Posts Tagged With: desert foods

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Southwestern Pintxos– Basque-style Tapas

 

On a recent trip to Spain we enjoyed an adventurous meal in a Basque tavern where we were introduced to Pintxos–the special Basque version of tapas–northwest Iberian finger-food.  These culinary mini-sculptures bring together the most unexpected combination of foods and flavors.  Each one is a creative work of edible art, visually and deliciously pleasing, handy for a pick-me-up meal or a many-course dinner.

Pintxos–traditional finger food of northwest Spain adapted for Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share ways I’ve adapted these traditional Basque food creations, incorporating our local Baja Arizona ingredients.  Pintxos (pronounced peent’shows) are fun to make.  They let your creativity take off.  The endearing individual servings make a pretty presentation.  Bringing a tray of pintxos to the dinner table makes for some drama too.  Your guests’ curiosity is piqued to find out what interesting delicacies make up each pintxo.  All eyes are focused, tastebuds on alert.  The eating pace slows down to savor-mode as each bite is tested—like sipping a new wine.  If being present matters to you, pintxos certainly makes it happen for everyone at the table.  [I can hardly wait to serve pintxos to adolescents to see what happens with their devices!]

A “shrimp boat” pintxo — a cool seafood “salad” for summertime, made with crab or tuna on a “boat” of tomato with “spinnaker sail” of chilled, cooked shrimp. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a perfect summer pintxo—a little Sea of Cortes Seafood “Boat.” First find some ripe tomatoes from your garden or your favorite farmers’ market.  Next source some fresh, sustainably-harvested crab meat or tuna and Sea of Cortes shrimp.

Culinary oregano (Oreganum vulgare) with happy bee pollinating the flowers in my Tucson garden (MABurgess)

Harvest a few sprigs of fresh oregano from the garden (yours or a friend’s.  This fragrant herb grows so easily in low desert gardens.  See Savor-Sister Dr Jacqueline Soule’s post by searching August 28,2015 “Joy of the Mountains” on this blog for fantastic oregano info. They grow readily from cuttings.)

Pintxo actually means “toothpick” or “skewer,” so have a supply of long toothpicks or bamboo skewers ready.  You will also need:  1)  fresh tomato, cut in half so that each half can rest as a “boat” without tipping.  2)  crab or tuna salad, made with  boiled egg chopped, fresh chopped oregano leaf and a tad of mayonaise to taste; formed into a ball, 3) cooked, chilled shrimp.  Skewer a shrimp vertically from the top and then down thru the tomato (see photo) so that the shrimp becomes the “spinnaker sail” in your little sculpture.

Other neat pintxos can be made as layered, open-faced miniature sandwiches.

 

The perfect base for several styles of pintxos is Baja Arizona’s own Barrio Bread baguette, which can be cut in different shapes to suite each different pintxo. (MABurgess photo)

These baguette slices for other pintxos I cut flat then diagonally to make diamond bases for the Asparagus Spear Pintxos. (MABurgess photo)

I went to Don Guerra of Barrio Bread to find our best local equivalent of the bread the Basque are using in Spain for making pintxos.  Having been in Spain himself, he knew immediately and suggested his baguettes made with BKWFarms‘ heirloom organic Padre Kino White Sonora Wheat flour as our perfect pintxo bread.  Indeed it is! Barrio baguettes lend themselves to cutting in several different shapes, a distinct shape for each different pintxo style.

For the next pintxo–the Four-layer “Salmon in the Tropics” Pintxo–I cut the baguette at an angle to make elongate ovals as the pintxo base.

First step–to make the Four-layer “Salmon in the Tropics” Pintxo–spread avocado thinly on an oval of Barrio Bread baguette

Step 2–spread marinated, cooked salmon thinly on the avocado layer

Step 3–place a thin slice of avocado right on the salmon

Step4–place a thin slice of fresh mango on the top (MABurgess photos)

 

So there you have the Four-layer Salmon in the Tropics Pintxo–a taste combo that I personally would never have thought of, were it not for the creative Basques.

If you aren’t hooked or at least amazed yet, here’s another fun pintxo idea, this time using our local asparagus and chorizo!  Have you ever heard of such an unexpected combination of flavors?  Well it really works!

Asparagus-Spears-with-Chorizo Pintxo

Chorizo-wrapped Asparagas Pinto–cooked in the solar oven! (MABurgess photo)

For this pintxo, you will need:

1) sliced diamonds of Barrio Bread baguette,    2)  fresh farmers market asparagus spears, 3) Mexican-style chorizo OR sliced Spanish-chorizo (available at Trader Joe’s or other specialty grocers) to wrap the asparagus, 4) boiled egg sliced, 5) topping of plain yogurt mixed with your favorite mild chile powder or Spanish pimenton powder.ch

Wrap asparagus spears in chorizo.  If you have Mexican-style chorizo, fry the chorizo-wrapped spears until chorizo is barely done then place on bread to bake in oven or solar oven.  If sliced Spanish-style chorizo is used, bake entire bread/asparagus/chorizo stack in oven or solar oven.  Bake pintxos until asparagus is al-dente (not too long, 300degrees 12-15minutes, or roughly 20-25minutes in a preheated solar oven).  Top with sliced boiled egg and Chile-yogurt sauce.

These pintxos are only the tip of the iceberg of ideas you can create with silvers of your favorite veggies, fruits, fish, or sliced cheeses and meats!  Try thin slices of  Mexican queso asadero melted into your pintxo or Spanish manchego cheese.   Or try a combo of thinly sliced sweet cajeta de membrillo (Sonoran style quince conserve*) and asadero cheese baked gently on a Barrio Bread baguette oval!

*Tucson’s Mission Garden is the place to learn about membrillo fruit and the delicious traditional Hispanic recipes for it.  During the fall harvest you can sign up for workshops to learn how to make your own cajeta de membrillo.

Best-yet pintxo: local thin-sliced ham on manchego cheese on Barrio baguette topped with farmers market mushrooms–and baked to perfection in solar oven (MABurgess photo)

For easy pinxto baking, reaping the gifts of our intense sun, you can order a sleek, easy-to-use solar oven from Flor de Mayo.  Check out www.flordemayoarts.com for a how-to video.  Tia Marta here encouraging you to enjoy new combinations of our local Baja Arizona provender in your own pintxo creations!

 

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

Cooking with the SUN!

A sleek fold-up All American sun oven is set up on my patio table.  I slightly rotate it and reposition the angle every hour or so to track the sun. (MABurgess photo)

June in Baja Arizona should officially be Solar Cookery Month– time to not add any more heat in the house.  Thanks to some fabulous Baja Arizona “solarizers,” namely Technicians for Sustainability (www.TFSsolar.com), our house is now blessed with a PV array–yet despite this “free” electricity we still don’t want any extra BTUs loose in the kitchen.

Tia Marta here encouraging you to take your cooking OUTSIDE!!  A great project to do with kids is to make your own solar oven with a cardboard box and lots of tinfoil.  (The internet has easy do-it-yourself plans.)  Or you can purchase a ready-made solar oven online.  Check my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com under the menu “Native Foods” to buy one of the most efficient and least expensive solar ovens you’ll find anywhere!

Try de-hydrating saguaro fruit in a solar oven with the lid partially open to allow moisture to escape. It doesn’t take long to dry sliced fruits or vegetables. (MABurgess)

Wild desert fruits and orchard fruits will be coming on aplenty, and when solar-dried, they make wonderful snacks and trail mix.  As seasonal veggies come available in your garden or at farmers markets, you can slice and solar dry them for winter soups and stews.

It’s almost time to harvest mesquite pods (kui wihog) and saguaro fruit (bahidaj), in the dry heat of Solstice-time before monsoon moisture arrives.  Here are solar-oven-dried mesquite pods, crispy and ready to mill into flour.  Solar drying of mesquite pods–oven door slightly open–allows bruchid beetles to escape.   Solar-dried aguaro fruit chun (pronounced choo’nya) is ready to store or eat as rare sweet snacks! (MABurgess photo)

Washed velvet mesquite pods, covered with drinking water, set in solar oven to simmer for making Tia Marta’s “Bosque Butter.” (MABurgess photo)

Mesquite “Bosque Butter” and “Bosque Syrup” a la Tia Marta–Scroll back to the July 15, 2017 Savor post for how-to directions for these delicious products, made from solar-oven-simmered mesquite pods. (MABurgess photo)

Pellet-sized fan-palm dates washed and ready to simmer for making “Datil Silvestre Syrup”–First they should be transferred with water to a dark pan with dark lid for placing in solar oven to absorb more heat.  Scroll to Jan.30,2015 post for recipe.

Concentrated Solar Fan Palm Syrup–nothing added–just water and fan palm fruit simmered in solar oven.  For easy directions search “More Ideas for Wild Dates” post for January 30,2015. (MABurgess)

 

Solar-oven-dried figs get even sweeter and more flavorful, and keep for a long time. These are heirloom mission figs harvested from my Padre Kino fig tree purchased from the Mission Garden’s and Jesus Garcia’s Kino Tree Project–the “Cordova House” varietal.  You swoon with their true sweetness.  (A caveat for any dried fruit or veggies:  be sure there is NO residual moisture before storing them in glass or plastic containers to prevent mold.)

Tepary beans, presoaked overnight, into the solar oven by 10am and done by 2pm, avg temp 300 or better (see thermometer).  Note the suspension shelf to allow for no-spill when you change the oven angle to the sun.  This is a demo glass lid.  A black lid for a solar cooking pot will heat up faster absorbing sunlight.  (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

George Price’s “Sonoran Caviar”–Cooking pre-soaked tepary beans slowly in a solar oven or crockpot makes them tender while keeping their shape for delicious marinated salads.  Directions for making “Sonoran Caviar” are in the Aug.8,2014 post Cool Summer Dishes. (MABurgess photo)

 

We cook such a variety of great dishes–from the simple to the complex– out on our patio table.  I stuff and bake a whole chicken and set it in the solar oven after lunch.  By suppertime, mouth-watering aromas are wafting from the patio.

For fall harvest or winter dinners, I like to stuff an heirloom squash or Tohono O’odham pumpkin (Tohono O’odham ha:l) with cooked beans and heirloom wheat- berries to bake in the solar oven.  It makes a beautiful vegetarian feast.

A solar oven is a boon on a camping trip or in an RV on vacation for heating dishwater as well as for cooking.  It was a God-send for us when power went out.  Solar ovens in emergency situations can be used for making safe drinking water.  (Hurricane-prone areas– take heed!)

 

 

 

For one of my favorite hot-weather dishes–marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad–the solar oven is a must.  On stove-top, wheat-berries take an unpleasant hour20minutes to fully plump up.  That’s alot of heat.  Outdoors in the solar oven they take about 2 hours while the house stays cool, keeping humidity low.  Hey–no brainer!

 

Muff’s Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad Recipe

1 cup washed heirloom wheat-berries (available from NativeSeeds/SEARCH, grown organically at BKWFarms in Marana)

4 cups drinking water

Simmer wheat-berries in solar oven until round, plump and softer than al dente, and have absorbed the water–approximately 2-2 1/2 hours depending on the sun.  Drain any excess water.

Chill in frig.  Marinate overnight with !/2 cup balsamic vinegar or your favorite citrus dressing.  Add any assorted chopped veggies (sweet peppers, I’itoi’s onions, celery, carrots, pinyon nuts, cholla buds, barrel cactus fruit, nopalitos….).  Toss and serve on a bed of lettuce.

Muff’s White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad laced with pickled cholla buds, roasted nopalitos and barrel cactus fruit nibbles. (MABurgess photo)

While cooking with a solar oven, it will help to “visit” your oven every 1/2 hour or hour to adjust the orientation to be perpendicular to the sun’s rays.  Think about it–You gotta get up that frequently anyway from that computer or device where you’ve been immobile–just for health and circulation’s sake!  Think of your solar oven as part of your wellness program.

A solar oven is so forgiving too.  If you need to run errands, just place the oven in a median position to the movement of the sun.  Cooking may take a little longer, but, you are freed up to take that class, get crazy on the internet, texting or whatever.  And if you should get detained, good old Mr. Sun will turn off your oven for you.  No dependency on digital timers.  Happy cooking with the sun this summer!

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

Pear Prickly Pear Desert Dessert

Hello, Amy here, preparing a dessert for some new friends completely new to the desert, passing through on their way to Costa Rica. A few pears that had seen some travel were sitting on the kitchen counter…

So I pared, sliced and put them in the oven with a few cubes of frozen prickly pear juice.

After baking and stirring, they looked like this!

Then I made a crumble topping, staring with plenty of desert seeds, from left to right: saguaro, amaranth, chia, barrel cactus.

The bulk of the mixture was mesquite meal, rolled oats, pecan meal, butter, sugar (evaporated cane juice). For seasoning, I used cinnamon, cardamon, dried rose petals and dried ocotillo flowers.

Once mixed, I crumbled the mixture over the pears and put back into the 350 degree F oven to bake until browned and crunchy.

It is best served warm, here with a little homemade goat yogurt, but cream or ice cream works, too!

The recipe can be found in the Desert Harvesters’ Cookbook:

This recipe is so forgiving. I was short on oats so increased the pecans. I doubled the cardamom, traded evaporated cane juice for the brown sugar, substituted water for milk, changed the orange/apple juice to prickly pear, and doubled the seeds. Coconut oil works fine instead of butter for this, too.

 

Amy’s Apple Crisp

2 pounds apples, local organic heirlooms if possible (Or pears. No need to weigh!)

2 tablespoons orange, apple or prickly pear juice (or more)

 

Topping:

1 cup mesquite meal

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup seeds, like amaranth, chia, barrel cactus, saguaro

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice or brown sugar (0r less)

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons milk or water

Slice the fruit into a baking dish, add juice, and bake at 350 degrees while preparing the topping. Mix all the topping ingredients in the food processor, distribute over sliced fruit, and bake at 350-375 degrees F until browned. Enjoy!

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, heirloom grains, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

A Gastronomy Tour thru Time–from Ancient to Now!

Bedrock mortar hole where ancient desert people milled mesquite, legume pods, and other seeds  (MABurgess photo)

All around us in the desert–in our own Tucson Basin and beyond–there is evidence in the rocks that people long ago were gathering, processing, growing and eating bountiful desert plant foods.  The same plants (mesquite beans, amaranth, chia, corn…) are providing us today with a smorgasbord of yummy ingredients for new culinary creativity.  The pre-history and history of our diverse food cultures–not to mention the amazing inventiveness of our local chefs, farmers and gardeners–led UNESCO to name Tucson the first International City of Gastronomy in the US!

Tia Marta here to tell you about upcoming GASTRONOMIC TOURS created to celebrate our diverse local food heritage.  Are you ready for total immersion in culinary bliss?  Tucson’s Presidio Museum is sponsoring tours of our food heritage in the heart of Old Town.  Look for announcements about The Presidio District Experience:  A Progressive Food Heritage and History Tour.

Tucson’s Presidio San Augustine Museum–a living-history treasure at the center of downtown where visitors can envision life of 18th century Spanish conquistadores and their families on the new frontier.

In the style of progressive dinners or “round-robins” the tour will begin at the Tucson Presidio Museum, developing a sense of Tucson’s setting and cultures over the recent 10,000 years.  Participants will enjoy samples of traditional wild-harvested desert foods, then surprising Spanish introductions.  Next tourers venture forth afoot to taste Hispanic and Anglo family traditions plus nouvelle cuisine desert-style at some of our one-of-a-kind historic restaurants.  Past meets present in a symphony of taste sensations with spirits, entree, bebidas or dessert at each new venue.

These tours are educational-plus!  Feeding not only body and satisfaction-center, knowing Tucson’s gastronomic history feeds the mind and soul as well.  Tours are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, March 25, April 8, 15 or 29, from 1pm-3:45pm.  Check out http://www.tucsonpresidio.com , go to the event calendar and click on Heritage Tour for details and registration for each date.

Seedlings of heirloom white Sonora wheat seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH and BKWFarms, planted early Feb and gladly doused by mid-February rains, growing rapidly, to be harvested in May (MABurgess photo)

Now, with the goal of merging plant knowledge with many food cultures into one tasty recipe, I’d like to share a quick and easy idea to enhance a pot luck or dinner for a few:  Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits. 

A traditional milling of amaranth with stone mano on a metate.  Today, hard amaranth seed can be easily ground in a grain mill or coffee mill.  Traditional Tohono O’odham gatherers ate “rain spinach” or juhuggia i:wagi (Amaranthus palmeri) when summer rains started, then harvested these ollas of small seeds from the spiny stalks later when the weeds dried.   Plan to harvest your wild amaranth (aka pigweed) seed next September if monsoon rains are good.  Amaranth grain is 15-18% protein and high in iron, fiber and phytonutrients!  (MABurgess photo)

One of many species of Sonoran Desert saltbush, traditionally used by Tohono O’odham.  It can be dried and pulverized as baking powder. (Atriplex hymenolytra) (MABurgess photo)

Bringing together Amaranth, Mesquite, and sea salt from Tohono O’odham traditional fare, and Hispanic White Sonora Wheat introduced by Missionary Padre Kino, in a very Anglo-style biscuit from my Southern background,  here is a fast, tasty, local and nutritious complement to any meal:

Muff’s Multi-Heritage Biscuits 

You will need:

1/2 cup mesquite flour [from NativeSeedsSEARCH or desert harvesters.org]

1/2 cup amaranth flour [home-milled from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s whole grain, or Bob’s Red Mill amaranth flour]

1 cup white Sonora wheat flour (or Pima Club wheat flour)  [from Ramona Farms, San Xavier Coop Association, or NativeSeedsSEARCH]

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup milk (or sour milk, rice milk, soy milk)

Mixing organic white Sonora wheat flour from BKWFarms, plus amaranth flour, roasted mesquite flour, and butter for Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain Biscuits (MABurgess photo)

Preheat oven to 450 degreesF.  [You can use a solar oven but it will not get quite that hot.  Solar biscuits come out harder–reminiscent of cowboy hard-tack.]. Sift together flours, baking powder, and sea salt.  Cut in the butter to small pellet size.  Add milk.  Stir until soft dough forms.  Either drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet for “bachelor biscuits” OR, turn the dough ball out onto a floured board.  Knead a few turns.  Pat or roll lightly to about 1/2-inch thickness.  Use any shape cookie cutter to form biscuits–small for bite-size, large for cowboys, initialed for kids.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 12-15 minutes until barely golden.  Serve hot, rejoicing in the diversity of heritage foods still available from local farmers or in nearby desert!

Rolling out mesquite, amaranth, white Sonora wheat biscuit dough with Mayo Indian palo chino rolling pin purchased from NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Muff’s Mixed Heritage Grain (Mesquite-Amaranth-White Sonora Wheat) Biscuits hot from the oven (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A landmark in the heart of Tucson’s Old Town, this restaurant, shops and music venue occupy the oldest existing structure in the neighborhood, across Court Street from Tucson Presidio Museum

Two heirloom wheat flours introduced by Missionaries (White Sonora “S-moik Pilkan” and Pima Club “Oras Pilkan”) grown by a traditional Piman farmer at Ramona Farms; also grown at San Xavier Coop Association and organically at BKWFarms Inc in Marana (available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store)               (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find many traditional desert foods and artworks depicting these botanical and culinary treasures at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.   Flor de Mayo native heritage foods can be purchased at ArtHouse.Centro in Old Town Artisans at LaCocina Courtyard, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and online catalog http://www.nativeseeds.org, at Tumacacori National Historic Site, Tucson Presidio Museum Shop, Saguaro National Park Bookstore, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Join us at Mission Garden (http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org) Saturday, March 31, 2018 for a public tour by Herbalist Donna Chesner and ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess about Desert Foods as Medicine.

Hoping to see you in Old Town for a gastronomic tour this spring! Plan now for some of that immersion experience in local culinary bliss….

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | 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

A Cordial Tribute to Time Itself–Valentine’s Dessert Toasts

Time–to be exact, good timing, plus duration and patience–are necessary ingredients in making most good dishes.  All of these are enlisted in creating festive cordials. Here, a native fan palm cordial made with tiny wild dates (in bowl), harvested & put up in the fall…after months later… produced a luscious cordial for a sweet Valentine surprise.  Time to celebrate! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s tip a toast to Father Time who allows magic to be wrought upon our local desert fruits.  The joyous results of his temporal magic can be festive and delightful cordials.  With a little industry, when our desert fruits are ripe in late summer or fall, there can be heartwarming dessert drinks to help celebrate chilly winter evenings–and especially fine for your favorite Valentine.

Tia Marta here, with an additional toast, this one to the father of Slow Knowledge, agricultural philosopher/author Wendell Berry.  His “slow knowledge”–yea wisdom–comes with growing one’s own food (or wild-harvesting), watching the near-imperceptable progress played by Nature and Father Time on leafing, flowering, fruiting, fermentation, decay of individual plants, small or tall, in garden, farm, wild desert, forest.  Being present is a key to “slow knowledge,” something sorely missed if one is always absorbed in a device.  Lack of slow knowledge may lead to atrophy of human brain neurons. There is evidence that practicing slow knowledge, being out in Nature, in fact enhances brain function and development, broadens associative thinking, deductive and inductive reasoning, adds serenity, promotes compassion….Hey what’s not to like about it?

We had left our Meyer lemons on the tree past the holidays to fully sweeten up. When frost was predicted, we quick-harvested 52 giant juicy fruits from one little tree! (MABurgess photo)

Meyer lemon does well in a low desert garden. It’s juice is so sweet and even its thin rind is edible!  All parts of Meyer lemon are used in creating limoncello.  Juice and thinly sliced rind all go into the mix to mull. (MABurgess photo)

Time and tequila produced the finest limoncello ever with Meyer lemon!  (MABurgess photo)

I’d like to share four of my favorite ways–four cordials– to celebrate time, with fruits that our Southwest gardens, orchards, and even prickly desert can supply in plenty:  1) Native fan palm “Desert Oasis Cordial” depicted above made with the seedy dates of our ubiquitous Washingtonia filifera (Read more by searching Jan.20, 2015’s post in this blog archive), 2) special Meyer Limoncello, 3) Prickly Pear Cordial, and 4) Colorado Cherry Cordial.  They are really so easy to make with speedy prep-time– a good investment in one’s spare minutes when there is a bumper crop of fruits shouting for attention.

General Cordial Instructions:  In order for all four cordials to “make,” i.e. to sit and mull, you will need a sanitized sealable crock or large canning jar.  Wash and cut your fruits (no need to cut the teensy native palm dates), measure equal quantities of:

a) fruit,

b) spirits (I use good 100% agave tequila or mescal, but vodka also works fine), and

c) a natural sweetener (I use agave nectar but my mother used sugar successfully).

Pack fruit into jars, add sweetener, cover with spirits, seal, and set aside in a cool, dark place for as many weeks or months as possible, checking periodically for progress or problems.

After mulling for months in tequila, the halved prickly pear tunas have lost their bright purple color but have lost none of their great flavor! Mash to free up their juices.

Decant by filtering prickly pear fruit&juice mix, separating fruit, seed, and remaining spines using a masher and coffee filter set in a funnel over a bowl or measuring cup to capture the precious cordial.

Several folded layers of cheesecloth set in a funnel can be used in decanting the prickly pear cordial.

Essentially, with the help of Time, you are making a sweet herbal tincture. Decanting is the next step.  Remember those gorgeous rosey red prickly pear tunas gathered carefully in August?  (Yes, planning ahead is paramount.  Put it on your calendar now for next August.)  At harvest, I washed and removed as many spines as possible, cut them in half, and set them in the canning jar, seeds and all, with the other ingredients.  Now at decanting time I must make sure to filter out all solid parts to clarify the cordial.  Coffee filters or layered cheesecloth resting in a funnel over your catcher-cup or bottle will work perfectly.  After filtering, store your cordial in glass indefinitely–to enjoy on special occasions.

Prickly Pear Cordial sits next to its drought-stressed provider, Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) the winter after a grand August harvest. What gifts these plants provide!  Given rain, they bounce back to give more next year.  (MABurgess)

Colorado Cherry Cordial with delicious “marinated” cherries to be used for topping on ice cream. (MABurgess photo)

You can view native fan palms on the University of Arizona campus, lemon trees at the Tucson Botanical Garden, and Engelmann’s prickly pear close up at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and at Tucson’s Mission Garden.  Find more traditional foods at http://www.flordemayoarts.com and http://www.nativeseeds.org.  And watch for upcoming City of Gastronomy tours in Tucson beginning in March at Tucson’s Presidio Museum–Stay tuned at http://www.tucsonpresidio.com.

Now a cordial toast to you, dear Savor Blog Follower!  May you delight in these spirited fruits of the desert and delight in the time they take to bring us this cheer!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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