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 (, 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 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!

Sweet New Ideas for the honorable old Sweet-lime

Surprisingly aromatic and gracefully sweet despite its continued green, the heirloom Mexican Sweet Lime is ready to harvest at Mission Garden. This ancient and honorable citrus was brought to Tucson by the Padres and is a proven producer in our desert kitchen-gardens and orchards. Note the characteristic “nipple” on the base of the fruit which distinguishes it from other citrus.  (photos by MABurgess)

Boughs are hanging heavy with fruit in the Mission Garden’s living history orchard at the foot of A-Mountain!  With chilly nights at last descending upon us, it is time for all of us in low desert country to harvest citrus for the holidays.  The heirloom SWEET-LIME, brought by Father Kino to the Pimeria Alta more than 3 centuries ago, is a living, lasting gift to us, conserved and propagated now by ethnobotanist Jesus Garcia of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Kino Mission Fruit-tree Project.

Citrus time again in Baja Arizona! I’ve harvested Meyer Lemon, Mexican lime, and tangerine from my trees, and I hope to buy an heirloom sweet-lime from Mission Garden to plant in mi huertita–my mini-orchard.

Tia Marta here, wanting so much to share this amazinging sweet-lime with you–and doggone technology has not caught up with my wish to have you just scratch and sniff it right now!  (When will techno-dudes ever perfect the digital transmission of olfactory joys?).   For the time being you will just have to visit the Community Food Bank booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market, or come in person to visit the Mission Garden any Saturday 10am-2pm (within the adobe wall off S.Grande Ave.  See for directions.)

Mexican sweet-limes –sliced and ready to eat– There is NO puckering up with THESE limes; their gentle sweetness and bouquet will thrill your tastebuds! (And note gladly: the seeds are small and few.)

It’s easy to juice sweet-limes in a manual squeezer.

Ideas for sweet-lime juice:  Amazing what baby-boomers are getting rid of these days.  I found a manual juicer at a yard sale which is perfect for citrus halves and even for sections of pomegranate.

With sweet-lime juice you can wax creative.  For a festive punch, try it mixed with prickly pear juice that you have saved frozen from your August harvest.  Or, for more colorful punches, mix sweet-lime juice with grenadine, or your home-squoze pomegranate juice, or jamaica tea.  It also tastes great with mango.  Another admired Tucson ethnobotanist, Dr Letitia McCune, ( is an expert in cherry nutrition so of course I had to try sweet-lime with tart cherry.  Yum!

Sweet-lime juice and tart cherry punch–a glass full of flavor and colorful cheer for the holidays!

Here are more ideas for sliced or diced sweet-lime fruit:

Sweet-lime, sweet sliced tomato, and rosemary Garni, topped with pine nuts and drizzled with olive oil.

Peeled and diced sweet-lime fruit makes an incomparable aromatic addition to a fruit salad. Here sweet-lime chunks are tossed with sliced red grapes and bananas, dressed with chia seed and agave nectar.

No need to throw away these fragrant sweet-lime rinds! Everything has a use.

Crytallized sweet-lime and tangerine rinds make a marvelous home-made holiday candy.

SWEET-LIME CANDY RECIPE:  For a simple-to-make holiday treat of sweet-lime and other citrus rinds, boil sweet-lime rinds for 5-10 minutes to denature some bitter oils, drain completely, add equivalent amount of organic sugar (i.e. if you have 2 cups of sliced rinds then add 2 cups of sugar).  Do not add ANY liquid.  In saucepan, cook on medium heat until a thick syrup forms (at the hard-ball stage).  With tongs, remove each syrup-coated slice and place to dry and harden on a cookie sheet or waxed paper.  Each will crystallize into a crunchy piece of aromatic candy to excite both the youthful and mature palette.

AN EVEN BETTER SERVING SUGGESTION:  (Ah-hah!–You have already thought of this!)  “Enhance” your punch into a fabulous SWEET-LIME MARGARITA by adding a jigger of your favorite local Bacanora, Sotol or mescal spirits to your sweet-lime punch.  Then pow!!–taste that “nutrition”!  If you happen to add prickly pear juice, you even have a built-in hangover helper.  Happiest holiday wishes to all!  Wassail wassail as we hail the heirlooms!

(All photos by the author, copyright 2017)

An Invitation to Celebrate El Dia de San Ysidro Labrador

With White Sonora Wheat waving its ripening seed heads in May’s wind, it’s time again to celebrate our local agriculture–our ability to feed ourselves locally.  Yea!.. harvest time now for our winter gardens’  bounty as it dries…

Ripened seed heads of organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat from BKWFarms in Marana (MABurgess photo)

Ripened seed heads of organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat from BKWFarms in Marana (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here inviting you to return to the hallowed soil of Schuk-shon–Tucson’s Birthplace “Black Spring”–at the foot of “A” Mountain, in the new Mission Garden, to the very site of the original garden supporting Mission San Augustin de Schuk-shon.  The Feast of San Ysidro Labrador is approaching.

May 15 is the traditional Dia de San Ysidro, Saint Isidor, patron saint of farmers and gardeners.

According to legend, San Ysidro Labrador was so hard-working and generous with his produce to all in need—people or animals–that angels would plow next to him to triple his crop. In my artistic interpretation, San Ysidro lies exhausted under a tree from working his field while an angel guides his ox to finish his plowing.

Heirloom bean mosaic of San Ysidro Labrador created by artist/ethnobotanist MABurgess

Heirloom bean mosaic of San Ysidro Labrador created by artist/ethnobotanist MABurgess

Here in my big-scale heirloom bean mosaic, the “medium is the message”–in part.   It was assembled using more than 21 colorful varieties of Southwestern heirloom beans and seeds, grown out from the Native Seeds/SEARCH Collection, in Tucson, Arizona.

The ancient seeds used to “paint” this image pay homage not only to San Ysidro but also to the generations of traditional farmers who have selected their seed and labored to grow the best for feeding family and community. Their seed-saving has provided us today with priceless heirlooms, fitting genes, and hope for a food-secure future.  (Notecards of my San Ysidro mosaic will be on sale at the fiesta as a fund-raiser for Mission Garden’s good work.)

This year, our San Ysidro fiesta will be celebrated on Saturday, May 16, within the adobe-walled orchard of living agricultural history, Tucson’s newest “museum park” sponsored by the non-profit Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.  Planted in this living museum are representative crops that have fed the sequence of Tucson residents over the last 4100 years.  Seeds of these ancient crops were blessedly conserved by the caring staff and volunteers of NativeSeeds/SEARCH over the past 34 years.

The new Mission Garden--living agricultural history

The new Mission Garden–living agricultural history


Vaquero in the Orchard of heirloom Mission Period fruit trees at San Ysidro Fiesta 2014 (MABurgess photo)

Vaquero in the Orchard of heirloom Mission Period fruit trees at San Ysidro Fiesta 2014 (MABurgess photo)







The Dia de San Ysidro celebration will officially begin at 9am with a procession from the future Tucson Origins Heritage Park next to the Santa Cruz “river” channel to Mission Garden’s east gate at 929 West Mission Lane, just east of  Grande (Mission Road.)  Festivities will include music by Mariachi Las Aguilitas from Davis Elementary, Alabanza with Bobby Benton, a presentation by historian/author Dr. Tom Sheridan, Native American four-direction prayers and blessing of the fields, food, and animals, and the Tohono O’odham Desert Indian Dancers from San Xavier.  Designs for the new cultural theme gardens (Chinese, Mexican, Afro-American, and Medicinal) will be unveiled.

Activities will culminate with a tasting of Pozole de Trigo, the traditional Sonoran stew for the feast-day prepared by talented volunteer cooks from Tucson’s Hispanic community.  For a fabulous recipe to try in your own kitchen, check out Bill Steen’s article for Sonoran Wheat Posole in Edible Baja Arizona–here’s the link to directions with his mouth-watering photos:

Or, for an even more local recipe, try this Akimel O’odham (Pima) recipe for Heirloom Wheat Posole with Tepary Beans:

Pima Posole Stew with Tepary Beans and White Sonora Wheat, served at Heard Museum

Pima Posole with Tepary Beans and White Sonora Wheat, served at Heard Museum

The combination of high protein Native Teparies and delicious low-gluten Heirloom Wheat Berries makes this a rich and nutritious stew.



Heirloom Wheat Posole with Tepary Beans—Pilt’kan ch Ba’bawi Posh’oldt


2 cups dry tepary beans *

Water to more than cover the beans for initial soaking and cooking

1 large marrow bone (or beef broth as substitute for ½ the water when simmering, omit for vegetarian)

2 cups dry whole wheat berries (wheat kernels) **

3-4 cups drinking water or stock

Sea salt to taste (1-2 Tbsp.)

Black pepper or native chiltepine peppers***, to taste


Carefully sort dry beans to remove stones. Wash, rinse, and cover with good water to soak overnight. Drain when plumped and ready to cook.

In big cooking pot, put beans, marrow bone, and drinking water to cover. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2+ hours.

Separately, rinse wheat berries and drain. Add wheat berries and salt to the cooking teparies. Add more water and/or stock. Bring to boil, then simmer an additional 1 ½ hours or until wheat berries are round and tender, and teparies are tender(not chewy).

Reserve excess water for later soup stock. Remove bone.  For serving, posole should be moist with broth. Add black pepper and sea salt to taste. If picante bite is desired, add one or two crushed chiltepine peppers.

Enjoy this traditional taste of the desert! ***********Here’s where to find these traditional ingredients (being grown anew in their home turf):

*Native tepary beans are available at or at .

** Organic White Sonora Wheatberries are available at Flor de Mayo tent at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market, Tucson, or at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store, 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson.

***whole wild-harvested chiltepine peppers are available at Flor de Mayo tent, Sunday St Philips Farmers Market, Tucson, or at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store, Tucson.


Seed packets of heirloom wheat varieties grown at Mission Garden

Seed packets of heirloom wheat varieties grown at Mission Garden, for sale to plant in your own winter garden.

Sheaves of heirloom White Sonora Wheat hand-harvested at Mission Garden

Sheaves of heirloom White Sonora Wheat hand-harvested at Mission Garden

Because Dia de San Ysidro especially heralds the wheat harvest, the staple grain introduced by Padre Eusebio Kino and other missionaries over 300 years ago to the Native Tohono O’odham community living here, this year’s festivities will include a ceremonial wheat harvest, guided by expert plantsman and Desert Museum staff person Jesus Garcia, to take place around 8am, Saturday, May 16, before the procession.

Support organizations, such as NativeSeeds/SEARCH, San Xavier Coop Association, BKWFarmsInc, and Tucson Herbalist Collective will have booths with demonstration items, tastes of native foods, solar cooked White Sonoran Wheat berries, traditional food products packaged for sale, and resource people to talk with about desert gardening for real food.

Invitation to the 2015 San Ysidro Fiesta

Invitation to the 2015 San Ysidro Fiesta

The event is free with a donation requested.   Find out more details of the San Ysidro Festival at   Hope to see you there!

[For more great recipes and stories about White Sonora Wheat, you can search with the box above using those key words, thru the last 2 years of this blog.]