recipes for mesquite meal? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants available at Native Seeds/SEARCH or from Amazon or B&N.  There you’ll find my favorite recipes for Apple-Mesquite Coffee Cake and a killer Banana Mesquite layer cake.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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