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
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
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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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.