Posts Tagged With: Carolyn Niethammer

The Sioux Chef Cooks Southwest Heritage Foods

Chef Sean Sherman, founder of the company The Sioux Chef, uses indigenous ingredients in creative dishes.  He was invited by the New York Times to submit ten essential Native American dishes.   (Photo courtesy of The Sioux Chef)

The Desert People have grown and eaten tepary beans for more than a thousand years. In the mid-20th century they nearly disappeared, but became popular again when people began to realize how well they were adapted to the hot, dry Southwestern climate. Just recently, they appeared in the food pages of the New York Times, courtesy of Chef Sean Sherman , founder of the company”The Sioux Chef.”

Sherman  grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s. As a kid, he and his cousins harvested edible wild plants that grew there including chokecheries, wild prarie turnips and juniper berries. As an adult he became a professional chef, eventually turning to more wild foods from his heritage and that of other Native American nations. In 2014, he started The Sioux Chef, connecting with other indigenous chefs, farmers, seed keepers and leaders. His cookbook, The Sioux Chef, won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award. Sherman focuses on making appealing foods using only indigenous American ingredients, nothing imported by Europeans.

Sherman’s recipe for teparies involves seasoning the cooked beans with sautéed onions, a little agave nectar, and chile–either Hatch ground dried chile or chipotle chile. He calls for half brown and half white teparies, but you can use whatever you have on hand. The New York Times sends readers wanting to purchase teparies to two sources we’ve often cited here, Ramona Farms and Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Teparies have been a frequent subject on this blog. We love their flavor and adaptability. Tia Marta wrote about them here; Amy uses them in a mixed vegetable stew.

Below is another of the Sioux Chef recipes the Times printed, this one using chia, which grows wild in Southern Arizona, and domesticated amaranth grain, a relative of the wild amaranth that shows up after the summer monsoons. Sherman calls for domestic berries, but they are found in woodlands. If you are lucky enough to have access to wild wolf berries or hackberries, they would be a perfect addition. I used some saguaro fruit I had in the freezer.

Popping the amaranth is easy in a dry hot wok. The popped kernels look like teensy pieces of popped corn. Watch closely when popping. The time between popped and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

Amaranth showing both popped and unpopped seed. Like popcorn, seeds don’t all pop at the same time. Keep stirring until most are popped.

 

Chia pudding with saguaro fruit and popped amaranth. I added a couple of blueberries and some kiwi for contrast. After I made this for the photo, my husband and I ate it for breakfast.

Almond Chia Pudding

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed

½ cup chia seeds

¼ cup light agave nectar

Pinch of fine sea salt

¼ cup amaranth

1 to 2 cups fresh mixed berries (any combination of blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)

¼ cup crushed manzanita berries (optional)

Small fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a lidded quart container, vigorously whisk together the 1 1/2 cups almond milk, chia seeds, agave and salt. (This ensures the chia seeds are evenly hydrated.) Let the mixture soak in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to overnight, so it develops a rich, creamy texture that is similar to that of rice pudding. If the mixture becomes too thick, whisk in more almond milk.

While the pudding soaks, heat a small skillet over medium-high. Add the amaranth and cook, shaking the skillet, until the amaranth begins to smell toasty and about half of the seeds have popped, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the amaranth to a plate to cool to room temperature. (Popped amaranth can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored in a lidded container in a cool, dark place.)

To serve, whisk the pudding to incorporate any liquid on top and break up the chia seeds, then spoon pudding into bowls. Top with the berries, popped amaranth and mint sprigs.

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One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.  This will be the first book authorized to use the City of Gastronomy logo.  See my other books at http://www.cniethammer.com.

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

Home-Cured Olives are Easy

I like to pick olives when they are part green and part black. But all green or all black, if they aren’t over ripe, are fine as well.

Fall may mean colorful leaves and apple harvests in the temperate regions of the globe, but in Southern Arizona and warm desert regions around the world, it is olive harvest time. Several years ago, a famous author died, and many notables who had been guests in his home on the coast of Southern Italy recalled their visits. One woman remembered walking through the olive groves and plucking and eating juicy olives. I laughed aloud when I read that. She may have plucked something, but it wasn’t olives. Olives off the tree are very bitter and they must be processed to be edible. The bitterness is due to a substance called oleuropein.

Various cultures have their own methods of removing the bitterness from olives. There’s the dry salt method, the brine method, the water method and the lye method. For 30 years I have followed instructions taught by the late Dr. Robert H. Forbes, who became dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona in 1899. He had made an intensive study of the home processing of curing olives. His process uses lye and the method has always worked for me. Last week when I went to the hardware store to buy the lye and told the clerk what I was going to do with it, he kept cautioning me that it was poison and came close to refusing to sell it to me. By following the instructions carefully, I never poisoned myself or the recipients of my olives.

(Aside: Dr. Forbes was still alive when I was a young journalism student in 1964. I interviewed him at his home on the edge of the University of Arizona campus on Olive Street, surrounded by gnarled old olive trees. His house stood where the Center for Creative Photography is now.)

You can home process green olives, black olives or those somewhere in between. Many people with olive trees would be happy to have you harvest from their yard and cut down on the mess when the olive drop. I just knock on the door and ask. Then later I leave a small jar of finished olives on their porch with a note.

You’ll need some glass jars to process your olives.

It’s too much typing to explain Dr. Forbes’ method, but the good folks at UC Davis have done a complete description of each method of olive processing and you can find them here.    The difference in Dr. Forbes’ lye method is that it doesn’t call for a changing of the lye bath.  You just leave the olives in the original lye solution until either taste or a litmus paper shows that the bitterness has been removed.  For me, this has been between five and seven days.  But lye is cheap and you’ll have more than necessary, so if changing helps, why not?  You can find another whole way to dealing with olives in a months’ long process here.

If you happen to live in Tucson, Jill Lorenzini will be discussing olive curing at the Santa Cruz River Farmers Market on the afternoon of October 24.

With the lye plan, after the bitterness is gone, the olives are rinsed (and rinsed!) to remove the lye and hardened with successively strong salt brine solutions. Lastly, they are freshened in water.  Whatever your processing plan, I like to flavor mine with a mixture of olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic cloves and fresh herbs from my garden. You can also slip in a small chile.

A few olives, some cheeses, all you need is a glass of wine to make a perfect Happy Hour snack.

Home processing olives is neither difficult nor overly time consuming, but you do need to get yourself some big glass jars and commit about five minutes a day to the endeavor.  For that little bit of effort, you can end up with a year’s supply of olives for only the cost of lye and salt and some nice gifts for your friends and family. Just one caution: don’t tell the clerk what you are buying the lye for.

One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

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

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

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

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

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Prickly Pear Peach Sherbet

Combine prickly pear, peaches, and honey for a delicious and healthy homemade sherbet.

It was a relatively wet spring in the Southwest this year, at least in the Sonoran Desert. This has made for a bounty of prickly pears. Once you’ve picked and juiced them, then what? There’s always prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear lemonade, and prickly pear jelly. But why not expand? Since it is still pretty warm throughout the fall, frozen desserts are a good place to start. Combining prickly pear juice with the luscious ripe stone fruits of the season is a good way to combine flavors.

Making your own frozen desserts is easy and healthy-nothing but fruit, honey, and cream. No weird emulsifiers or gums.

No need to peel or dethorn the prickly pear fruits. Make your juice with this easy recipe, then on to the sherbet.

 

Easy Prickly Pear Juice

Using tongs, collect 18-24 prickly pears. Wearing rubber gloves, rinse fruit and quarter. Working in batches, puree fruit in a blender. You’ll need to add a little water to get the first batch started. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids. The thorns will get caught in the strainer.

Although this recipe calls for peaches, any ripe stone fruits will do. Plums and apricots combine deliciously with prickly pear.

Prickly Pear Honey Sherbet

3 medium very ripe peaches, peeled

2 ½ cups prickly pear juice

½ cup honey

3 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup whipping cream or half and half

Slice peaches. Combine with 1 cup of the prickly pear juice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add honey and cook gently, stirring until honey is dissolved.  Transfer the mixture with the remaining 1 ½  cups prickly pear juice to a blender. If you have an ice cream maker, also add the whipping cream. Refrigerate until chilled and then transfer to an ice cream maker.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, transfer to a bowl and freeze until nearly hard. Break up and beat with an electric mixer. Beat whipping cream until stiff and fold into the fruit mixture. Refreeze until hard.

We Savor Sisters love to write about prickly pear. Find more posts here where Amy writes about an upside down cake and where I write about a cocktail made with prickly pear juice.

Need more prickly pear recipes? You’ll find them in my Prickly Pear Cookbook in the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, in National Parks stores, or on Amazon. It includes 60 recipes for cocktails, salads, barbecue sauces, main dishes, and desserts including not just the fruit but the cactus pads (nopales) as well. Even more recipes in Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.

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

Chad’s Sky Island Spice Company

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

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

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

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

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

Fiery hot chiltepines picking up flavor over mesquite coals.

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

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

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

Easy Chocolate-Chile Ice Cream

1/2 gallon commercial chocolate ice cream

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

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles

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

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

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

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

Raspados-A Sonoran Summer Treat

                  Summer fruit perfect for a raspado.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about ancient and modern foods of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website. She has a new book coming out (Fall 2020) on the 10,000 years of food history of the Santa Cruz Valley that is the basis for why Tucson was named the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

 

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

Sonoran Desert New Year Greetings!

Saguaro fruit is ripe and ready to harvest by many desert creatures. The traditional Tohono O’odham Bahidaj–the saguaro harvest and the rain ceremonies that are an integral part–herald our true New Year in Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert.  But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain.  Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures!  So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus.  The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food.  The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain!  A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us.  Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!

Saguaro fruits as yet unopened and still green may not be ready to collect. Wait a few more days until they develop the “blush.” (MABurgess photo)

Ripe saguaro fruits perfect for collecting are still closed with a luscious rosy color or “blush” to them! (MABurgess photo)

He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”

So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….

Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided!  Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket.  Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness.  Here are some vivid photographic hints.

Saguaro fruit open showing the glorious inner fruit and rind.  At this stage fruit can still be harvestable for making syrup. (MABurgess photo)

Use your thumb to scoop out the mass of sweet pulp and seeds.  (MABurgess photo)

The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year.  If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.

At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season.  Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source.   Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Count yourself lucky if you find totally dried fruit still in the husk! This is Chuñ, the dried sweet fruit, storable or immediately edible, and better than any energy bar. (MABurgess photo)

Bahidaj Chuñ–dry saguaro fruit–is like candy, one of the finest of desert treats! (MABurgess photo)

With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year.  Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp.  Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.

Juanita, and Stella after her, always instructed young harvesters to place the empty husks on the ground near the generous saguaro, facing up to the sky, asking for rain…. I hope they are watching. (MABurgess photo)

You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue.  There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.

Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.

When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”!  It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors.  Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest.  The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit.  Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits.  National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!

My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven.  I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Trip to the Mano y Metate Kitchen

Amy’s mole mixes on the shelf at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in reusable tins. .

It’s Carolyn here today giving you a behind-the-scenes look at one of my sister Savor the Southwest bloggers. For my forthcoming book on Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, I interviewed a number of small food manufacturers, and Amy Schwemm was one of them. So I’m going to share with you my story on how Amy got into the spice business:

Amy Valdez Schwemm opens the double doors of her industrial refrigerator and displays a collection of herbs and spices that would make Marco Polo and any Arab spice trader swoon. Plastic tubs and glass jars hold nine kinds of chiles, three kinds of nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, tortilla meal, cinnamon sticks, herbs, cacao nibs, imported chocolate from Oaxaca, and a secret ingredient—dried bananas.

These are the ingredients she uses to make the six dried mole mixes she sells through her company Mano y Metate. She has a stringent non-GMO policy for every one of them.

Amy owns a three-room professional kitchen with five large refrigerators, a huge black stove, and an array of health department-endorsed sinks. But she works her spice magic out of a room about 15 feet square. Just herself, a small scale, and that well-stocked fridge. The rest of the facility she rents on an hourly basis to other small food business—a caterer, two women who make kimchi, a baker of cheesecakes, and a couple of food trucks.

Amy uses a large industrial Cusinart to grind spices. It is really loud so she wears ear protection.

Schwemm began her food career working for Native Seeds/SEARCH which at the time sold a mole mix. She recalls that no one knew how to use it, but she remembered her grandmother making moles for the family. It was several years later with people asking for mole mixes that Schwemm decided this was something she could do. She took business and accounting classes and rented kitchen space from a small bakery. Meanwhile, Schwemm was helping to clean out her great aunt’s household accumulation and found a small mano for a molcajete, worn smooth from years of spice grinding. Another family member passed along the molcajete that went with it. Seeing Schwemm’s interest, the great aunt confessed she had given away her mother’s metate, but asked for it back. Thus the name of the news business was born: Mano y Metate.

Then began the task of trying to replicate the exact flavor of the authentic mole her great-grandmother had made according to her mother’s memory. Schwemm made numerous passes until finally her mother agreed that she had hit on the perfect combination. That blend of four kinds of dark chile, raisins, dried bananas, ground almonds and lots of sweetened Oaxacan chocolate became Schwemm’s Mole Dulce mix, her most popular. It is what is used at EXO coffee in their delicious Mole Dulce Latte.

Next in development was the much spicier Mole Negro with more bitter notes from unsweetened cacao nibs, four kinds of nuts, and smoky chipotle chile. An herby Mole Verde followed with jalapeno, green chile, cilantro, parsley and epazote.

Amy measures one of her secret ingredients: dried bananas. I guess it’s not a secret any more.

As the business developed, Schwemm kept experimenting, adding Pipian Rojo, a mixture of Santa Cruz mild child, pumpkin seeds, almonds and herbs, followed by Pipian Picante, a spicer version of Rojo. The most recent addition is Adobo with chiles, garlic and lots of herbs which works great as a dry rub before a steak goes on the grill.

All the mixes are packed in charming highly re-useable made-in-America two-ounce steel tins. Customers who are heavy users can save a little by buying the four-ounce packs in not-as-charming plastic bags. Mano y Metate products are available in small specialty store and independent food stores throughout Tucson and from Tubac to Seattle and from Santa Ana, California to Maine.

Over the years, Amy has given us great recipes using her spice mixes.  There is this for Tortilla Soup, another for fabulous Onion Rings, and another for a special holiday brunch with enchiladas and squash made with her fabulous mole negro mix.

Here is one of my favorites:

Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce Brownies

4 eggs (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 sticks softened butter (8 ounces)
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Mole Dulce powder

Mole Dulce powder for topping, 5 tablespoons or so, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 9-inch x13-inch baking pan (or two eight-inch square pans) with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs just until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat. Pour batter into pan(s) and spread to level. Shake Mole Dulce powder though a wire strainer to evenly distribute over the batter as a topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with crumbs instead of batter.

Schwemm says: I like the brownies thinner, so there’s more spicy, chocolaty topping per bite. Feel free to take them out of the oven sooner or bake them in a smaller pan if you like them gooey, but the edges of the pan always seem to go first around here.

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Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about ancient and modern foods of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website. She has a new book coming out (Fall 2020) on the 10,000 years of food history of the Santa Cruz Valley that is the basis for why Tucson was named the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

 

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

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

As long as I’ve been writing about wild foods–and that is many decades–I’ve read about eating the just-emerging shoots of ferns, a great delicacy. But since practically all of my foraging has been in the desert, I’ve never had a chance to gather this mountain treat. Then last year, we became part owners of a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, next to Tucson, at 8,000 feet. The hill behind the cabin is covered with FERNS due to a fire on the mountain about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw them last summer, I began plotting my gathering experience.

First, I had to figure out if my ferns were edible. I turned to John Slattery’s book Southwest Foraging, and he assured his readers that only one kind of fern grows in Southern Arizona, the bracken fern, and that it is edible. He did advise cooking it in two changes of water to deal with “carcinogenic substances.”

We’ve had a unusually cool spring in Southern Arizona, so cool that we didn’t get up to our cabin until late May. But spring was very slow coming that high (it had snowed earlier in May), and the ferns were just coming up. I was in luck. I only picked a handful because I wasn’t sure I’d even like them and I didn’t want to waste any.

However, a rinse, the two changes of cooking water, and a quick saute in butter and lemon juice provided a little snack with a slightly nutty taste just as delicious as promised. There will be no second chance this year, it’s a fleeting season. By the time we get to the mountain cabin again the ferns will be unfurled. But I will for sure be up there next year in May and this time I will gather more!

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

Shoots nicely cooked with butter and lemon juice and ready for eating.

Update:  I did my original gathering and cooking in the third week of May. We returned to the cabin the first week of June and there were still ferns just emerging and the tops of others further along were still furled and tender. I had forgotten to take butter and lemon juice, so I cooked the tips in olive oil and drizzled a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar over them. Great! So depending on the year, the fern season at 8,000 feet runs for maybe a month.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest. You can see her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. In the fall of 2020 her book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy will be released by the University of Arizona Press. In it she details the last 10,000 years of culinary history of the Santa Cruz Valley and why the inhabitants of the area are still eating the same things after all these years!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

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Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

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

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