Posts Tagged With: Desert Harvesters

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Yellow Moon” leads to…..Sweet Pea Harvest-Time!

Desert ecologist Dr. Tony Burgess enjoying the glow of Oam Mashad — “Yellow Moon” in Tohono O’odham is the lunar cycle or “month” when so many desert plants are blooming yellow.

illustration palo verde post June7,2019

Massive bloom of foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), in spring 2019, extended beyond the normal Oam Mashad, making it the longest lasting and dense-est flowering in botanical memory! (MABurgess photo)

THIS WEEK in early June is a narrow window of opportunity–one of those Manna-from-Heaven moments we are blessed with in our colorful and productive Sonoran Desert.  Tia Marta here, encouraging you to get out into the desert right away to enjoy this pulse of plenty!  What an experience it is, eating fresh sweet peas right off a tree! No fuss. No kitchen cooking.  It’s an easy outdoor treat that grandparents, little kids, even overactive entrepreneurs can all enjoy, along with our feathered and four-legged neighbors.

To ID our most directly-edible and flavorful bean-tree–the foothills, one of many palo verde species–note close-up that the top petal of its butterfly-shaped pea flower is WHITE, and its pinnate leaflets are teensy. (MABurgess photo)

Palo verde flowers, once pollinated by buzzing helpers, shed their petals and morph in May into clusters of bright green seed pods.  Foothills paloverde pods are not flat–check these photos.  Rather, they look like beads on a short string.

Not to be confused with foothills palo verde, the flat pods of blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have no constriction between seeds, and a bitter taste to my palate–not nearly as flavorful as foothills. [Avoid Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) with its orange petal and potentially toxic seed.]

Imagine each seed of a foothills palo verde (Kuk Chu’hu-dahk) pod inside a long green sheath, a constriction between each like beads on a necklace. (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham harvesting teacher and mentor, Juanita Ahil, taught me that Kuk Chu’hu-dahk kai is its best when eaten in the green stage, as the pea-size seeds are just swelling.  She told me, “Don’t wait til they are real fat, or the seeds will get a little tough and lose some sweetness.”   These sweet green peas are chucky-jam-full of legume protein, complex carbs and sugars, and phytonutrients in active mode.

In a short few days when temperatures soar, the soft green seeds shrink into hard little brown “stones,” which can be used in a totally different way, as a protein-rich flour (but that’s another story!)

With the gift of our cool wet spring of 2019, there is a good chance our sweet pea harvest season may extend into June beyond the “normal” first week.  But don’t hesitate!  Go browse with a basket or canvas bag to bring some home to share or prep into salad or snacks.  Long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses are suggested, as branches of foothills palo verde are sharp-tipped.  [A voice of experience:  In your enthusiasm to look up and reach for handfuls, don’t forget to look down for rocks or rattlers in your shared space.]

Note the structural similarity of a peeled foothills-palo-verde pod to edamame at your favorite sushi bar. They do look like botanical sisters. For a great “desert edamame” recipe go to my June13,2019, savorthesouthwest post (link below).

Beyond the simple pleasure of eating directly from the tree, you can also make “desert edamame” with palo verde pods.  They make a wonderfully unexpected hors d’oeuvre or potluck finger-food. Click on my June 13, 2015 post Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees for fabulous recipe ideas and helpful photos. More sources are at Bean Tree Farm’s website,  and desertharvesters.org.

To peruse and purchase my traditional Southwest foods and watercolor artwork, visit my website www.flordemayoarts.com or several special shops in Tucson:   NativeSeedsSEARCH, the Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Next fall-winter season, sign up to learn more about traditional Baja Arizona foods in our City of Gastronomy downtown tours at Tucson Presidio Museum.  I also teach timely hands-on wild foods harvesting workshops through Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Foothills palo verde pods plump and ready to pick for a sweet desert treat

Now…grab a pal and go ye into desert foothills to browse palo verde pea-pods –mindfully, joyfully, gratefully!

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

Pear Prickly Pear Desert Dessert

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

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

After baking and stirring, they looked like this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amy’s Apple Crisp

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

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

 

Topping:

1 cup mesquite meal

1 cup rolled oats

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

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

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons milk or water

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

 

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

New Desert Harvesters Cookbook Celebrates Glories of Wild Desert Foods

Hello everybody. It is Carolyn today with an exciting new book for you. I’ve been studying and writing about edible wild plants of the Southwest deserts for more decades than I want to fess up to, and one of the most energizing things for me is when other people catch the bug and begin gathering and experimenting.

Last year we had John Slattery’s great book Southwest Foraging with colorful photos to help us identify plants new to us (see review here). Now we have even more riches in Desert Harvesters’ new book Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living.

The 170 recipes range from the very simple to lightly challenging. While heavy on dishes using mesquite, the book includes recipes for some less exploited plants such as desert ironwood, palo verde, wolfberry, and creosote (creosote capers!).

One of the most exciting things about the book is the range of contributors. While there are familiar names in the local foraging world, including fellow Savor Sisters Muffin Burgess and Amy Valdés Schwemm and myself, Janos Wilder, Brad Lancaster, Barbara Rose, Jeau Allen, and Jill Lorenzini, you will also find dozens of other folks who have also shared their recipes. What fun to see how cooks have included Sonoran desert plants in favorite family recipes. That’s exactly how to introduce a new food to family members leary of something strange—by incorporating it into something familiar.

This book goes far beyond recipes with essays on solar cooking, neighborhood water harvesting, and medicinal uses of some of the plants.

Ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Felger, who was my first mentor and thus has been writing about and advocating for  “wild agriculture” even longer than I have, contributes an article that tells us that 10,000 years ago Prosopis (mesquite) formed the nutritional foundation of some of the first human populations along the Pacific Coast of South America, long before the use of corn in their society. And we do know that mesquite was also the staple of the desert Tohono O’odham. As Dr. Felger has been advocating for decades, it is time we begin (or go back to) fitting our food production to fit the climate rather than changing the environment to fit the crop just as earlier desert inhabitants did.

Now for a recipe. For years the artists in Cascabel have put on a pancake breakfast in the beautiful San Pedro Valley. Here is the recipe they have used, developed by Pearl Mast.

Nothing beats mesquite pancakes on a winter morning.

Pearl’s Mesquite Pancakes

(Makes about 12)

1 cup mesquite flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 tablespoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 tablespoon oil

1-2 cups of buttermilk, sour milk or fresh mile

1 tablespoon vinegar (optional)

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, oil, 1 cup of milk and vinegar. Add wet ingredients to dry. Add more milk to thin the batter. Cook on medium heat and enjoy with your favorite syrup or toppings.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the Southwest deserts in her books American Indian Food and Lore, The Prickly Pear Cookbook, and Cooking the Wild Southwest. They are available at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store or on-line bookshop or your favorite on-line book seller.

 

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