Posts Tagged With: desert gardening

Peeling Potatoes for Propagation and Provender

It’s happening in favorite grocery stores and pantries around Baja Arizona.  Potatoes are awakening!  Some are even turning green with chlorophyll showing in their skins.  They know. Time in the low desert to PLANT POTATOES–soon!!–while the weather is chilly and while we are enjoying fantastic soil moisture.

Yukon Gold potato beginning to sprout, skin turning green… This potato wants to be planted!  But wait–no waste here.  We must always be thinking SUSTAINABILITY, right?

Tia Marta here to share a neat trick taught to me by ace heirloom gardener Tom Swain.  Planting potatoes doesn’t have to be a big deal, not expensive nor time-consuming, nor does it require special “seed potatoes,”  no sacrificing luscious chunks of whole potatoes that you would rather eat.  With planting potatoes you can “have your potato cake and eat it too!”

Place potato peelings in a flat dish like this shallow plastic tub. Rinse and drain 1-2 times per day until little rootlets sprout out from under the tiny green leaf sprouts at the “eye.”

These active Yukon Gold peelings sprouted fast and are ready to plant in the garden!

The simple trick is to peel your potatoes to include an “eye” in each peel, the anatomical “action spots” where new life can generate (not hard to find eyes). Knife-peeling may work better for this than with a potato-peeler.  Compost the bad-looking peelings but save the healthy ones to a flat-bottom dish.  Keep the peelings fresh and damp to sprout by rinsing and draining daily, leaving a little water around them, until you have time to dig a garden trench for planting.

Potato plants (Solanum tuberosum) store their life-energy in starchy nodules–potatoes– that form at the tips of modified underground stems or rhizomes.  Green potato skins happen when potatoes are exposed to light–so store potatoes in a dark place.  Avoid eating any green skins of potatoes as they are very bitter and may become toxic.  Better to use green peelings for planting.

Planting my sprouted potato peels — Potato gardening in the desert is different from wetter or temperate regions where plants must be mounded up.  In deserts start them deep:  Dig a trench in good garden soil about a spade depth and place sprouted peels at the bottom…..

Close-up view of potato peels set at bottom of garden “trench”

As I began covering the potato peels on damp garden soil, worms came out to see what the action was. They will assist keeping the soil turned and loosened as I continue to bury the young growth this winter.

Keep a pile of good garden soil at the ready.  As your young plants emerge from the soil, gradually, gently, keep burying them, or top-dressing them with compost, over their days and weeks of growth to encourage the underground stems to continuously elongate, thereby adding space for more and more potatoes to form. Try never to let a little potato get exposed to the sun.  As your plants grow, and as you cover them, your trench will fill, then hopefully it will even become a linear mound full of small potatoes by late spring.  Don’t forget to water regularly as rains diminish.  They need cold or cool weather for best growth, so get them into the ground by end of January at the latest.  You could start them as soon as November’s cool weather sets in.  Plan ahead to protect your potatoes from excavating ground squirrels, rock squirrels or packrats.

 

Having our “taters and eating them too”– I’m making garlic-parsley-scalloped potatoes with red potatoes I peeled for planting.

Tia Marta’s Scalloped Potatoes Recipe with variations

Into a pyrex dish, slice 6-8 partly peeled potatoes (Skins are nutritious!).  Add 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese, 1+ tsp sea salt, garlic powder and/or black pepper to taste, and milk (soy or rice milk OK) 1-2cups to barely cover potatoes.  As additional seasoning options add 2 Tbsp Mano y Metate Mole mix, 1 Tbsp parsley, and/or 1 tsp paprika. Mix, Cover and Bake at 325 F for ca.45 minutes until all ingredients are happily melded.  [For solar-oven cooking use dark saucepan and dark lid.]. Don’t burn your tongue when you serve them piping hot–and do enjoy the fruits of your potato-labors!

No waste here… I’m using partly-peeled-for-planting red spuds in this delicious variation on scalloped potatoes–seasoned with Mano y Metate’s yummy Mole Verde!  (available at NativeSeedsSEARCH  and many specialty markets in Tucson, online at http://www.manoymetate.com)

 

Organic new red potatoes ready to peel for sprouting AND for cooking–  Now go for it–don’t waste those peelings!!  Make them work for you.  All it takes is a little bit of garden space and you will have new potatoes for potato salad by next summer.  Happy peeling and planting!

Tia Marta is an artist, ethnobotanist, and teacher about Baja Arizona’s gastronomic history and prehistory.  Her heirloom foods and/or “foodie” notecards can be found at NativeSeedsSEARCH, Tohono Chul Park, the Presidio Museum, Old Town Artisans, Arizona State Museum on UA Campus, Tucson Museum of Art, the UNICEF Store, and online at www.flordemayoarts.com.  Catch one of her Native Foods workshops at Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden, or join her downtown Gastronomy Tour at Tucson Presidio.  Coming up soon!–Join us to view her traditional foods artwork at the ArtTrails Open Studio Tour on Tucson’s West Side, Saturday and Sunday February 2-3, 10am-4pm both days.  For directions see the centerfold in Zocalo, the Desert Leaf calendar, or go to www.ArtTrails.org.  See you there!

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

Refugees Glean Citrus Abundance

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Citrus season in Southern Arizona.

It’s high citrus season in the desert Southwest. Oranges and grapefruits and lemons, oh my! Many people in Tucson have trees that produce so abundantly that they can’t use it all and even have trouble giving it all away. (Witness bags of grapefruits in break rooms all over town).  There’s an answer to finding good homes for all the citrus.

It’s Carolyn today, here to tell you about a wonderful local organization. Iskashitaa Refugee Network is a volunteer group of locals and refuges who have been settled here who go out to homes and farms where they have been invited to harvest extra produce. Barbara Eiswerth founded Iskashitaa in 2003 as a way to not only help acclimate United Nations refugees who had been resettled in Tucson, but also to find a way to rescue and make use of some of the unharvested and unused fruit that goes to waste in Tucson.  The first group Eiswerth worked with was from Somalia. The warm comradery the women developed led to the name of the group. Iskashitaa means “working cooperatively together” in a Bantu language spoken in Somalia.

Gleaning has a centuries old history. The Economist recently ran a fascinating article on gleaning in Europe and described it as harvesting “the good and usable fruit of human activity; they have not been discarded, merely overlooked, or thought not worth bothering with.” The article is worth a look.

Harvesting citrus

The Bible advises landowners to support gleaners. In Deuteronomy, a sheaf forgotten in the field was to be left “for the stranger, for the fatherless and the widow”; and “When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again.”

Each year 800 to 1200 refugees from more than twenty countries are resettled in Tucson, all of them forced by conflict to start a new life in the United States. Many of them were farmers in their native land. They understand plants, and they also have heritage recipes for cooking and preserving desert foods, many of which grew in their homelands.

Refugees harvest oranges from a tree a homeowner planted 40 years ago. There is more than he can use, so he called Iskashitaa.

The volunteers harvest a cumulative 100,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits including grapefruits, oranges, pomegranates, dates, mesquite pods, even desert berries—ninety different food items—all of which would have been discarded without their attention. “And still, it’s only the tip of the iceberg” Einsworth says

“U.N. refugees are challenged to become part of the society,” Eiswerth says. “Working with our American volunteers, they get to practice their English, develop job skills, and begin to feel part of the community.” It’s not only work, it’s a support network using the universal language of food. And it doesn’t go just one way. The refugees teach the Americans new and delicious ways to cook familiar desert foods. There make citrus jams, pickled garlic, date vinegar, and powered fruit seasonings. The products are available at Iskashitaa headquarters at 1406 E. Grant Road and at food fairs.

Some of the products produced by the volunteers and refugees.

Frequently, there is more food harvested than the refugee gleaners can use themselves. In that case, the extra produce is donated to other refugee families, the Community Food Bank, schools, and soup kitchens. With one in four Tucsonans suffering from food insecurity, the food always finds a welcome home.

Eiswerth sees this as a double positive. “The work is an opportunity for refugees to give back to the people of Tucson while also providing for their families,” she says.

Date Vinegar Salad Dressing

When there is lettuce in my garden in the winter, we have salad for lunch every day. When I add apples or pears to the lettuce (instead of tomatoes), I like to use a citrus dressing. This uses Iskashitaa’s wonderful date vinegar.

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Iskashitaa date vinegar

1/2 teaspoon mustard

juice of one orange

juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Put the olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the date vinegar and add the mustard to emulsify. Whisk in the juices and taste. If you want it sweeter, whisk in the honey.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thank a Farmer…for Garlic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystina’s Garlic Dip

Best Garlic Dip Ever

16 ounces of unflavored Greek yogurt

5 to 7 garlic cloves (or to taste )

Salt and pepper to taste.

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

What a great way to deliciously consume healthy raw garlic.

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

 

 

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

Southwest Youth Plant the Seeds of Food Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arroz Verde with Sweet Potato Greens

Happy autumn! Amy here, wanting to make arroz verde to go with beans my friend made. But the summer amaranth greens are too mature and the winter greens aren’t ready to harvest. My new favorite vegetable the past few weeks is sweet potato vines. Mild and tender, and not at all bitter. I had some cooked in Asian food, but I’d never grown or cooked them myself. A couple cuttings turned into a large planter full in no time! I’ll report back if I ever get any edible sweet potato tubers…

To make the dish, I started with cilantro stems that would otherwise go to waste, onion, green chile, and the sweet potato leaves plucked from the vines.

I roasted the chile and let it cool as it sweated it in a covered container. Then I peeled, seeded and chopped it.

Then cilantro stems, onion and a handful of sweet potato leaves went in the blender with the amount of water needed to cook a cup of rice (The volume of water varies by variety of rice.) The chile can go in the blender, but opted to leave it coarse. Actually, it could all be coarsely chopped instead of blended.

The green slurry went into a dish to simmer with the chile, salt and some Mano Y Metate Mole Verde powder.

While that heated, I browned the rice in olive oil. For me, the trick is to keep from stirring it too often, so it gets some nice dark spots. I spooned the browned rice into the green liquid, covered and simmered on very low heat.

Once the rice was tender and the liquid absorbed, I added some chopped sweet potato greens sauted with onion and garlic and folded all together.

 Enjoy with beans.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom beans, herbs, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heirloom Cowpeas for a Summer Garden Surprise

You are in for a treat this summer–don’t wait until New Year’s Day feasting.  If you have “black-eye-pea prejudice,” or if you have never tasted a FRESH black-eye-pea, read on!  Black-eyes will be a reward for your palate–and positive reinforcement for the novice gardener.  First, action is needed:  With monsoon moisture it is time to get those seeds in the ground!  Tia Marta here to share some hot-weather garden advice, recipe inspiration, with some historical spice, about the sweet and nutritious black-eye “pea” Vigna unguiculata.

Lovely foliage, flowers, and pods of Tohono O’odham native black-eye pea U’us Mu:n maturing in a monsoon timeline garden at Mission Garden, Tucson (MABurgess photo)

A rose by any other name…..Really it’s not a pea at all!  (Here in Baja Arizona, true peas, English peas, Pisum sativum, must be planted in the cool season.)  Nor is black-eye a common bean either.  Other monikers for this frijol-like legume are cowpea (it used to be cow forage), and crowder pea (its fat seeds are packed against each other in the pod.)  Spanish called them frijoles de carete.  Cowpea varieties that became part of Chinese cuisine are called long beans.   The generic term for edible legumes including cowpeas is pulses, a term that nutritionists tend to use.

An amazing relative of cowpea– Chinese long bean–growing at Mission Garden in the new Chinese Timeline Garden, a Wong Family heirloom planted by Nancy Tom (DenaCowan photo)

Cowpeas were first domesticated in sub-Saharan Africa a few thousand years ago and made it on their agricultural-culinary odyssey to Spain during the Middle Ages, according to historian William Dunmire.  Cowpea came to the New World with Spanish explorers and arrived in the American Southwest with Padre Kino around 1706  (according to Bolton’s 1948 translation of Kino’s journals.)  Native People of what is now northwest Mexico and the US Borderlands quickly adopted this sweet, nutritious food.  It dovetailed perfectly into their traditional summer temporal gardens, their bean staples, and their taste buds.

Over years of selection for color, flavor, and adaptation to arid agriculture, the Mayo, Pima Bajo, Tarahumara and other Native farmers shaped this Old World gift into different colorfully-patterned landraces.  The Tohono O’odham, with selection, altered their adopted variety into a spotted vivid black and white bean, naming it U’us Mu:n or “sticks-bean” because the pods are long, straight or curvy, and clustered.  The Guarijio and Mountain Pima (now of Sonora) named theirs Yori Muni meaning “foreigner’s bean” as yori is slang for something akin to “gringo.”  (Names can reveal alot.)  Mexican and Anglo pioneers and later African-Americans continued to bring “new” varieties of black-eye peas into the Baja Arizona borderlands–which all thrive in our humid hot summers.

A rich harvest of Tohono O’odham U’us Mu:n grown at Mission Garden from seed saved by NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Your monsoon garden is bound for success choosing from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s many heirloom cowpea varieties –known success stories in the Southwest.  The seeds will be up in no time and flowering, great for gardening with kids.  Down below soil level cowpea roots will be feeding the earth with nitrogen.  Above ground they feed us well.  When pods are plump with seed, before they dry, harvest and cook the seeds fresh.  When you taste fresh black-eyes your eyes will roll back in ecstasy as your tummy goes “whoopee!”  After they dry, they can be kept for months, even years, but New Year’s is a good time to share them for good luck.

A prolific producer is pioneer heirloom Bisbee cowpea saved by NativeSeeds/SEARCH, available at the NSS Store (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

My favorite dish is a simple compote of cowpeas with garden vegetables.  As cooking beans goes, cowpeas are much speedier than common beans, as they do not need to be presoaked, although soaking an hour before cooking does reduce cooking time.  I quick-sauté my onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a little olive oil, add them to cowpeas and soak-water in a dark lidded saucepan, and put them in the solar oven.  They will be done and smelling delightful in 2-3 hours, depending on the summer or winter sun during the brighter time of day.  You can also make a hummus with black-eyes for a cool summertime dip.

Black-eye pea compote with garden vegetables –cooked in the solar oven! (MABurgess photo)

We grew a red cowpea heirloom from NativeSeedsSEARCH one summer that had foot-long straight pods.  The refreshing green mass of foliage, flowers and pods sprawled across the garden and kept producing for weeks.

For a rainbow of cowpea ideas for your garden, go to www.nativeseeds.org, click on shop then enter cowpeas in the search box, or go directly to the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell and browse for instant gratification.  Prep your soil, pop seeds in the ground, add water and get ready for botanical action.  By late August you will be pleasing palates with your own home-grown cowpeas, black-eyes, crowders, u’us mu:n–fabulous food by whatever name you want to give them!  Savor Sister Jacqueline Soule discusses growing beans in our area on her site, Gardening With Soule here.

The colorful and reliable Tohono O’odham cowpea in the NSS Conservation Garden–U’us Mu:n (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

Can you hardly wait to have such greenery and goodness in your garden?  All it takes is some seeds in the ground!  You can find even more detailed info about cowpeas at the NativeSeedsSEARCH blog and scroll down to May 14, 2018 post.  Tia Marta wishing you happy and prolific gardening with the monsoons!

Mosaic of cowpeas created by NativeSeedsSEARCH aficionados (credit NSS)

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

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

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

And then to finish:

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajas con Queso

Ingredients

6 medium size poblano chiles

1 medium white onion

1 ear fresh sweet corn

2 T butter

salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

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

8 ounces crumbled queso fresco for garnish

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

If desired, serve with crumbled queso fresco.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Real Smut–Good Smut

Aroused by so much truly disgusting smut in the news these days (not “fake smut” at all), I am motivated to expose another perspective here.  Lets talk ‘smut of a different color’ to distinguish current human smut from sources of the word itself.  “Sooty,” “smudged,” “covered with black flakes of soot” seems to be how the term’s usage began, and of course that came to mean “tainted” or “stained,” its figurative, moral usage of today.

Corn smut–better known as “Mexican Corn-Truffle”–on teosinte (the ancient precursor of domestic corn) growing in the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store “landscape” (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to tell you about –believe it or not–Good Smut!  Smut the Food, CORN SMUT, an incredibly interesting, nutritious, even ceremonially-important food!  However, spured on by the USDA, farmers, not in the know about corn smut’s food history and value, have tried to eradicate it from US corn fields for years.  Corn smut is a reaction to spore invasion by Ustilago maydis which gets into young kernels and causes reactive growth.  Admittedly, corn smut does look unappealing, weird, even tainted or disgusting if you are looking for the perfect corn cob, hence the moves in modern agriculture to get rid of it. (Just search images of corn smut on the internet for an eye-full!)

Fungal growth of Ustilago maydis (corn smut) on commercial corn (internet source)

On the positive side, corn smut has had a very beneficial role in research on human breast cancers.  Looks are not everything–This “ugly” growth has been a blessed gift to life-saving biomedical research.  We might know very little about these cancers without DNA lab studies using corn smut fungus’ DNA.  “Corn Soot,” as the fungus was termed by the people of Zuni, NewMexico, was also used traditionally as herbal medicine to hasten childbirth then to reduce bleeding after childbirth.  [You can read lots more in a neat article by Kevin Dahl in Etnobiologia 7, in 2009, pp.94-99; or in Stevenson,M.L,1915, Ethnobotany of the Zuni, Ann.Rpt.Bur.Am.Ethnology 1908-1909, pp.31-102.]

Cuitlacoche (also spelled and pronounced huitlacoche) in the Aztec (Nahuatl) language, i.e corn smut food, has been used since time immemorial as a nutritious delicacy by Native People from MesoAmerica into what is now the Southwestern US.  Nutritionally, cuitlacoche actually has more protein even than its host, corn.  Corn by itself, however, does not contain a critically important amino acid building block in the human diet, lysine, which cuitlacoche provides. Corn smut would be a significant addition to a vegetarian diet.

Alas, because of its looks, corn smut has been almost completely relegated to oblivion in the USA.  Not too many years ago I used to buy it canned, moist and ready to use, at Food City in Tucson, but recently I’ve asked for it at several Hispanic foods outlets like LaCarniceria on W.St.Mary’sRoad, El Super in South Tucson, and at every Food City.  Nada–Young store attendants don’t even know the word!  Obviously cuitlacoche is out of favor.  Too bad, what popular market demand can do.  We will have to grow our own smut from now on, or travel deeper into Mexico to find the right stuff….

Small bulbous “buds” of cuitlacoche (corn smut) harvested from teosinte for cooking (MABurgess photo)

Because….there are some super recipes for this delicacy!  To create better press for corn smut as food, restaurants now market it as “Mexican Corn Truffle.” Some gourmet bistros have tried to create awareness of it, to no avail.  When and if you find corn smut at a farmers’ market, or if you grow it yourself, you can find some great CUITLACOCHE  recipe ideas online.  Just Google “Cuitlacoche Recipes” for fabulous “new” takes on tacos, quesadillas, soups, meat sauces, enchiladas, tamales, stuffed chicken….

Normal non-infected teosinte “cob” maturing on the stalk. Note the green kernels aligned vertically at angles. (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche (corn smut) on NSS teosinte cob (MABurgess photo)

Inspired by NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store Manager Chad Borseth (who sings the praises of corn smut), I like to make a smut stir-fry or sauce-base with onion, green chiles, garlic and corn “truffle buds” whole or sliced in olive oil.  Using the same ingredients with butter and eggs in the frypan, I make a Cuitlacoche Omelette or Scramble.  It’s an off-the-wall delicious surprise, simple, nutritious–IF you can find that critical ingredient!

Or, I saute diced corn smut with onions, mild green chiles, bison burger, and leftover potatoes, and slip it all in the oven for the flavors to meld.  It makes a heart-warming Cuitlacoche Casserole perfect for a wintery supper.

Here’s a visual caution:  When you cook cuitlacoche, the color sometimes will turn darker–like soot.  Aahhhh, but the taste is a delicate delight:  woodsy, earthy, richly mushroomy with a bouquet of fresh corn, hints of Hobbit food.

Teosinte corn smut diced for scrambling or adding to a cuitlacoche omelette (MABurgess photo)

Cuitlacoche Casserole made with ground bison burger, onion, potatoes, mild green chiles, and diced teosinte corn smut (MABurgess photo)

For more on Huitlacoche, check out the NativeSeedsSEARCH article in SeedHead News by Dr. Melissa Kruse-Peeples at http://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/nss-blog/293-huitlacoche.

Happy reading!  Then order your favorite heirloom corn seed from the NSS 2018 Seedlisting, http://www.nativeseeds.org, or the Whole Seed Catalog and plan right now to PLANT them this next summer season in your own garden.  If cuitlacoche buds out at the tip of your maturing cobs then rejoice– and enjoy its traditional flavor and sustenance!

This kind of smut is well worth experiencing – and don’t forget to spread their spores.

Beautiful cuitlacoche, corn smut at the top of an ear of corn

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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