Posts Tagged With: desert foods

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 , 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]

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   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, at Tumacacori National Historic Site, Tucson Presidio Museum Shop, Saguaro National Park Bookstore, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Join us at Mission Garden ( 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.


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 and  And watch for upcoming City of Gastronomy tours in Tucson beginning in March at Tucson’s Presidio Museum–Stay tuned at

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.


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

Roasted Veggies with a hint of Pipian

Happy Thanksgiving week! Amy here, planning the menu with the cooking team, which is pretty much everyone in our family. It’s fun to mix it up and offer something interesting for the big meal, but it can’t stray too far… on Thursday.

A few years ago my sister and I spiced the veggies with a dusting with Mano Y Metate Pipian Picante powder and a splash of Alfonso olive oil before going into the screaming hot oven.

This was a Tucson CSA mix of small Red La Soda potatoes, Glendale Gold onions, a Beauregard Sweet Potato and cubes of this unknown winter squash. If I had carrots or mild turnips, I would have added them, too.

Pipian Picante is medium spicy, but for a mild dish, use Pipain Rojo. The two Pipian are nearly the same recipe, but Pipain Rojo is made with Santa Cruz Mild Chile from Tumacacori, Arizona, while Pipian Picante uses Santa Cruz Hot Chile. This chile is fruity and flavorful. It’s bright red in color and the flavor matches the color. Of all the varieties of mole powder that I make, these two are the only ones that use only one type of chile, because this chile is special enough to stand on its own. By the way, if you’re looking for a fun road trip to take out of town guests, the little Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Sore is fun and right across from the mission.

Both Pipian Rojo and Pipian Picante are made with lots of pepitas, or pumkin seeds, along with almonds and a few sesame seeds. It also features plenty of coriander (cilantro) seeds and canela, the soft, easy to break sticks of Ceylon cinnamon.

Sweet cinnamon, sweet chile, and evaporated cane juice in the Pipian go great with the beautiful winter squash that usually looks sweeter than it is. And the kick in the chile is great on the sweet onion and sweet potato. The finished dish is unquestionably savory and spicy. I hope you like it as much as we do. Add a sprig of rosemary from the garden if you have it, just for fun.


Now, for Friday after Thanksgiving, I recommend Enmoladas with Turkey. These are enchiladas made with mole instead of just chile. Please forgive the candlelit photo, but this is all I could take before it was devoured! For the recipe, go to my very first post on this blog, and substitute leftover turkey for the amaranth greens filling.

Thank you to my family that helped me sell mole at the Desert Botanical Garden and Tohono Chul, and my friends that helped me fill and label tins to prepare for the events. Mil Gracias.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom crops, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An ARTISTIC Harvest of Desert Foods

Living sculptures and a study in color–the fall harvest at Mission Garden, Tucson–Tohono O’odham Ha:l,   NSS Mayo Blusher, Magdalena Big Cheese pumpkin, membrillo fruit, T.O 60-day corn and chapalote corn (MissionGarden photo)

You salivate.  Or you catch your breath with it’s beauty!  Maybe the trigger is your taste-buds’ association with the truly GOOD foods from our Sonoran Desert… Or maybe the esthetic forms and colors of these foods clobber an “appreciation center” in our soul… We don’t even have to taste them–We react!

In Georgia O’Keefe-style, up close and intimate with heirloom beans–“Boyd’s Beauties” original watercolor by MABurgess

Shapely Dine Cushaw –a big-as-life watercolor by MA Burgess

For me,  just one look at a harvest of desert crops makes me want to PAINT it!  Over the years I’ve grown out many seeds for NativeSeeds/SEARCH (that admirable Southwest seed-conservation group saving our precious food-DNA for the future).  With each harvest–before I extract the seeds or eat the wonderful fruit–I’m always blown away by the sheer colors, patterns, sensuousness, or sculptural shape that each seedhead, each pumpkin, each pod, kernel, or juicy berry displays.  And the kicker is–they are oh-so-transient!  I am compelled to document each, capturing its esthetic essence pronto before it proceeds to its higher purpose, gastronomic and nutritional.

Tia Marta here, inviting you to come see some of my artistic creations depicting glorious desert foods and traditional cultural landscapes.   Next weekend–Saturday and Sunday, October 21-22, is Tucson’s WestSide ArtTrails OPEN STUDIO event!  You can see artworks in action (along with some inspiring fruits of the desert that inspire the art).  Check out and click on the artist’s name (Martha Burgess) for directions.  Join us 10am-4pm either day.

Velvet Mesquite’s Lasting Impressions–Imbedded handmade paper sculpture by MABurgess

In addition, at our OPEN STUDIO TOUR you will see a retrospective of Virginia Ames’ lifetime of diverse creative arts, including pastels, needlework, collographs and silkscreen, with her own interpretations of traditional foods and food-plants.

Tohono O’odham Autumn Harvest–large-scale watercolor by Virginia Ames

Cover of new children’s adventure picture-book of the Sonoran Desert Borderlands (in 3 languages); by Virginia Ames, illustrated by Frank S. Rose, and edited by Martha Burgess

Her children’s book about the saguaro in the Sonoran Desert Borderlands, entitled Bo and the Fly-away Kite will be available too.  It is illustrated by Tucson artist, plant aficionado and author Frank S. Rose, with the illustrator in person 1:30-4pm to sign copies and discuss desert plants.

Nature photography by J.Rod Mondt (WildDesertPhotography) will enhance our exhibit with his wildlife images, especially featuring our precious pollinators.

Honeybee heavy with pollen–photo by JRod Mondt

And only at the OPEN STUDIO of Martha Burgess, October 21 or 22 can you try tastes of the Native foods that you see in our artwork (from recipes you may find in earlier posts of this very blog).

Find more samples of our artwork at our website, also at Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop and at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson).  “NOW PLAYING” at the Tucson Jewish Community Center is an exhibit by the group of diverse WestSide artists–among them yours truly Tia Marta.  The public is invited to the reception at TJCC on Wednesday Oct.18, 6:30-8pm.  Virginia Wade Ames’ books can be found on searching by author.

Add to your fall-fun calendar:   Friday and Saturday, Oct.27-28–not to be missed- the wild and festive Chiles, Chocolate, and Day of the Dead celebration at Tohono Chul Park, 9-4 both days.  Flor de Mayo’s Native heirloom foods will be arrayed deliciously and artistically there for purchase.

Now–with 3 art events featuring my desert food images– first check out for details of our upcoming Open Studio Tour Oct 21-22, click on “Artists” and scroll to Martha Burgess for directions.  It will be truly a feast-for-the-eyes, a visual harvest a-plenty.  We’ll see you there!

Categories: Sonoran Native, SW foods in the Arts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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.


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


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

Huevos Rancheros with Mole


Hello, Amy here, full from a hardy brunch. Earlier this week my friend invited me to lunch at the Tucson Botanical Garden, where we enjoyed a lamb empanada, calabacitas tamal and huevos rancheros made with mole, black tepary beans and queso fresco. It was ALL soooo good, but I think you can guess my favorite!

Café Botanica is delicious, adorable (the old adobe Friends’ House, inside or on the patio) has really nice staff, and is open 8am-2pm daily. You do have to pay admission or be a member to get to the café, so we wandered, looking at plants in the shade and a gallery or two after our meal. Perfect afternoon.

I had never heard of huevos rancheros with mole, and I had to make it at home, often! Since I was only making brunch for two, I used dry corn tortilla meal I had on hand instead of buying or making a batch of highly perishable fresh masa. Maseca is a common brand name in Tucson grocery stores, or online.

Café Botanica used parsley in their masa for flavor and color, so I chopped a few leaves of quelites (young amaranth greens) raw and mixed them into the masa. This of course is optional, but quelites are so prolific this year with our above average rainfall this summer. Recently Carolyn used amaranth seed her in corn tortillas.

Add enough water to make a soft dough. Mix about a quarter cup meal to a few tablespoons water and adjust as necessary. If it is too dry, it will crack. If it is too wet, it will stick to your hands. Form into two balls, cover, and let rest for a few minutes. Then reassess the moisture.

Place the ball in a plastic bag and flatten with a tortilla press, a dinner plate or a rolling pin.

Thoroughly heat a comal (a dry cast iron griddle) over medium heat and put tortilla to cook. Flip a few times until both sides are covered with brown spots. No need to keep them hot, they’ll be fried!

Next I made a small amount of Mano y Metate Mole Dulce with oil and veggie broth. Other varieties of mole would work, and any broth you like. Since the dish was vegetarian, I decided to keep with the theme.

Café Botanica used black tepary beans, but I used a summer squash from the Tucson CSA. I had never heard of Tromboncino before this year, and we love the taste and its trombone shapes! As a mature, winter squash, it resembles its relative the butternut. Even as a baby, it is slightly yellow on the inside with tender skin and really nice flavor. I sautéed it with onion, salt and pepper.

Next fry the tortillas in a little bit of oil until beautiful brown and fragrant.

Fry eggs over medium, or to taste. These eggs were from a friend of a friend. The deep color of the yolk is due to the hen’s diet and I bet these birds eat plenty of fresh greenery and insects.

Assemble the dish: tortilla, squash, egg. You could melt some cheese over the tortilla if you want.

Finally, top with the Mole Dulce and I’itoi onion tops. My new favorite.

Categories: Cooking, Mexican Food, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blessed Monsoon Weeds!

Yikes–look what has happened all around us!

Verdulagas — purslane — exploding in the garden. (photo by ChadBorseth, NativeSeedsSEARCH store mgr.)

With our recent record-breaking rainfall in Baja Arizona, weeds continue to go rampant. Now, what to do with them? Tah-dah–Eat them before they eat up all your garden space!

Tia Marta here—admitting I actually don’t believe in weeds at all—Weeds are gifts to be used, relished gastronomically and nutritionally, admired as amazing strategists,… appreciated!  Weeds are much-maligned plants with a different way of surviving than our regular “garden variety” plant.  They know genetically how to hustle to “make hay while the sun shines.”  So if you need to deal with a bounty of weeds coming on like gang-busters in your garden or nearby in the desert, I’d like to share some fun ways to consume and internalize them.  If we are what we eat, perhaps their “energies” may be a form of speed on some ethereal plane.

Fresh young quelites  (Amaranthus palmeri), aka pigweed and carelessweed, popping up with summer rains–ready to pick!  (MABurgess photo)

Quelite, weed of many names– careless weed, pigweed, Amaranthus palmeri, known as “rain spinach” or Juhukia i:wagi to the Tohono O’odham–is popping up in great green swaths wherever rainwater has pooled. It grows faster than one can imagine. The scourge of cotton farmers, it is, on the flip side, a positive boon to traditional harvesters—Native, Hispanic, African or Asian. As climate change digs its teeth into desert environments, our native Amaranth “weed” holds great potential as a rapid-responder “dry-land” crop for the future.

When flower stalks of Amaranthus palmeri emerge, leaves toughen. Be sure to harvest only the tender leaves. (MABurgess photo)

Mature, drying Amaranthus palmeri image taken at Mission Garden. The seedhead is spiny but contains nutritious seeds! (MABurgess photo)

The nutrition of Amaranth, our rain spinach, is way up at the top of the chart. Consider that 100g of young shoots provides 42 calories packed with 3-4 grams of protein, 3mg iron, and 4-11 mg of available calcium.

If your Amaranth patch matures faster than your harvesting schedule allows, don’t fret–all is not lost. As long as there are soft, non-fibrous leaves to pick, they are fair game for steaming or stir-frying as greens or quelites. Later, when the arching spike of spiny seed capsules matures and dries, you can harvest seeds (carefully with gloves) and winnow the tiny grains in the breeze. THEY are fabulously nutritious too. Amaranth seed is 15-18% protein—far higher than most cereals. They can be cooked as hot cereal or ground into flour– full of healthy, gluten-free carbs and fiber. Amaranth weed seed baked into bread adds a pleasing and healthy crunch. If you want quantity and lack patience to harvest wild carelessweed, the NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, has grain-amaranth for cooking or milling, also popped amaranth for adding to baked goods or confections for Dia de Los Muertos. [More to come on that topic in early November.]

Caution:  Here’s a trick plant that may look like Amaranth but it is a perennial that leafs out with summer rains, especially in the Tucson Mtns area–Ambrosia cordifolia–not good for eating–better for soil stabilization. (MABurgess photo)

Delicious and healthy grain amaranth and popped amaranth, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store for cooking.

Another “weed” that is probably at this very minute creating mats of green in your garden is verdulaga. Traditional Tohono O’odham know it as ku’ukpulk, and some gardeners refer to the same puffy-leafed ground-sprawler as purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It can be added fresh to any salad for a juicy, succulent texture and tang. And check the nutrients, especially if your body needs available calcium. Every 100g (a little less than ½ cup) of verdulagas provides 0.3mg iron, 19mg calcium, high omega-3-fatty acids and lots of vitamins A&C. Rinse your verdulagas in a bowl of water, then toss the water back in the garden where the many teensy seeds that have dropped to the bottom can go for a “second round.”

Caution:  Another “trick plant” is this purslane- look-alike called “horse purslane”-Trianthema portulacastrum. It will taste a little soapy if you try it. (MABurgess photo)

Picked and washed true verdulaga/purslane, ready to make into pesto (MABurgess photo)

Here is an idea for Monsoon Pesto made with tasty weeds! Pestos of course can be made with almost any greens—e.g. with kale in the winter—so why not use what Nature provides locally and now?  Both amaranth or verdulaga can be used in your favorite pesto recipe for a healthy and tasty Southwest vacation from basil. [A word of caution: If you harvest from the wild, be sure to collect at least 50 feet from a roadway, or upstream from any road along an arroyo. Know your plants when harvesting!]



2+ cups well-packed, fresh, washed Amaranth or Purslane greens
2-3 cloves heirloom garlic
¼ cup pinyones shelled (pine nuts), or any other fresh nutmeats, or soft seeds such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2/3 cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or ancient Utah salt, and ground pepper, to taste (all optional)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

In a food processor, combine wild weed greens (Amaranth or verdulaga), garlic, and pinyones, and process on the  “pulse” setting until finely chopped.
With processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the texture is smooth and fine.
Add the cheese and pulse briefly just to combine ingredients.
Taste, then season with salt and pepper as needed. (It may not need any.) Give one last pulse after seasoning.
(Pesto can be stored in frig or freezer.)
Serve on crackers with cream-cheese, in pasta, on pizza made with local white Sonora wheat flour for another local twist, or simply spread on good bread for a fantastic snack, as seen below!

Monsoon Weed Pestos–The top row is Purslane Pesto with Pine Nuts. The darker green is “Pigweed & Pepita Pesto” made with pumpkin seeds–(here served on harvest seed bread squares)–Both Weed Pestos are SO delicious (MABurgess photo)

As you taste either of these nutritious weed pestos with eyes closed, you can SAVOR the wild Southwest bouncing back into its burgeoning monsoon mode and relish the desert’s rhythms. This is Tia Marta’s wish for you– Happy weeding and eating your way through monsoon season!

Amaranthus palmeri seedheads growing too tall for a selfie –but soon ready to harvest for seed

(You can read about Winter/Spring Weeds in my blog from February 14, 2014. Interestingly, the weeds that flourish with our Sonoran Desert summer rains in the heat are totally different from the species that sprout in winter with cool/wet conditions here. The metabolism of winter vs. summer weeds involves totally different biochemical strategies—tho’ they are all similarly nutritious.)



Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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)


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 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 (website of Tohono O’odham Community Action, Sells, AZ) or (NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ; or 520-622-5561) to order them.  Many other traditional desert foods are available at]

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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