Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) still in flower!  This should be a good bean year for ironwood.

Known as hoh’it-kahm to Tohono O’odham, the Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) is still in flower! This should be a good bean year for ironwood as the flowers produce pods.

Hasn’t this been the most incredible, elongated spring in the Sonoran Desert ever?  Tia Marta here to celebrate this red-letter year for our desert legume trees–they are still coming on!!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde--thanks to St Mary's Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde–thanks to St Mary’s Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

We have had the joy of palo verde blossoms from mid-April thru May.  Mark Dimmitt’s amazing Desert Museum hybrid palo verde continues to grace public buildings and roadways with a glorious yellow glow.  Mesquites (life-giving kui wee’hawk to traditional Tohono O’odham) are still producing creamy yellow catkins and greening pods soon to ripen.  Red pod clusters are hanging from white-thorn acacia.  Dusty lavender ironwood blossoms still bedeck the foothills….Color and Beauty–the first of the gifts…


For wild-food aficionados and first time experimenters, this promises to be a bountiful bean year.  Bees are already going wild–they know the buzz.  I’m going wild just thinking about the desert’s gifts of nutrition for so many life-forms.  Humans are just a few of the happy recipients.  With the help of bacteria, the desert’s bean trees even feed the soil with bio-available nitrogen, hidden from our awareness in their root nodules.

Foothills palo verde pods   ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

This week is PALO VERDE TIME for sure!  We gotta get out there right away because this only lasts a few days!  If you want a sweet treat to pluck right from the tree, take a walk up almost any rocky hillside in the Sonoran Desert and find the Little-leaf or Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla–the green barked shrubby tree with teensy leaflets, actually no leaflets right now in June’s heat).  It will be covered with little hanging pods that look like paternoster beads, each seed making a bulge in the pod.  Say a prayer of blessing and thanks to the Koh’o-koh-matk Tree and to Nature for this food.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

If you find it at the right stage, you can snip the pod-covering with your teeth and peel it back to reveal the pea-like green bean–sweeter than any sweet pea you ever tasted.

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there's the delicious sweet "pea"

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there’s the delicious sweet “pea”

It can be eaten fresh right then and there. Most harvesters can’t help gorging at first, gathering later.









The variations from one palo verde to the next are interesting to see.   Some pods are all green, some flecked with red, some are even purple!

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods--Tucson's west side.

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods–Tucson’s west side.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.










If you find palo verde pods that are really getting super-plump and the pods are turning slightly buff or straw colored, they may be a little beyond the sweet stage.  At that point it’s best to let them fully mature and to use them for grinding later.  Both the sweet soft green “beans” and the later hard stony seeds when mature are super nutrition for whoever eats them–both chucky-jam-full of complex carbs and high protein.

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Years ago in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I purchased snacks from a kid selling what he called “balled peanuts.”  The delectable treats had simply been boiled in a salt-brine.  Inspired by that treatment, I tried the same process on our desert legumes.  It works wonders on mature ironwood pods–watch for them to be ripening in the coming weeks.  Great also for prepping plump green foothills palo verde pods before they harden.  Quick brining produces a gourmet delight–Desert Edamame!–creamier and tastier than soy bean (and who knows now if any soy is  GMO-free?).   Just imagine….Sonora Desert sushi, tilapia caterpillars with a side of Palo Verde Edamame….

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Here’s a quick recipe for Desert Palo Verde “Edamame” Hors O’ouvres:

In a saucepan:

2 cups washed whole foothills palo verde pods

2 cups water

2 tsp sea salt or RealSalt

Boil for 5-10 min to desired “done-ness” or softness.

Chill and serve as snack, as a blow-em-away pot-luck offering,  or as a complement to any Asian cuisine.

Easier than edamame--and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

Easier than edamame–and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

As pods ripen further on our Sonoran Desert bean trees to become hard seeds, the cooking technology can adapt.  Parching and grinding the nutritious but super-hard seeds of palo verde, ironwood, and acacia can create unusual and delicious flours for baking–but that’s another story…

Contact for upcoming events like the mesquite milling at Mercado San Augustin, Thursday, June 25, and demos by some of the great Bean Tree harvesters like Barbara Rose, Amy Valdes Schwemm, and Brad Lancaster.  Also Google Bean Tree Farm for more harvesting ideas.  Hey, thanks to Barbara Kingsolver for spreading the idea of our “Bean Trees” to the outside world!

With such nutritious plenty surrounding us, delicious gifts from  hoh’it-kahm,  kui wee’hawk, and ko’o-ko-matk,  bean trees which the Tohono O’odham have known for centuries, we can taste–and experience–food security in our bountiful desert.

If you want more info on harvesting the desert or monsoon gardening, do come talk with me, Tia Marta, at our Sunday, St Philips Farmers Market booth–in the shade of the Flor de Mayo canopy–8am-12noon.  You can find more wild desert food products at our website   Also watch for announcements by Tohono Chul Park of our upcoming Fruits of the Desert class this August (

Celebrate the Solstice-tide with Heirloom Bean Treasures

Our ancestors did it—and we still do it today in many ritual ways—we await and call out to the returning light. Indeed in these holy-days of Solstice, Hanukkah, Shálako, Christ-mass, the Yule, we still hope and pray that the light will return to our hearts and our communities throughout our small planet!

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Tia Marta here to share some ideas of foods that have assisted in traditional winter rites, and which can grace our  tables anew for these holy-days.

To me, sprouts, more than anything else, symbolize the return of longer light, the rebirth of life–on so many levels. Out of the darkness and dormancy a sprout brings new life, vitality, a tiny, fragile but hopeful future. Nutritionally, a sprout is a wave of exuberant phytonutrients surging with life-giving properties for itself–and for those who might consume it.

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Ancient cultures of the Southwest have used sprouts in ceremony since time-immemorial, helping communities through rough times of transition, phases of seasons, new homes and life changes. My special favorite for sprouting is the beautiful Four Corners Gold bean, a bright mottled golden-yellow Jacob’s cattle bean, a genetic gift from Native Zuni farmers over the centuries. I sprout the beans by first soaking a ½ cup of dry beans overnight in a cup or bowl, then rinsing and draining them at least 2-3 times daily over a 3-5-day period. Watch life virtually explode out of those little packages of potential! I use the sprouts as a respected garnish or as a flavorful addition to salads or stir-fry. It is like a form of communion to eat sprouts–ingesting renewal.

Four Corners Gold beans up close--check out the difference with Yellow-eye--very different tastes--both wonderful

Four Corners Gold beans up close–check out the difference with Yellow-eye–very different tastes–both wonderful

These colorful dry Zuni beans cooked from scratch also make a hearty and nutritious soup or chile-bean dish for chilly wintry nights. On sunny winter days I like to cook the dry beans (pre-soaked the night before) in the solar oven and have them “at the ready” later in the frig. A pot of beans on the back burner during the holiday season can help make a party happen. Cooked beans are a wonderfully patient food you can have waiting to leap into culinary action when company pops in unexpectedly, or if teenage appetites require between-meal satisfaction.

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Here’s a hearty Tia Marta recipe for enlivening a holiday season buffet:

These make the perfect vegetarian hors d’oeuvres to serve at a holiday buffet or to have ready to heat for drop-in company!

Start them the day before you want to serve them by soaking 1 cup of dry Scarlet Runner Beans.
Soak beans in plenty of water (3-4 cups) for at least 12-24 hours until fully plump and twice their original size.
Drain beans, and add 3-4 cups drinking water.
Simmer on low (stovetop or crockpot) for 3-4 hours until done through and pass the taste test, beyond al dente. The beans should keep their shape and integrity. This will produce extra beans to freeze for other recipes or for doubling the recipe. You will need about 8-10 oz or 1 generous cup of cooked beans for this barbeque recipe.

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1 Tbsp. olive oil                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3-4 Tbsp. butter                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp. molasses
1-2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1/2 cup mild chile salsa
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dashes of Tabasco or Red Devil hot sauce to taste

To make the Barbeque sauce:
Saute onion in butter until clarified. Add all seasoning ingredients to sauteed onions, stir and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or more.
Add in cooked, drained beans–8-10 oz cooked Heirloom Scarlet Runner beans (about 1 generous cup).  Simmer smothered beans and sauce 10 minutes or longer (the longer the better).  Making the BBQ scarlet runners ahead, you can refrigerate them at this point.  Heat before serving.
Serve smothered beans on a hot platter or in a chaffing dish with a fancy toothpick in each bean for a wonderful party surprise that is more satisfying than meat-balls.  Serves a gang of hungry party-ers.

(By doubling this sauce recipe you can use all your cooked beans in it.) Bon appetit! And happy holidays to you and your guests!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d'oeuvres--each one is a perfect tasty bite!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d’oeuvres–each one is a perfect tasty bite!

At New Year’s, our family tradition, with one branch hailing from the South, has always been Black-eye Peas. It is a joy to know that there are Native People here in Baja Arizona who adopted black-eye peas into their own traditional cuisine when European padres first brought them from the Old World. Locally-grown black-eye peas (u-us muñ) may still be available from a Pima farm at and sold through the Native Seeds/SEARCH store.

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean--a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean–a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

For those who want to break away one step from tradition, it is fun to try a delicious alternative New Year’s bean—the yellow-eye. Natives of New England introduced it to Colonists and it became the real Boston Baked Bean long before newer varieties like navy beans or great northerns ever came on the scene. Yellow-eye has a flavor like no other bean and is worth trying in different dishes. I especially like yellow-eyes spiced with freshly ground pipian rojo móle from our own local Mano y Metate (

We think of cranberries as a holiday fruit but have you tried cranberry beans for warming winter dish? There are many Italian recipes for cranberry bean. My stick-to-the-ribs favorite, which delectably uses winter’s plethora of fresh greens, is cranberry beans-and-greens. Tucson’s Mission Garden is producing bundles of the best acelgas greens ever—available at Thursday’s Santa Cruz farmers market at Mercado San Augustine. I invite you to scroll back to last December 2013’s savorthesouthwest.wordpress blog for more great holiday bean recipes.

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Until I was introduced by Dr Barney Burns (co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH) to the diversity of Southwestern heirloom beans, I was a beans-out-of-the-can cook. Indeed even now, with growing awareness of heirloom foods, there are many folks whom Rod and I meet at our farmers market booth who are daunted by the idea of cooking beans from scratch. Yes, dry beans do take time—but with simple low-tech tools like the crockpot or solar oven, multitasking is a breeze. Nothing could be simpler! Cooking one’s own beans opens up a whole new array of flavor possibilities. It’s a color and flavor rainbow of Native American, Hispanic, and pioneer traditional beans which we now have available (largely through the exploratory Southwest seed-saving by Native Seeds/SEARCH over the last 30+ years). All beans are not created equal. Each heirloom has its own unique flavor and bouquet well worth tasting, and its own adaptations to the Baja Arizona desert well worth planting in your garden. Scarlet runner, for example, is long season. Plant it under a mesquite and watch it vine up into the branches, blooming with red flowers for the hummingbirds—the best in edible landscaping! Harvest the giant pods in the fall for next year’s holiday feast.

For limited budgets, buying and cooking dry beans also saves money—big-time. One pound of dry beans when cooked will yield the equivalent of 4 to 6 cans of heat-and-serve beans. Nor will you find our rich SW variety of heirloom beans on any grocery shelf. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N.Campbell Ave, Tucson and the NSS website (, or the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers market ( are the very best places to experience that AH-HAH moment when you see 18-20 beautiful heirloom varieties spread out before your very eyes.  I look forward to your visit to our market booth!

Christmas limas with recipe ideas--a yummy stocking stuffer

Christmas limas with recipe ideas–a yummy stocking stuffer–at Flor de Mayo Sunday St Phillips market booth

When one thinks of the cultures, the farmers, the planting and harvesting knowledge, the years of patient selection that all this bean diversity represents, it can boggle the mind and can truly humble the best of cooks and gardeners.

Tia Marta and Rod of Flor de Mayo are sending our thanks to those traditional farmers and to the many young  innovative organic food growers.  May the light be born again in us as we share honorable heirloom foods graciously with our family and friends this Solstice-tide!