Posts Tagged With: native food

More Ideas for Wild Dates in Borderlands Towns

Washingtonia filifera near UA main gate (R.Mondt photo)

Our native fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, near UA main gate.  Original seed from Arizona’s KOFA Mountains.   (R.Mondt photo)

Yes, we can delight in the most fabulous wild dates right here in Baja Arizona. We don’t have to put out lots of energy into finding these tasty little morsels because they are now all over the urban landscape. Once, in olden times, they were confined to oases, but now they line every old neighborhood street in low-desert towns. Harvest at the right time and enjoy their bounty.

Our Native Fan Palm Washingtonia filifera, UA photo (Note the stout trunk)

Our Native Fan Palm Washingtonia filifera, UA photo (Note the stout trunk)

Tia Marta here to continue our culinary explorations of native fan palm fruit. Our street sentinels are more than vertical shade.  They bear other surprising gifts. Our so called California fan palms (“palma taco”) offer tiny sweet and plentiful fruits (the size of a plump pea), and were harvested and relished by Native People of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts long before Hispanics brought date palms (the pinnate-leafed palms) from the Old World.

Washingtonia robusta in a S.Tucson landscape

Washingtonia robusta planted in a S.Tucson landscape

When ripe in summer into fall, zillions of fruits hang from pendulous stalks of Washingtonia filifera, with 20 pounds or more of the little buggers in one cluster—talk about prolific! As mentioned in my blog-sister’s post two weeks ago, Carolyn and I were challenged by renowned ethnobotanist Dr Richard Felger to try our hands at creating some “contemporary” recipes for this ancient and well-adapted desert food—which is now disregarded as nothing more than a columnar street planting. We know from ethnographic accounts (see them summarized in Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert, UA Press, 2001) that for the Native Cahuilla of Southern California, the fan palm meant survival—a staple in their diet, used both fresh or dried and ground, hard seeds and all, into a flour for cooking or griddling. Another ethnobiologist friend Dr. Amadeo Rea (1997) documented Pima children collecting fan palm fruits as snacks. Dr. Felger intends now to bring this native palm back into new, appropriate use as a sustainable desert food crop.

Fruits newly harvested from the California fan palm Washingtonia filifera (MABurgess photo)

Fruits newly harvested from the California fan palm Washingtonia filifera (MABurgess photo)

Washingtonia fruit is mostly seed, but the small amount of pulp has a group impact (MABurgess photo)

Washingtonia fruit is mostly seed, but the small amount of pulp has an impact in numbers (MABurgess photo)

Harvesting the high hanging fruit clusters proves challenging. Native harvesters used a lasso. More recently some harvesters fit a sharp can lid to the end of a pole to cut off the entire fruit stalk. A Tohono O’odham saguaro harvesting kuipaD might suffice—or a long-poled tree-trimmer—both worth a try.

 

In addition to their success as hot-desert food producers, both fan palms native to southwest North America, Washingtonia filifera (the stout, shorter one) and W.robusta (the super-tall, spindlier one), provide excellent nutrition. It has been estimated that one fan palm’s fruit could sustain one human’s nutritional needs for more than 200 days! Get a load of these figures from James W. Cornett (Principles Jour.Internat.PalmSociety,1987):  Protein 3.1%, Carbs 77.7%, Fiber 10.4%, Calcium 110 mg per 100g, VitaminA(Carotenes) 180mg per 100g.  Comparing these wild date nutritional figures with the commercial date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), our wild fan palm is way ahead on all counts except carbs (carbs 94.1% in standard dates).

Washed and drained fruits of Washingtonia filifera ready for snacking! (MABurgess photo)

Washed and drained fruits of Washingtonia filifera in Tarahumara sifting basket, ready for snacking! (MABurgess photo)

Since the fruits of W.robusta (the tall one) are even tinier than W.filifera, I chose to do my foodie experiments with the latter one’s “bigger” datelets–both small.  Fruits of both are mostly seed, a stony seed surrounded by a thin layer of sweet skin and dry, date-like pulp. Here are two fun ideas I’ve come up with for using fan palm fruits, which can be done easily in any kitchen or patio. These ideas also might present interesting potential for commercial-scale food production. (I hope our wonderful local companies like Cheri’s Desert Harvest are listening to the significance herein!)                 So, here’s my first idea–really in three delicious parts:

Simmering fan palm fruits

Simmering fan palm fruitsSolar Fan Palm Syrup, Datil Molasses, or Datil Candy

SOLAR FAN PALM SYRUP

Directions:

Wash thoroughly and drain 4 cups desert fan palm fruits. Place in a saucepan with 8 cups drinking water to cover fruit well. On stove-top, gently simmer the fruits for at least 30 minutes, (if using solar oven, make it 1 hour). Add more drinking water to keep fruits covered. Let cool and stand in refrig for 1-3 days. This process is bringing out the complex sugars into solution. Again, when you have a little time, bring back to simmer 15-20 minutes. Taste the liquid. It should be deliciously sweet with a rich, almost smokey bouquet—but still thin. With a sieve, decant the sweet liquid from the cooked fruits, saving the fruits aside.

After sieving out the simmered fruit, the liquid is being concentrated in a solar oven with oven cover slightly open to release moisture (MABurgess photo)

After sieving out the simmered fruit, the liquid is being concentrated in a solar oven with oven cover slightly open to release moisture (MABurgess photo

[Here is where my experience reducing thin saguaro fruit juice kicked in. I knew that this thin, sweet liquid from the fan palm dates had to be cooked down slowly.]

Pour the juice into a solar-oven-worthy pan and put in preheated solar oven—without a lid on the pan. Let the glass cover of the oven be slightly open to allow steam/moisture to escape. Check after 15 minutes. If syrup is desired, check for correct syrup consistency.  Keep heating until thickened to pourable syrup.  Then, try this wonderful and healthful solar syrup over mesquite pancakes for the ultimate Southwestern breakfast!

Concentrated Solar Fan Palm Syrup--nothing added--just water and fan palm fruit!  (MABurgess)

Concentrated Solar Fan Palm Syrup–nothing added–just water and fan palm fruit!  Come taste it at the StPhil’s farmers market!(MABurgess)

 

 

“DATIL SYLVESTRE” MOLASSES

With more time and further moisture reduction, there are more delicious options….. Here’s one:  For the best, richest “Datil Molasses” you ever tasted, let the liquid cook down for another 45 minutes or an hour (depending on sun intensity).  Be careful not to overcook, which might leave a sweet glue on the bottom of your pan. (The same reduction of liquid can be done of course on the stove-top or over a fire, like reducing maple sap, but hey, this is a desert product. We’ve got our fuel overhead! Let’s use it.)

“DULCES DE DATIL SYLVESTRE”

Carrying the process of concentrating the syrup yet another step further…If an even more chewy candy is desired, you might use the concentrated sweet molasses in a candy mold or for gelling like a fan-palm gummy bear.

Here’s another totally delightsome, exotic yet simple idea for maximum pleasure from fan palm fruits…..

DESERT OASIS CORDIAL

Wild Fan Palm Liqueur (MABurgess photo)

Wild Fan Palm Cordial (MABurgess photo)“Desert Oasis Cordial”

It takes about 4-5 weeks to make this rich cordial liqueur, so plan ahead. With a fall harvest of wild dates you could start making your Desert Oasis Cordial by Thanksgiving and have it ready for Christmas-time celebrations. But don’t wait—when the fruits are ripe, go for it.

This is how I did it:

Wash, wash, wash and drain at least 2 cups of ripe native fan palm fruitlets (W.filifera), enough to pack firmly into a mason jar.  Into the packed jar, pour vodka of your choice, filling all the space between the little fruits to the brim to cover them. (You could use tequila or EverClear for differing degrees of delight.)  Screw on lid and place jar in a cool dark corner of your kitchen, where you can be reminded to agitate it. After a week, open it and add more vodka to cover fruits, as the fruit tissue will have absorbed some of the alcohol. Shake and turn over the closed jar every week.  For the herbalists among us, you will recognize this process is basically tincturing the wild dates. After 4-5 weeks, decant (i.e. separate) the liquid from the fruit. The decanted liquid will be a rich dark chocolate brown color like Godiva liqueur only translucent. Taste it and serve sparingly in small cordial glasses. Store any remaining liqueur in a closed decanter for the next festive occasion.

W.filifera fruit AFTER tincturing and decanting makes a fabulous alcoholic treat (seeds to be discarded)

W.filifera fruit AFTER tincturing and decanting makes a fabulous alcoholic treat (seeds to be discarded) (MABurgess)

Decanting the marinated fan palm fruits from the liqueur (MABurgess)

Decanting the marinated fan palm fruits from the liqueur (MABurgess)

After both your Fan-Palm Syrup-making and your Desert Oasis Cordial-making, you will have delicious fruits left over in the straining or decanting process.

Don’t forget the simple joy of snacking on little fruits, doing the pulp-from-seed separation maneuver with your tongue and teeth. Move over, sunflower seeds!  The boiled fruits after syrup-making are still tasty.  Better still–the vodka-soaked wild dates give an extra kick, so don’t overindulge.

Both can be briefly quick-whirled or mashed in a blender, meat grinder, or CuisinArt to begin the process of separating the remaining pulp from the hard seeds.

After decanting the cordial, remaining fruit is whirled and put thru colander to separate pulp from seeds

After decanting the cordial, remaining fruit is whirled and put thru colander to separate pulp from seeds

[If someone has a good idea of how best to separate seeds from pulp easily, please share it!] Fruit leathers, energy bars, jams, “datil newtons”, spreads, supplements—there are SO many ways the remaining fruit pulp could be used, so that none of the nutrients and fiber need go to waste. Even the hard seeds could be parched and ground into a nutritious flour—as Native People did in earlier times, to their advantage.

 

"Desert Oasis Cordial" from wild fan palm fruits (MABurgess photo)

“Desert Oasis Cordial” from wild fan palm fruits (MABurgess photo)

BTW, after snacking on Washingtonia fruitlets, be sure to check your smile in the mirror for black flecks of the yummy pulp between your incisors.  I can see it now—the next fad question after “Got milk?” will be “Got datil?”  That could make for a wild date experience. Enjoy!

For a taste of the native fan palm fruits, come by our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers market, 9am-1pm. There we also have a demo of solar-oven cookery in action.  The cleverly designed solar ovens are for sale from us with a discount and no shipping costs. We’d like to see every household in Baja Arizona equipped with a solar oven for emergencies as well as for sustainable living.

You can find the perfect makings for the pancakes to eat with your Solar FanPalm Syrup for that Southwestern breakfast–mesquite flour and heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour— at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell, Tucson) and at Flor de Mayo’s booth at St Phillips farmers market.  See you on Sunday! Have your taste-buds ready for a wild date.

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

Desert Mistletoe for Food and Fun

Jacqueline Soule here today to discuss a edible “weed.”  Most people associate mistletoe it with kisses and winter holidays. Sad to say, here in the desert southwest, many homeowners think of our local mistletoe as a weed to be eliminated from their trees. In reality, they should be thinking of it as a crop to be harvested!

Phoradendron_californicum_6 by Stan Shebs

Desert mistletoe fruit is the only mistletoe fruit that is edible. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

There are many species of mistletoes around the world. The mistletoe plants themselves are all toxic. The berries of most species are toxic. The one exception is our local desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, bearing not only edible but highly palatable white to reddish translucent berries. Native peoples ate only the fruits of mistletoes growing on mesquite, ironwood or catclaw acacia. Found growing on palo verdes or Condalia (desert buckthorn) the fruits are considered inedible.

 

Phoradendron_californicum_1 by Stan Shebs

Plants of desert mistletoe can become quite large and offer a bountiful harvest of berries. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

According to literature, the Seri consider mistletoe fruit ripe and harvestable once it turns translucent. Harvest is done by spreading a blanket below the plant and hitting it with sticks to release the fruit. Seri consumed the fruit raw. The Tohono O’odham also consumed the fruit raw. River Pima ate the fruit boiled and mashed, which made it the consistency of a pudding. The Cahilla gathered the fruits November through April and boiled them into a paste with a sprinkle of wood ash added to the pot.  (Bibliography at the end of this article.)

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent.  This is just normal variation within the species.  Photo by S. Shebs.

Some desert mistletoe are more red and less translucent. This is just normal variation within the species. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, desert mistletoe plants (not the fruit) contain phoratoxins which can easily lead to death via slowed heart rate, increased blood pressure, convulsions, or cardiac collapse. Some of these compounds can cause hallucinations, but there is no way to judge dosage. People seeking a “high” from mistletoe still turn up in morgues each year. Native peoples used plants other than mistletoe to seek visions, and if one desires visions, one would be wise to follow their example. Although toxic, if used in a well-ventilated place, the foliage of desert mistletoe can be used in crafts and as a dye, producing a pale beige to dark sienna.

Mistletoe dye on cotton

Mistletoe dye on cotton. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

Harvesting and Use.

Mistletoe berries are ripe once they turn translucent and you can generally see the red seed inside. They also become soft and squishy, losing their hardness. Watch the phainopeplas, when they start devouring berries, then the fruit is ripe! I have only eaten the berries fresh, and find them reminiscent of elderberry in flavor. I was going to experiment with making a jelly this year, but missed my window of opportunity.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

When ripe, the berries turn translucent and fall off the plant easily. Photo by S. Shebs.

 

As a dye, mistletoe plants themselves are used. They can be fresh or dried. Place the herbage in the pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, strain. Add an alkalizing agent (ammonia) to intensify the color. You can dye both protein fibers (wool, silk) and plant fibers (cotton) with this solution. Ideally mordant with alum prior to dyeing, but post-mordant baths also work.

paper with desert plants 004

A blend of half paper pulp and half mistletoe plant material yields a nicely textured craft paper. Photo by J. A. Soule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

paper with desert plants 002

All manner of desert plants can be used in papermaking. Photo by J. A. Soule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than discarding the spent mistletoe herbage from making dye, I have frozen it for later use in papermaking. Grind the cooked mistletoe in a blender and mix it half and half with paper pulp to create a lovely, rough-textured, craft paper with a warm brown hue.

 

 

Note: This month I have been looking at desert mistletoe in some of my other online articles.

Desert mistletoe and human use is presented here, the third in a series on the topic.
Desert mistletoe and wildlife can be read at: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe
Desert mistletoe as part of a native garden caan be read at: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/?s=mistletoe

This article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule, 2014. The topic is covered more extensively in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). If you live in Tucson, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.

 

For the last eight months, Savor the Southwest has been brought to you every week by four Savor Sisters, me (Jacqueline), Tia Marta, Aunt Linda and Carolyn. Look for our fifth Savor sister, Amy Valdes Schwemm will make her first appearance in June, otherwise she will return to post whenever a month has five Fridays.

 

Bibliography for this article
Felger, R. S. and M. B. Moser. 1985. People of the Desert and Sea. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Hodgson, W. C. 2001. Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Kearny T. H. and Peebles R. H., et al. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Rea, A. M. 1997. At the Desert’s Green Edge. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Tohono O’odham Nation (s.d.). When Everything Was Real: An Introduction to Papago Desert Foods. Tohono O’odham Nation, Sells, AZ.

 

© 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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