Posts Tagged With: desert harvesting

Delectable Cholla bud and Nopalito Recipe Ideas

 

Blooming staghorn cholla and foothills palo verde bathe the Sonoran Desert in color. Surprisingly, this 2019 spring season has been so cool and moist that we are still harvesting cholla buds and fresh nopales in May. (MABurgess photo)

“Act now while this offer lasts!”–so says Mother Nature in the Sonoran Desert.  She only offers her bounty in certain pulses or moments, and we must harvest while her “window of opportunity” is open. Tia Marta here to share some delectable ideas for serving your own desert harvest from our glorious bloomin’ cholla and prickly pears.

The YOUNGEST pads of new growth on prickly pear are the ones with tiny leaves at the areoles (where spines will later grow). (MABurgess photo)

After singe-ing off the tiny leaves and spiny glochids using tongs over a flame (either campfire or gas stove), slice and saute young prickly pear pads in olive oil. Now they are ready to use in lots of great recipes…(MABurgess photo)

Young prickly pear pads (many species in Baja Arizona) have no woody tissue yet developed inside. In their youthful stage (see photo) they are not only edible but also super-nutritious! The photo is our native Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) with flower buds forming. Traditional Tohono O’odham call the edible young pads nawi.

After spines and areoles are singed off you can chop and scramble nopalitos with eggs, bake them into a quiche, pickle them, OR simmer them in a delicious mole sauce….The fastest and easiest way to prep a gourmet nopalito meal is to use Mano y Metate’s Mole Mixes.  Savor blog writer Amy Valdes Schwemm has created several different sabores of mole–many without chocolate.  My sweetie loves Amy’s Mole Adobe as its savory spice binder is pumpkin seeds with no tree nuts.

Nopalitos in Mano y Metate Mole Adobo sauce–here served with a mesquite tortilla (from Tortilleria Arevalo available at farmers’ markets in Tucson.) Nopalitos en Mole over brown rice is delicious too.

Get out your tongs and whisk brooms to harvest the last of the cholla buds this season!

A staghorn cholla cactus flower bud (Cylindropuntia versicolor) still with spines in need of cleaning. Buds with petals not yet open are the ones to pick–carefully.(MABurgess)

A harvest of staghorn cholla buds in screen box to remove spines from areoles (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham harvesters know this cholla species as ciolim–pronounce it chee’o-lim.

Once de-spined, cholla buds must be boiled or roasted to denature its protective oxalic acid. Then, tah-dah!, cholla buds lend themselves to wonderful recipes similar to nopalitos in omelettes, quiches, stir-fries… They are flavorfully exotic, tangy, definitely nutritious containing gobs of available calcium and energy-sustaining complex carbs!

Pickled cholla buds (MABurgess photo)

I love to pickle my fresh cholla buds to enjoy later as garnish for wintertime dishes. For the salad recipe below, I’d canned them with pickling spices, but an easier alternative is to marinate them short-term for 24-48 hours in your favorite dressing for a quick fix.

 

Muff’s Easy Marinated Cholla Bud and Sonoran Wheat-berry Salad Recipe:

First–prep ahead–heirloom White Sonoran Wheat-berries:   boil 1 cup dry wheat-berries in 4 cups drinking water for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until water is fully absorbed and grains are puffed up, then chill.

Also prep ahead— marinate fresh boiled cholla buds in pickle juice, or your favorite marinade or salad dressing for 24-48 hours in refrigerator.

Then–Chop any combination of your favorite fresh veggies–sweet peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, etc….

Toss veggies with cooked chilled wheat-berries and marinated cholla buds.  Add spices and pinyones if desired.  Dress with remaining cholla marinade.  Allow to chill before serving, neat or on a bed of fresh salad greens.

 

The yummiest cholla bud and wheat-berry marinated salad ever! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s honor, tend, and enjoy these desert foods that have fed generations of desert people for hundreds–thousands–of years, keeping them healthy and strong!  Thanks to traditional harvesters, newcomers can more deeply appreciate and take good care of this beautiful desert.

An energy-saving idea:   You can save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen this summer by cooking your cholla buds or your wheat-berries in a solar oven!  Check out a light-weight streamlined model solar oven at www.flordemayoarts.com.

[White Sonora Wheat-berries are available at NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson.  Not to fret if cholla and prickly pear harvests are done for this spring in your neighborhood!  During the rest of the year, you can find dried cholla buds at NativeSeedsSEARCH, at San Xavier Coop, OldTown Artisans, and at Flor de Mayo and fresh nopales in the Mexican foods section at groceries like Food City.]

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

_____________________________________

Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

________________________________________________

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

Refugees Glean Citrus Abundance

I

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

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

Ornamental Medicinals–for Showy Color and Healing Gifts

Yellow trumpet flower–tronador (Tecoma stans)–is super-showy in a desert landscape. It will bloom multiple times through warm and hot seasons triggered by rainfall or watering. Its foliage and flowers have been used as a tea for treating blood sugar issues of insulin-resistant diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

Attention:  native-plant-lovers, desert gardeners, Southwest culture buffs, curanderas, survivalists, artists and the just plain curious!  Set your iPhone Calendar ready to mark right now for a long-awaited event:   the Grand Opening of the Michael Moore Memorial Medicinal Plant Garden, this coming Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8am-10am at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Tia Marta here to give you a little “taste” of how you can incorporate what you learn about our native medicinal plants into your own landscaping–to add not only sensational seasonal beauty around you, but also to put their gifts of traditional medicine right at hand, in your own yard!

[A little knowledge can be dangerous, so DO use reputable reference books such as those by Michael Moore, Charles Kane, John Slattery, and DesertHarvesters.org  if you intend to use your desert landscape plants for medicine.]

This showy orange-flowered prickly pear, collected by Dr Mark Dimmitt in the Chihuahuan Desert (Opuntia lindheimeri), is now a favorite in desert gardens all over Baja Arizona. Plentiful young pads of all prickly pears (flat new stems called nopales in Spanish, nowh in Tohono O’odham)–are an important traditional source of blood-sugar-balancing mucilage plus available calcium for bones or lactation, when prepared properly. (MABurgess photo)

Prickly pear fruits (i:bhai in Tohono O’odham, tunas in Spanish, Opuntia engelmannii) add landscaping color and a feast for wildlife. They ALSO are important traditional medicine with their complex carbs used for sustained energy, blood-sugar balance and high available calcium for preventing and treating osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

Sweet catkin-like flowers of mesquite covers this handsome “Giving Tree” in spring, to mature into healthy sweet pods by late May and June. Its beauty is far more than bark-deep. Almost every part of mesquite can be used medicinally–leaf, sap, flower, bark, branchlets and bean pod! (JRMondt photo)

Native Mexican elderberry–sauco in Spanish (Sambucus mexicana)–makes an effective screen as a shrubby, dense tree. It bears cream colored flower nosegays that become clusters of dark berries (tasty but toxic unless cooked). Its flowers and foliage have been used also for curbing fever and as a diuretic. (MABurgess photo)

Two important books are burning on the presses  by our own Baja Arizona ethnobotany writer-philosopher Gary Paul Nabhan ,  entitled:

Mesquite, an Arboreal Love Affair and      Food from the Radical Center (Island Press)

available at upcoming events in Tucson.  Plus another new one– Eat Mesquite and More by Brad Lancaster’s DesertHarvesters.org, will be celebrated at the UA Desert Lab on Sept.19.  Mission Garden will also feature Nabhan’s latest Sept 29 sponsored by BorderlandsRestoration.

As the nights get cool, toss a handful of desert chia seed in your garden and scratch it into the soil for a sky-blue (and useful) addition to your wildflower mix. Medicinally, desert chia seed–da:pk in Tohono O’odham (Salvia columbariae)–has proven to be a cholesterol remover in addition to its traditional use for sustained energy and blood-sugar balancing.  Chia’s foliage has been used as a topical disinfectant and throat gargle tea. (MABurgess photo)

For a mound of glorious color in a rock garden, landscaped hillside or spring accent, our desert Goodding’s Verbena is perfect. And what a handy source at your fingertips for brewing up a soothing sedative tea that is even safe for children! (MABurgess photo)

You may find many of these showy medicinals like Verbena gooddinggii,  desert willow, Tecoma stans, native velvet mesquite, honey-mesquite and screwbean, or elderberry at upcoming fall plant sales at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Sept 29-30, Tohono Chul Park Oct.13-14, and at Desert Survivors Sept.25-29, 2018.

Beautiful flowers of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)–known as ahhn in Tohono O’odham, in Spanish as mimbre–are an important addition to desert landscaping. Not only can it be brewed for a gentle, refreshing tea, but its anti-fungal properties can be a rescue when needed. (MABurgess photo)

I hope these photos have been an inspiration for you to delve deeper and to plant a medicinal!  Members of Tucson Herbalist Collective (better known as THC), including Tia Marta here, will be on hand at the Michael Moore Memorial Herbal Medicine Garden Opening, Tucson’s Mission Garden Sept 22, to introduce you to many gifts of our desert medicinals, share samples of herbal teas, tastes, and answer questions.  Please pass the word about these neat events by sharing this blog with potential followers.  See you there!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mesquite Meal Becomes Your Secret Ingredient in Popular Cake

Mixture of delicious late summer stone fruits.

Hello all, it’s Carolyn today waxing about one of my favorite subjects: baking with mesquite meal. Today’s recipe was orginally written by cookbook author Marian Burros, and it was so popular that the New York Times food section published it every year between 1983 and 1989. Finally the food editor drew the line and told readers to cut the recipe out, laminate it and save it because that was the end of that recipe for the Times. Since then it has been republished by every major food blog from Epicurious to the Smitten Kitchen to The Splendid Table. And the Times. Again. People just love this recipe.

Add your secret ingredient

So why does it need to show up here? Because we can add a secret ingredient to make the original even better: mesquite meal. The sweet, fruity taste of mesquite goes well with late summer fruits, especially when enhanced by the warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger which were not part of the original recipe. If you happen to have some White Sonoran wheat flour and are saving it for something special, this is perfect. The popular heritage flour works best in pastries like this. Blog reports say that people have had good luck with gluten free baking mixes and that the recipe doubles easily.

The orginal recipe called for plums, but any late summer fruit works well. I used pluots because I needed something ripe and the plums and peaches at my store were still a little hard.  Cut the fruit in fairly large chunks.

Pluots cut into large chunks.

This cake is not overly sweet so it makes a good dish for a fancy brunch. Add a side of ice cream or whipped cream if you are serving it for dessert.

Since it is practically foolproof, feel free to experiment with fruit and spices. It’s up to you if you want to reveal the secret ingredient.

Late Summer Fruit Torte

½ cup (1 stick) butter

¾ cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

¼ cup mesquite meal

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup fruit

½ cup sugar with cinnamon & spices to sprinkle on top

Grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan or springform pan. To ensure the cake comes out in one piece, go the extra step of cutting a round of parchment paper and grease and flour that as well.

Prepare the fruit. If using plums, pit and quarter. If using peaches, slice in large pieces. Set aside.  Heat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add flour, mesquite meal, baking powder and salt and beat until just combined. Mixture will be thick.  Spread in prepared pan.

Spread thick batter in paper-lined pan.

Press in fruit making a nice design.  Sprinkle with sugar spice mixture. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.  Since oven temperatures vary, check after 45 minutes to see how your cake is coming along.

Enjoy your delicious cake.

If you have time, drizzle a little frosting on the cake and decorate with fresh fruit.


For more recipes, check out my cookbooks. The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  are available from Native Seeds/SEARCH or your favorite brick or on-line bookstore. Follow me at Carolyn Niethammer-author on Facebook for updates on my writing and cooking life.

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

____________________________

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

Cooking with the SUN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Muff’s Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad Recipe

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

4 cups drinking water

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Addiction– Nopalito Tortilla Chips

Young pad of our native Engelmann’s prickly pear. Note the little leaves protruding from each aureole. (MABurgess photo)

Luscious and healthy hors d’oeuvres–nopalito tortilla chips! They are sturdier than other chips and much better for dipping. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s an off-the-wall-fun idea that will enhance a party or pot luck to bring a zillion laughs and mmmm’s, not to mention great new taste.   It’s tortilla chips made with something you can pick from the “back forty” in the desert for free, i.e. fresh prickly pear cactus pads—nopalitos. Talk about justifying your addiction to tortilla chips by enhancing your vitamin intake AND balancing your blood sugar!

This idea came originally via my cousins in California who frequent farmers markets, where they found “Nopaltillas,” a trademarked chip produced by Nopaltilla LLC. [Google “cactus chips” for a full description.]

Sez I, “For having some fun in the des, burning off a few calories, why not make them ourselves?”  Tia Marta here to share with you my experiences making Cactus Corn Chips –Nopalito Tortilla Chips.

Young pad of orange flowered O.linheimeri ready for harvesting to make nopal tortilla chips (MABurgess photo)

Notice the leaves on these cladophyll. This is the right stage for harvesting nopales.

Chips are great any time, but now in May (beginning in April) is perfect for this seasonal “specialty.”  Through spring in the Sonoran Desert, our first exercise is to recognize new growth on a prickly pear cactus.  The so called “pads” on a prickly pear are really inflated green stems–not leaves.  These vertical, flat, succulent oval pads (called nowh by the Tohono O’odham and cladodes by botanists) grow out from the edges of mature, spiny pads.  You can recognize the young pads by their thinner shape, their brighter green color, AND the KEY INDICATOR, tiny dunce-cap-shaped prongs at each aereole (spots on the pads where spines emerge.)  These little dunce caps are the only true LEAVES on a cactus!   They are temporary, shed when major heat arrives.   Only harvest pads if you see those little green dunce-caps!!  Be ye warned:  not all pads will do as food. The presence of the tiny leaves shows there is, as yet, no woody tissue inside.  Unless you have the digestive system of a termite to break down cellulose, don’t try to eat mature prickly pear pads.

Wild-harvesting the youthful pads will require tongs, a pocketknife, and 360 degree awareness to avoid touching tiny hair-like spines called glochids that are really bothersome in skin or clothing.  Go to www.desertharvesters.org for good instruction.   Far easier to find young pads in town on the semi-spineless nopal in many older yards around Baja Arizona,  the cultivated Indian-fig cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, first propagated by Nahuatl people of central Mexico.   Better still, I suggest that you grow your own.  What I grow in my garden in harvestable profusion is an orange-flowered species Opuntia lindheimeri, very productive with nopalitos and tunas.  Whichever nopales you harvest, you’ll need to singe off the spines and leaves over a flame or gas stove before you dice them to prep for making our nopalito chips.

Freshly diced nopalitos ready to puree. Labor-saving short cut: these are available from Food City!

The “cheater option”  is to purchase fresh-diced nopalitos or fresh nopal pads in the produce section of Food City.  These are in fact from the same Indian-fig cactus available by reaching over any fence in old neighborhoods.

 

Chopping diced nopalitos in Cuisinart

Pureed fresh nopalitos prepped for mixing with masa to make nopal tortilla chips–pretty weird –such a rich healthy green!

Now for the quick and easy recipe:

Nopalito Tortilla Chips 

You will need a Cuisinart or mixer, mixing bowl and fork, flat surface and rolling pin OR a tortilla press, gallon ziplock bag, tea-towel, hot griddle, and oven.

Ingredients:

2 cups corn Maseca (instant masa corn flour mix from Mexican foods section of grocery)

1 1/2 cups diced fresh nopalitos

3-10 tbsp warm water

1/4 tsp sea salt (and powdered salt–optional–for surface)

Directions with photos:

Puree your diced nopalitos.

Add pureed nopalito liquid into the masa flour and mix

In a bowl with the 2 cups masa flour and sea salt, pour pureed nopalito liquid gradually into the masa flour and stir until dough becomes workable with hands and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.  If mixture is too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each until you can make a dough ball with your hands.

Rolled balls of nopalitos masa dough golf-ball size left to set awhile

Roll chunks of dough into golfball-size balls and set aside covered with tea-towel for up to an hour to set.  Cut the sides of a gallon plastic bag.

If you don’t have a tortilla press you can flatten your dough ball between 2 layers of a cut ziplock with a rolling pin

Place ball of dough within two sides of the plastic to flatten with rolling pin or in a tortilla press.

Nopalito tortilla on a hot griddle–You can even grill it on a glass-top stove like this or in an iron skillet over an open fire.

On a medium-hot griddle cook the flat tortilla dough on both sides until edges are tinged golden brown.  Tortillas should still be flexible.

Cutting a stack of warm tortillas into corn chip size

Cut tortillas to chip size.  Brush sparingly with corn oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.  Place in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 6-8 minutes watching carefully to remove before browning.  Dust with powdered salt if desired.  Serve hot or cold.

Nopalito tortilla chips brushed lightly with oil and then baked in a medium-hot oven

You will find that nopalito tortilla chips have a wonderful tangy flavor, and also a sturdiness that will not crack with heavy bean dips or guacamole.

And what nutrition!  Nixtamalized corn in the masa has preserved the amino acids in the corn.  And nopalitos are full of complex carbs that give sustained energy and available calcium for bones, teeth, and nerves.  What more could one ask from a snack food?

Tia Marta encouraging you to make and enjoy these easy and not-so-sinful treats from the desert!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.