Posts Tagged With: Carolyn Niethammer

Thank a Farmer…for Garlic!

So far this month we’ve been talking about diabetes, but November is also Thank a Farmer Month.  My own garden has been very slow to come in this year and if not for farmers, I’d been eating mesquite and dried prickly pear. It’s Carolyn today and we’re going to focus on a small local farm in Tucson that specializes in garlic.   Come with me on a field trip.

Donald and Cristina Breckenfeld at their farm stand at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market.

November is garlic planting time at the Breckenfeld Family Growers farm. That’s Donald and Crystina Breckenfeld and they grow twelve different varieties of garlic.

Why twelve? “Some are sharp and hot, some come on slow and stay with you, others come on sharp and go quickly,” Donald Breckenfeld, the farmer explains. There’s a mild French garlic with a floral flavor, two Italian varieties with a buttery taste, and one out of Sonora with a peppery under taste. The garlic will grow all winter and be harvested in May.

Two kinds of garlic including a red heritage variety on the right.

Donald Breckenfeld also grows a dozen different kinds of peppers, four different varieties of kale and three kinds of beets including yellow beets. “I want people to see that there are other kinds of vegetables with better taste,” he says. Especially popular are their no-heat jalapenos.

Crystina keeps all the planting records, makes sure the crops are rotated in the fields, and starts all the tomato and chile plants from seed.

Customers at their stand at the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market here in Tucson get an education along with their vegetables as both are willing to explain in detail the advantages of each vegetable. “It’s the teacher in both of us,” Donald says.

The Breckenfeld’s one and a quarter acre farm south of Irvington on Tucson’s southside  is in the ancestral floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, a back slough where water came in with sediment adding lots of organic carbon. The soil is rich enough that a casually discarded nectarine seed grew into a twelve-foot tree with little attention. A chiltipin seed dropped by a bird has grown six feet high and taken over the grape arbor.

As a retired University of Arizona soil scientist, Donald pays a great deal of attention to what’s going on underneath his plants. He rotates his small fields keeping one-third to one-half acre in production at a time.  He rototills the fallow plots, turning under the remains of whatever he was growing, letting it compost naturally in the ground.

Donald picks up a handful of the rich deep brown soil in a fallowed field and point out a tiny white speck about half the size of a grain of rice. “That’s the mycorrhizae,” he says.  Later he explains that the fungus helps by breaking down the organic matter in the soil, setting up a symbiotic relationship between the bioactivity and the plants’ roots.

Look closely at the tiny white strand between Donald’s fingers. That is the mycorrhizae that signals healthy soil.

“You know that sweet smell some soil has?” Donald asks. “That’s the bioactivity.”

Along with most other Tucson farmers now and in the past, Donald wishes he had more water. He supplements his 1800-gallon rain-collection tanks with city water and plans to add more tanks.

“I use a lot of techniques in order to conserve water,” he explains. “I plant the vegetables close together so they shade the ground. I’m also really careful not to over-irrigate. I try to have a twenty-four- to thirty-inch wetting profile in the soil so when the roots get down, they have something to tap into.”

A quick search of the Internet shows that garlic is considered to be effective against everything from brain tumors and high cholesterol to athlete’s foot. But every research project from institutions in China to the USA, suggest that to get medicinal benefits from garlic, you have to eat it raw as even short-term heating reduces its anti-inflammatory effect.

The smaller the pieces of garlic you use, the more pungent the flavor. The garlic press has elicited many opinions from food writers (good, bad, you’ll burn in hell if you use one) but no less an expert than Bon Appetit has said it’s a good and helpful utensil.

Using a garlic press to crush the garlic cloves. With newer presses, you don’t even need to peel the garlic.

So here is Crystina Breckenfeld’s great recipe for garlic dip using raw garlic. Because I always fiddle with recipes I couldn’t resist add some fresh thyme and oregano from my garden. For an even heavier garlic punch, you could add a few garlic chives. Jacqueline writes about those here. 

Crystina’s Garlic Dip

Best Garlic Dip Ever

16 ounces of unflavored Greek yogurt

5 to 7 garlic cloves (or to taste )

Salt and pepper to taste.

Press (do not chop) the cloves into the yogurt and mix well. Add salt and pepper. Place mixture in a covered container and refrigerate for about an hour and a half. Mixture can be for vegetables, chips, or as a topping on baked potatoes. It will last if refrigerated for about a week. You may substitute sour cream, cream cheese, or lebna.

What a great way to deliciously consume healthy raw garlic.

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Carolyn Niethammer has spent five decades writing about the food of Southern Arizona and the Greater Southwest. See her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. Buy them at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061 North Campbell in Tucson or through their on-line store here.   She is currently at work on a book on Tucson: UNESCO City of Gastronomy and is visiting many of the small farms ringing Tucson.

 

 

Categories: Cooking | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Southwest Youth Plant the Seeds of Food Security

Young volunteers planting heirloom corn seedlings at Mission Garden, Tucson  (MABurgess photo)

It is so exciting and deeply inspiring to see how our Baja Arizona young people are taking to gardening!  From the looks of it, the future of our food will be in good hands!  Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo Arts here to let you know about just a few of the interesting projects several school programs have quietly begun.   Knowledge is growing out of the desert soil, along with delicious produce.

High school students at Youth Ag Day celebration at San Xavier Farm Coop learn how to de-spine and peel prickly pear fruit for making prickly pear lemonade.  It is not only delicious but also helps balance blood sugar and curb cholesterol! (MABurgess photo)

Our children are connecting with Nature, soil microorganisms, and living plants that can feed them–doing healthy activity that produces not only healthier bodies but also nutritional consciousness planted deep in the brain.  Funny how dirty garden fingers can make you smarter–What a neat link!

University of Arizona “Compost Cats” are on the go daily to “harvest” organic waste all over town. Here they are teaching students at Youth Ag Day how to turn kitchen and cafeteria waste into rich soil to feed the next crop. (MABurgess photo)

Who in the world would think a compost pile worthy of note?  Well this is a record-breaker.  The young Compost Cats have created a gift to the future of gardening and farming in Tucson by #1 changing peoples’ habits about recycling organic waste on a big scale. (There should be a better term than “waste” –perhaps “discards”–because….)   Then #2, these Cats have turned all that Tucson waste around to be a positive asset, a resource!

This mountain of compost is but a fraction of the “Sierra Madre of Super Soil” at San Xavier Coop Farm collected by the UA Compost Cats. They IMPROVE the soil with traditional composting, giving the crops a healthy nutrient boost. (MABurgess photo)

There’s nothing like being out there observing what happens in Nature! Here representatives from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA) show students at Youth Ag Day how ground covers and different plantings help infiltration of rainwater into the soil. With no plant cover, rain sluices away as floodwater. (MABurgess photo)

Our local southwest seed-conservation organization NativeSeedsSEARCH is providing a priceless resource to groups who can apply for their Community Seed Grants. (For details check out www.nativeseeds.org).  Recently a number of Tucson schools are growing amazing vegetable gardens with the seeds donated by NativeSeedsSEARCH, including Ochoa Elementary, Nosotros Academy, Tully Elementary, Roskruge Bilingual K-8 Magnet School, and Pima Community College.  You can read about Seed Grant Superstars in the latest issue of Seedhead News available by calling 520-622-0380.  Become a member and support this program for the future!

Tohono O’odham Community College Agriculture interns clean mesquite beans they have harvested for milling into a sweet, nutritious flour. (MABurgess photo)

TOCC Agriculture Intern Joyce Miguel and Cooperative Extension Instructor Clifford Pablo prepare the mill for grinding dry mesquite pods into useful flour–a new method for an important traditional food! (MABurgess photo with permission)

 

Teachers, like Tohono O’odham Community College Professor Clifford Pablo in the Agriculture Program and through Cooperative Extension, have inspired a couple of generations of youth to learn modern ag methods along with a deep respect for traditional foods and foodways.  His interns have become teachers themselves, and their agricultural products–grown as crops and wild-harvested–are being used for celebration feasts, special ceremonies, and sometimes even appear in the TOCC cafeteria.

Let’s rejoice in the good work that these young people, in many schools and gardening programs throughout Baja Arizona, are doing!  In the words of Wendell Berry, one of the great voices of our time about the very sources of our food, “Slow Knowledge” is what we gain from gardening and farming.  For our youth, the connection of healthy soil, healthy work outside, the miracle of seeds sprouting into plants that eventually feed us–this slow knowledge cannot be learned any other way.  We now know that such “slow knowledge” gained from assisting Nature to grow our food actually grows healthy neurological pathways in young brains and makes them think more clearly, be less stressed, achieve better understanding in math and language, and develop better critical-thinking skills.  What better prep for being leaders than to play in the garden as a youth!!

Link to the latest UA Alumni Magazine (fall 2018) for a heartwarming article by our Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer about the University of Arizona’s partnerships with local school gardening programs.

Watch the Mission Garden’s website www.tucsonsbirthplace.org for many gardening activities, celebrations, and workshops coming up that are perfect for kids and elders alike.  You can contact me, Tia Marta, on my website www.flordemayoarts to learn of desert foods workshops where interested young people are welcome.

Young people know that food security will be in their hands.  Indigenous youth and some disadvantaged communities seem to realize that “the government” will probably not be there as a fall-back food provider.  Youth all across Arizona are learning the skills of growing food sustainably and may even begin re-teaching the elders–in time.

Categories: Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mesquite Meal Becomes Your Secret Ingredient in Popular Cake

Mixture of delicious late summer stone fruits.

Hello all, it’s Carolyn today waxing about one of my favorite subjects: baking with mesquite meal. Today’s recipe was orginally written by cookbook author Marian Burros, and it was so popular that the New York Times food section published it every year between 1983 and 1989. Finally the food editor drew the line and told readers to cut the recipe out, laminate it and save it because that was the end of that recipe for the Times. Since then it has been republished by every major food blog from Epicurious to the Smitten Kitchen to The Splendid Table. And the Times. Again. People just love this recipe.

Add your secret ingredient

So why does it need to show up here? Because we can add a secret ingredient to make the original even better: mesquite meal. The sweet, fruity taste of mesquite goes well with late summer fruits, especially when enhanced by the warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger which were not part of the original recipe. If you happen to have some White Sonoran wheat flour and are saving it for something special, this is perfect. The popular heritage flour works best in pastries like this. Blog reports say that people have had good luck with gluten free baking mixes and that the recipe doubles easily.

The orginal recipe called for plums, but any late summer fruit works well. I used pluots because I needed something ripe and the plums and peaches at my store were still a little hard.  Cut the fruit in fairly large chunks.

Pluots cut into large chunks.

This cake is not overly sweet so it makes a good dish for a fancy brunch. Add a side of ice cream or whipped cream if you are serving it for dessert.

Since it is practically foolproof, feel free to experiment with fruit and spices. It’s up to you if you want to reveal the secret ingredient.

Late Summer Fruit Torte

½ cup (1 stick) butter

¾ cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

¼ cup mesquite meal

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup fruit

½ cup sugar with cinnamon & spices to sprinkle on top

Grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan or springform pan. To ensure the cake comes out in one piece, go the extra step of cutting a round of parchment paper and grease and flour that as well.

Prepare the fruit. If using plums, pit and quarter. If using peaches, slice in large pieces. Set aside.  Heat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add flour, mesquite meal, baking powder and salt and beat until just combined. Mixture will be thick.  Spread in prepared pan.

Spread thick batter in paper-lined pan.

Press in fruit making a nice design.  Sprinkle with sugar spice mixture. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.  Since oven temperatures vary, check after 45 minutes to see how your cake is coming along.

Enjoy your delicious cake.

If you have time, drizzle a little frosting on the cake and decorate with fresh fruit.


For more recipes, check out my cookbooks. The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  are available from Native Seeds/SEARCH or your favorite brick or on-line bookstore. Follow me at Carolyn Niethammer-author on Facebook for updates on my writing and cooking life.

 

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

San Juan’s Day Invites the Monsoon at Native Seeds/SEARCH

San Juan’s Day, which fell this year on June 24, is the traditional beginning of the monsoon season when ambitious gardeners start planting their summer crops in anticipation of the summer rains.  Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit involved with collecting, growing and distributing heritage seeds, held an early morning party to celebrate this year. Members arrived at 6:30 a.m. to help get the garden at the Native Seeds Conservation Center ready and to process some seeds that were already grown. It’s Carolyn today, and as a board member of Native Seeds/SEARCH, I arrived early with a car full of food and serving ware for the post-work breakfast.  We began with a short ceremony recalling wise sayings on gardening. Here are a few:

A good gardener always plants 3 seeds – one for the bugs, one for the weather and one for himself.   — Leo Aikman

Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay.
–   George Bernard Shaw

And then to finish:

Gardens are not made beautiful by singing ‘Oh how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade. – Rudyard Kipling

And so everyone fanned out to the garden to get to work.

 

Sunflower seeds are beginning to ripen on these giant flowers. But the birds saw this as an invitation to help themselves. Volunteers added these bags to save some seed for the seedbank.

Earlier in the week, Native Seeds volunteers had contoured the garden area into traditional waffle form–depressions that can hold water with ridges between, like a…well…waffle. This is a good way to plant summer gardens. Heavy mulch, straw as seen below, helps retain moisture.

A volunteer plants heritage beans gathered in Mexico in a waffle garden.

 

Here a volunteer winnows beans by letting air from a fan blow away the dried bean pods.

There was also indoor work, doing final cleaning of seed and getting it ready for packaging.

Volunteers get instructions on cleaning acelgas seed, a green, in the Native Seeds/SEARCH seed lab.

While the volunteers were finishing up, Native Seeds staff were completing breakfast preparations. For the breakfast, I baked date bars (click for recipe here in a former post) and lemon muffins with saguaro seeds.

Chad Borseth, who usually manages the NS/S retail store, stirs scrambled eggs.

And everybody digs into a breakfast feast after some serious volunteer work.

One of the most popular dishes at the breakfast feast was the Rajas con Queso prepared by Native Seeds  Executive Director Joy Hought. Here is her recipe. No photo; honestly it isn’t very picturesque, but it is truly yummy.

Rajas con Queso

Ingredients

6 medium size poblano chiles

1 medium white onion

1 ear fresh sweet corn

2 T butter

salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 cup Mexican crema (alternatively creme fraiche or sour cream)

8 ounces crumbled queso fresco for garnish

Instructions

Roast the peppers: Wash the chiles well and pat dry. Place them on a baking tray and into an oven to broil at 500 degrees F. for 5-10 minutes, using tongs to flip them every couple of minutes until very blackened and blistered on all sides. Alternately, do this on a barbecue. Immediately transfer the blackened peppers into a container and seal it shut to steam (e.g. paper bag, or bowl with lid or plastic wrap). Leave the peppers to rest while you prepare the corn and onions.

Peel and slice the onion into thin slivers; shuck the corn and slice the kernels off.

Once the peppers have rested for 20 minutes, remove them from the container and, using rubber or latex gloves, rub the skin off and remove the stem, seeds and any inner stringy bits. If the skin doesn’t come off easily they’re not blackened enough. Running them under water helps. Coarsely cut the peppers into strips or bite-size pieces.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it bubbles. Add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes until cooked through and just beginning to brown.

Add the fresh corn, chopped chiles, marjoram, salt and pepper, and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the crema and heat through for 3-5 minutes, then remove from heat.

If desired, serve with crumbled queso fresco.

BONUS: Vegan versions can be made with vegetable oil and coconut cream instead of dairy products.

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We now have a Savor the Southwest Facebook page. Please follow us as we add posts during the week. Follow me on Facebook at Carolyn Niethammer Author.

See more recipes for desert plants in Cooking the Wild Southwest available in the Native Seeds online store, other online outlets and your independent bookstore.

 

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

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: , , , , | 4 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

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