Posts Tagged With: desert gardening

Wonderful Winter-Squash!

It may not be intuitive that WINTER Squash refers to a number of fantastic SUMMER crops!  Many winter squashes (or pumpkins) are in the same genus Cucurbita.  They can be eaten fresh in their youthful softness in summertime.  If left on the vine to mature into autumn, the same bulbous fruit develops a sturdy, tough skin, “shell” or “rind” which  makes them into great “keepers” through the winter.  You can save one whole, without refrigeration, until a feast or potluck occasion calls you to open it up to serve a crowd.

A volunteer at Tucson’s Mission Garden at a fall harvest. Two of the “Three Sisters” (Chapalote corn and Magdalena Big Cheese Squash) were dry and ready to harvest.(MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share some creative ideas for serving winter squash–aka pumpkins.   The harvest of heirloom pumpkins at Tucson’s Mission Garden last fall was sumptuous and I purchased one of my favorites, Magdalena Big Cheese Squash.  It is so named because NativeSeedsSEARCH plant explorers were given it many decades ago by a farmer in Magdalena, Sonora, and its shape resembles an old-fashioned cheese-wheel.

A fresh Magdalena big cheese squash cut open, ready to seed–Visually savor the glorious orange flesh full of beta-carotenes.  Even better to savor its taste!
 (MABurgess photo)

Exercise care in cutting this huge pumpkin. It can be tough and requires a hefty knife. You can clean the seed to dry and save for next summer’s monsoon garden, or to share with the Pima County Public Library’s Seed Library. There are enough seeds inside to use some to toast with garlic oil and salt for a healthy, zinc-filled snack (especially good to eat for boosting the immune system in flu season).

It took two of us to cut wedges of it, one to stabilize the fat fruit keeping hands out of the way.  We shared chunks with several friends and relatives, and, unbeknownst to each other, each sent an email exclaiming how it was “truly the best squash I have EVER tasted!”  There couldn’t be better recommendations.

Simply steamed, chunks of Magdalena Big Cheese are a totally blissful experience. Here I dusted it with Spike spice-blend –but it really needs nothing –just eating!

For a down-home easy dish, try stir-frying slices of Magdalena Big Cheese with marinated tofu and other veggies, and serve over rice.

Stir-fried sliced Magdalena Big Cheese pumpkin with soy-sauce-marinated tofu, onion, and pea pods. Delish! Serve over rice. (MABurgess photo)

If you have leftovers, or if you want to serve a more exotic dish, you can curry your steamed or roasted squash, mashing with curry powder, salt and pepper to taste, then serving it with side “boys” to complement the curry.  I place little bowls of crystalized ginger, TJ’s blistered peanuts, dried currants, grated coconut, and banana slices for guests to bedeck their curry with.

Curried Magdalena Big Cheese squash with garnishes of peanut, mint leaf, crystal ginger, raisins, and banana. (MABurgess photo)

I don’t just cook winter squashes.  They are so sculptural that I have to document them–to paint them!  You are cordially invited to see my squash and gourd watercolors displayed next weekend at our Flor de Mayo StudioSaturday and Sunday, February 8 and 9, 2020–at our ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR on Tucson’s West Side.  See the ArtTrails website for a map to Flor de Mayo Studio (also showing photographer Rod Mondt’s nature images).

Shapely Dine Cushaw –a big-as-life watercolor by MA Burgess–Join us for the ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR Sat-Sun Feb.8-9 to see more!

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Get Gardening! a Post-Turkey Exercise Plan

When you’ve barely slept off your Thanksgiving feast, while deep thanks are still in your heart and your significant other is deeply absorbed in TV football, here’s an option that can lead to joy, nutrition, productivity, fulfillment, and calorie burning:  planting a little winter-spring garden!

Seasonal seeds and I’itoi onion starts for your winter garden in low desert.  Check out the seed-ideas for winter veggie gardens at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store.

Young I’itoi’s onions emerging. Use them this winter and spring for chives or shallots–indeed the gift that keeps on giving!

Peas love desert winters and will give wonderful pods next spring. So easy to grow! O’odham Wihol (peas) have become well-adapted to low desert since their welcome introduction about 350 years ago.

Tia Marta here to encourage you to think FUTURE FOOD!  That is, take the simple steps–right now–to envision food from your own little piece of earth.  Time to simply put some seeds or starts into the ground.  Now–while the desert is rejoicing in rain!  Now–before your to-do list or other emails divert your better intentions.!

Your little desert plot of good soil need not be spacious.  It can even be in lovely or homely pots on your patio.  Hopefully this post will fill you with inspiration, motivation, and access for planting your own food!

Little   bulbils from the bloom-stalk now ready for planting….

 

Begin gardening with the end in sight!  We must believe in the FUTURE of our FOOD then take steps to make it happen.  Gardening is an act of FAITH and HOPE, so let’s get down on our knees and do it!

For seasonal gratification, try Tohono O’odham peas, either in a pot or a garden edge where the vines can climb a wall or trellis. For the much longer view of gratification, try planting agave clones.  It may be 10-15 years before they are ready to harvest but the wait will be a sweet, nutritious gift for you, or your grandkids, or some other hungry desert dweller dealing with global warming.

Hohokam agave (Agave murpheyi) bulbil clones planted in pots for growing out and sharing….

Desert Laboratory Director Ben Wilder and Desert Ecologist Tony Burgess sampling sweet roasted agave heart at Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival, Mission Garden

Winter/spring is grain-growing time in low desert!  Organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries are ready for planting or cooking, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson (locally grown at BKWFarms)

White Sonora Wheat kernels –so easy to plant in crowded pots or in small garden plots

Young White Sonora Wheat sprouts enjoying the rain–and ready to harvest for juicing–healthy local food right from your patio!

Young starts of heirloom Magdalena acelgas (chard) grown from seed available at Mission Garden or NativeSeedsSEARCH store or online www.nativeseeds.org

Heirloom Magdalena acelgas will give you sumptuously delicious harvests of greens all winter–as these at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Colorful rainbow chard in handsome pots grown by herb-gardener-alchemist-friend Linda Sherwood.  Isn’t this a stunning ornamental –and edible–addition to the patio?!

These are just a few fun ideas of the veggies suited for planting this season.  Find lots more ideas by visiting Tucson’s Mission Garden , the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store , and Flor de Mayo website.

There’s no finer way to express Thanksgiving, or to exercise off your feasted calories, than to be outside in the dirt.  So I’m wishing you happy winter gardening on your patio, backyard, or why not your front yard!!  Now get out your trowel and pots, and those seeds you’ve been accumulating, get your hands dirty and sing a prayer-song as you plant your future food with faith and hope!

 

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

It’s Masa Time!–Making Tortillas with “Fast” Corn

Pearly kernels of Tohono O’odham 60-day corn (MABurgess photo)

Gardening is hardly an “instant-gratification” activity (altho’ the gardening process from the git-go is instantly gratifying to soul and body).  But if you want to try the fastest seed-to-harvest corn cycle on the Planet, next summer try growing Tohono O’odham 60-day Hu:ñ!  It’s the closest thing to instant-gratification-gardening.  Trust the Desert People–the Tohono O’odham of southern Arizona and northwest Sonora– to have selected and perfected a flour corn fit for the rainfall vagaries of a Sonoran Desert summer!  Seeds of this precious crop have been conserved and multiplied over the years by the caring folks at NativeSeedsSEARCH and are available for Southwest gardeners to plant.

Tia Marta here, inspiring you to try your hand at making corn tortillas with this ancient, local, and well-adapted corn!  Volunteers at Tucson’s Mission Garden just harvested their monsoon crop of Tohono O’odham 60-day dried cobs, and they invited MaizTucson’s Carlos Figueroa to make masa with it and to provide tastes of tortillas made with this special heirloom corn.

Three kinds of heirloom corn kernels ready for nixtamalization. Tohono O’odham 60-day corn is at lower right (blue corn at top, traditional nixtamal corn lower left)

He explained how he boiled the kernels until they were softening, then he added slake lime (food grade calcium hydroxide) and let it stand overnight.  [There are detailed instructions online how to make nixtamal.]  He ground the  nixtamal in a stone mill to make the masa, adding enough of the reserved cooking liquid to have the right dough consistency.

Form your masa into a ball about the size of a golf ball before putting into your tortilla press or rolling with rolling pin.

He formed the masa into balls for placing between two sheets of wax paper in a tortilla press.  No problem if you do not have a press.  A rolling pin works fine with your dough sandwiched in wax paper.

60-day corn tortillas and blue corn on the grill at Mission Garden

a 60-day corn tortilla on the grill with blue corn tortilla

forming a basin in the soft masa as it heats on the griddle, to make quesadilla-style cheese-and-salsa melt or “Southwest pizza”

 

After pressing, he showed how to peel one sheet of wax paper and put the dough side into his hand for easy placing onto a very hot grill.  Instead of a grill, I use an ungreased iron skillet on the stovetop.  Grill your round of masa until it begins to puff on top, then flip it to allow it to puff up on the other side.  You may want to flip it twice before it is grilled through.  The great news is that MaizTucson has ready-to-use masa from Tohono O’odham 60-day Corn available for sale at some farmers markets, so you can take the gardening-later short-cut!

Serve your tortillas hot –as with the preceding delicious recipe for tomatillo stew (scroll back to the Oct.20 post in this same blog!)  You could also create a fancy appetizer by pinching masa dough into a little basin.  After it is grilled, fill it with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes or salsa and melt it in a quick oven for a “Southwest pizza”.

MaizTucson has prepared masa from the heirloom Tohono O’odham 60-day corn grown at Tucson’ Mission Garden.  Check the MaizTucson instagram for where to buy it.  (MABurgess photo)

Talk about sustainability!  Think about the month of water saved by growing a short-season corn compared to normal 90-day  corn varieties.  All the more reason for happy tortilla-grilling and eating with this desert-adapted, highly nutritious Tohono O’odham 60-day corn masa!

Your homemade corn tortillas will go really well with Tia Marta’s heirloom bean soup mixes!

Tom’s Mix Southwest Bean Mix–14 delicious heirlooms with recipes

Native American-grown Tepary Bean Mix with recipes, available at http://www.flordemayoarts.com and other southwest specialty stores

For Southwest heirloom foods and gift ideas for the holiday season check out my website www.FlordeMayoArts.com and order early.  Or you can find my jojoba herbal soaps, notecard and canvas art tote creations, sacred sage bundles, white Sonora wheat berries, and colorful heirloom bean  and tepary mixes at special stores–Tohono Chul Museum Shop, NativeSeedsSEARCH store, Presidio Museum in the center of Tucson, Old Town Artisans, Wiwpul Du’ag East at San Xavier Mission Plaza, Saguaro National Park West bookstore, and Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, AZ.

Notecard and canvas tote artwork by Martha Ames Burgess, http://www.flordemayoarts.com

Luxurious herbal jojoba soaps created by Martha Ames Burgess, made with local desert plants and healing jojoba

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Citrus Season is Time for Marmalade

Mix citrus for a delicious marmalade with my favorite recipe.

It’s Carolyn Niethammer here today to share my favorite recipe for citrus marmalade. It comes from an early version of The Joy of Cooking that I received as a gift in 1965. The most recent Joy of Cooking doesn’t even have an entry for jams though I hear there is a resurgence of interest in making them. I love citrus marmalade, but don’t like the overly sweet grocery-story version. I like a little bitterness, more like the English version rather than the American style.  I’ve used this recipe for at least 30 years, varying the proportion of fruit according to what I have.

Some of the oranges come from a Sweet Orange tree in my front yard that my husband as a small child planted with his dad, Dr. Leland Burkhart, a half time extension agent, half time college ag professor.  Dr. Burkhart used to travel all over the state consulting with citrus growers. Since my own grapefruit tree died, I have to snitch a few of those from my neighbors. I also gather a few sour oranges from street trees in the neighborhood because I like the tang it gives my marmalade.  If you don’t have access to free fruit, the farmer’s markets are full of all varieties right now.

Farmers’ markets in the Southwest have abundant citrus for sale now.

Although I have been using this recipe successfully for years, a couple of years ago I decided to get fancy and carefully cut away all the white pith on the inside of the fruit rinds. Then the mixture simply would not jell no matter how long I cooked it. So….I learned this is where the pectin is, what makes the marmalade thicken up. Leave the white stuff on; it disappears during the soaking and cooking.

Use whatever fruit you have; don’t worry about the proportions. You could use all lemons. Last year I foraged an abundance of kumquats and used those. You might decide to make your version of spring marmalade special by adding some thinly slice barrel cactus fruit, or a little prickly pear juice if you have some, or even some berries. This is a very adaptable recipe. I always try to stress experimentation. Here’s a place to construct your own signature jam to your special taste preference.

The recipe is very easy, but you have to start the process a few days before you plan to do the cooking. The fruit soaks and softens in a corner of your kitchen. During the days when the fruit is soaking, gather up your jars. If you have those with the sealing lids, fine. If not use any jars. Put them in your biggest pot, cover with water, and boil for a few minutes to sterilize. If you don’t have the lids with the rings that seal, be sure to refrigerate the jam until use. If you give it away, caution the receiver not to stick it on a shelf and forget it.

I use whatever jars I have for the marmalade.

Mixed Citrus Marmalade

1 grapefruit

3 oranges

3 lemons

Sugar

Scrub the fruit, cut each in quarters, and remove the seeds. Slice very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit and juice and add 3 times the amount of water. Set aside and let the fruit soak for 12 hours. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Let stand again for 12 hours.

For every cup of fruit and juice, add ¾ cup sugar. Divide into two pots if you have them or cook one half at a time. Cook these ingredients until they reach 220-222 degrees F. on a food thermometer . It will seem like it takes a long time at first and then at the end it moves rapidly. If you don’t have a food thermometer, once you think it’s looking a little thicker, turn off the heat, put a little of the jelly on a china plate and put it in the freezer for a minute. If it firms up, it is ready. If it is still liquid, cook for a little while longer. It usually firms up a bit more once it cools in the jars.

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Ready for another challenge? It was a rainy winter this year in the Southwest which means lots of edible wild desert plants. You can find recipes for 23 of the  easiest to gather and the tastiest in my book Cooking the Wild Southwest available from Native Seeds/SEARCH and from on-line stores.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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: , , , , | 3 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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