Posts Tagged With: native plants

Mesquite: Not flour, broth!

This gorgeous photo shows the lifecycle of a mesquite pod. It was taken by talented photographer Jill Lorenzini whose skill at photographing wild plants never ceases to make me go “ooooh!”

This is the time of year to gather mesquite pods and look for places with hammermills that can grind them into flour or meal to use for baking. Everything is different this year and it may be some time before we can gather for a grinding event. But you can still make delicious treats with your mesquite pods by boiling them. Mesquite is one of Mother Nature’s sweetest offerings and can often replace the need for additional sugar.

It’s Carolyn today. I started playing with mesquite pods many years before Desert Harvesters began offering us the option of having our pods ground into lovely fine meal in their hammermill. I tried everything: blender, Cuisinart, Molina grain mill. Nothing worked well. I understand that a Vitamix does a decent job, but I didn’t have one. I developed a deep appreciation for those Native women who pounded pods in the rock mortar.

Desert Harvesters grinding mesquite pods in June 2018 using the hammermill.  This year we’re avoiding gatherings like this so we need to find another way to use our mesquite pods.

Without our friends at Desert Harvesters this year helping us to have beautiful fine mesquite meal at this time (maybe later, they say, stay tuned), I’m digging back into my book Cooking the Wild Southwest, to share some recipes for mesquite broth.  Here’s the basic: Take about 4 cups of broken mesquite pods and cover with about 2 quarts of water.

Start with four cups of broken mesquite pods.

Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat, and simmer for about an hour. Cool. Next, put your hands into the broth and wring and tear the the pods in the broth, stirring and mashing the sweet pith into the liquid. This is a great place to get the kids or grandkids involved. They love the messiness of it. The object is to get as much of the pith (technically, the mesocarp) into the broth as possible. Strain the liquid through a fine wire-mesh trainer and discard the seeds and fiber. Simmer the liquid uncovered until reduced to three cups.

This is what your unstrained broth will look like.

Now we’re ready to make something delicious. Let’s start with something quick, a drink I call the Gila Monster. It’s a perfect beverage for a Sunday brunch or even dessert. It looks especially inviting in clear glass mugs.

Combine mesquite broth with cold coffee and whipped cream for a delicious brunch treat.

Gila Monster

(These proportions are a basic recipe. You can adjust to your taste. If you are including kids, use just a few tablespoons of coffee and go with mainly milk. )

Makes 6 servings.

1 1/2 cups cold coffee (use decaf for after-dinner)

2 1/2 cups cold Mesquite Broth

1/2 cup cold milk of your choice

1/2 cup coffee liqueur (optional)

Whipped cream

Cinnamon powder

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or large bowl. Pour into glasses or cups. Top with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon powder.

What are some other uses for your broth? Substitute for honey in a honey-mustard salad dressing. Instead of using brown sugar on baked sweet potatoes, drizzle with some mesquite broth. Thicken your broth with cornstarch and use on pancakes. You get the idea. If you want a little more direction, like actual recipes, get a copy of Cooking the Wild Southwest and I’ll guide you step by step through recipes for mesquite broth and mesquite meal. You’ll find even more recipes in the book Desert Harvesters put together Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living.  In addition to recipes for mesquite, it covers lots of other desert plants as well.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. And remember Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods. In September, I’ll have a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. There is more information about my books at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Mesquite, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Call It Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal. It’s time for harvest.

Every year, for thousands of years, people living in the Sonoran Desert could count on prickly pear producing succulent delicious new pads this time of year. The native varieties of Opuntia have lots of thorns and it must have been a chore to clean them when all you had was a sharp-edged stone for a tool. Carolyn here today, recalling that one of the reasons that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that modern Sonoran Desert dwellers eat some of the same foods people ate here when they were just small family groups drifting through the area, long before there were even villages. That’s quite a testament to the staying power of these local foods.

You need to pick prickly pear pads in the spring when they are only a few weeks old. As they mature they develop a woody interior structure. You can buy fresh pads year ’round in Mexican grocery stores. They are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate their plants through trimming and fertilizing to produce throughout the season.

 

A fresh prickly pear pad, tender and succulent. Very obvious that it is new growth.

Interior structure of a prickly pear pad where the green flesh has rotted away.

Today, most of us who like to pick and eat prickly pear use the Ficus indica variety that grows taller and without big thorns on the young pads. It is native to areas further south, but it can survive here in gardens. Although the big thorns are absent, there are, however, tiny stickers called glochids, and they can be dangerous so you should wear rubber gloves when working with the pads. The glochids look like small hairs but they do have barbs on the end. You don’t want them in your finger or your tongue! I tend to just scrape the sides of the pad with a serrated steak knife, then cut off the edge as in these pictures. The edge has so many thorns it is not worthwhile to try to clean it so just trim it off.

Use a serrated steak knife to clean the thorns and glochids from the prickly pear pad.

My friend Chad Borseth takes a more nuanced approach to cleaning the pads, cutting out just the glochids. He sells lots of edible wild plant products on his website Sky Island Spice Co. and has made this video of cleaning the pads. If you want a better idea of just how to go about it, take a look at the video.

The nopalitos are done when they turn olive green.

Once you have the cleaned pads, you’ll need to cut them up into strips or small squares and cook them. Now you have turned your nopal into nopalitos. You can do this in oil in a frying pan, or follow the Rick Bayless method and oil them, place on a cookie sheet and bake until olive green. The cooking shrivels them and dries up the gummy sap that is so healthful but that some people find objectionable.

You can put the cooked nopalitos into a taco, combined with meat or alone. Or, if you are introducing them to people who might be wary, include them as a new ingredient in some familiar food.  In a previous post we gave a recipe for nopalitos in pineapple salsa which is a great side dish. It comes from The Prickly Pear Cookbook. 

Another super easy familiar dish is this apple and carrot salad, with, of course, nopalitos. It is adapted from Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, a compilation of information on how to gather and cook 23 delicious and easily gathered desert plants.

Apple, carrot, and nopalito salad is a delicious way to introduce people to their first taste of cactus.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad

1 small cleaned prickly pear pad

1 cup shredded carrot

½ shredded apple

Dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave syrup

Sprinkle of salt

Cut the prickly pear pad into very small pieces and bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until dried and slightly chewy. This should take 15-30 minutes depending on how juicy the nopalitos are. Or put them in a frying pan with just enough oil to coat the pan and cook until olive green. The pieces will shrivel.

Meanwhile make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise and milk in a small bowl. Season with the sweetner and salt. Set aside.

When the nopalitos are chewy, add the carrot, apple, and nopalitos to the dressing. Stir and serve. It looks nice on a lettuce leaf.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

I planted a one gallon container wolfberry bush in a water harvesting basin on a dry corner of the yard in 2015. That first summer I watered it sporadically, then after that I left it alone to compete with the grass and weeds. Five years later, it’s a seven foot tall by seven foot wide bird sanctuary. Wolfberry certainly once grew wild on this land, in the floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, about a third of a mile from the current channel.

Actually I planted several species of wolfberry, and a Baja species has only lavender flowers now, but has a very long fruiting season.

This Tucson native Fremont wolfberry, however, has a short bountiful spring fruiting in years with good winter rains. If you look closely, you’ll see a few white flowers among the red berries.

The North American wolfberries are close relatives of the gojiberry from China and distant relatives of tomatoes. Wolfberries are slightly sweet but taste and look somewhat like little tomatoes, so are also called tomatillos.

Harvesting in the thorny branches is meditative to me, unlike for the flitting verdins working the other side of the bush.

In the absence of fresh tomatoes, I decided to make a salsa. Also in the yard are I’itoi’s bunching onion.

Our Tucson wild oregano, oreganillo, is also known as Aloysia wrightii or Wright’s beebrush. It tastes somewhat like Mediterranean Mint family oregano, somewhat like other Verbena family Mexican oregano species. It definitely has a lemony scent that I sometimes catch in the breeze before I spot the scraggly plants hiding in plain sight in the wild. The leaves never get much larger than this.

Putting all this together, I broke out last year’s stash of backyard grown chiltepin and the salt I collected a few years ago near the Sea of Cortez.

In the molcajete, I started with the chiltepin and salt.

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

When making Mano Y Metate mole powders, I sift the largest particles from the lime treated masa meal. I’ve been making this leftover coarse meal into a mush and frying it. From frozen to crispy in the time it took to make the salsa.

I ate in the yard, contemplating the bounty of the desert.

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Festive Buffet Ideas–Southwest Style

Winter is here, and out-of-town company is sure to invade our relatively sunny climes in Baja Arizona.  Tia Marta here with some ideas for local Sonoran Desert goodies that you can make ahead to have at-the-ready for creating a glorious buffet or instant party.

This festive table features colorful, delectable Sonoran-desert fare.  Note lemon juice ice-float for flavoring and chilling the punch.  Many other buffet ideas following….. (MABurgess photo)

With freezing nights everyone is harvesting citrus like mad.  What to do with all those lemons your neighbor has generously dumped at your door?  Right!–save space and squeeze the wonderful juice into a plastic bowl to freeze and use as a floating ice-block or as lemon ice cubes.

Zoom in to check out the buffet table details:  On the cheese plate note the thin slices of barrel cactus fruit as rings atop the cheese wedge, adding a zesty touch to the spread.  Squares of white manchego cheese top squares of sweet local cajeta de membrillo, a lovely conserve made with heirloom quince fruits from Mission Garden.  My special veggie dip is laced with “chives” of chopped I’itoi’s Onion and fresh oregano from my garden, moringa leaves from friend Wanda’s tree, and a single crushed dry chiltepin pepper for a picante kick.

Tangy pickled cholla cactus flower bud hors d’oeuvres (MABurgess photo)

In place of olives or pickles I like to feature my pickled cholla flower buds  or nopalito pickles.  In place of mixed nuts I serve bellotas (Emory oak acorns) or pinyon nuts, both supporting local harvesters (see Southwest Foraging).  Instead of peanuts I like to present Incan corn nuts (not local, from Peru, but a bow to Native tradition.)

Refreshing and colorful prickly pear lemonade and mesquite-amaranth-white Sonora wheat-chocolate chip cookies! (MABurgess photo)

For luscious “local cookies” I use a basic toll-house cookie recipe (calling for 2 cups flour) by substituting 1/2 cup mesquite flour, 1/2 cup amaranth flour, and 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, plus an extra egg and a cup of pine nuts in place of pecans.  These treats will get snarfed up as soon as you put them on the table.  (See Dec13 post for other cookie recipes)

Sparkly and nutritious cherry punch with ginger ale and a floating iceberg of pure prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Whirl your thawed prickly pear tunas in blender

Squeeze whirled prickly pear fruit thru 4 layers of cheesecloth

SPARKLY PRICKLY PEAR CHERRY PUNCH RECIPE:

In a big clear punchbowl mix:

1  block of frozen pure prickly pear juice   (OR, 1 bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup plus ice cubes)

1 pint (half jar) Trader Joe’s pure Cherry Juice

1 liter chilled ginger ale

Serve with joy!

(As ice block is thawing in the punchbowl and the punch is consumed around it, add the remaining pint of cherry juice and another liter of chilled ginger ale over the block.)

With a bag of prickly pear tunas frozen whole from last September’s hasty harvest, I thawed them to extract the juice to then refreeze as a cactus-fruit ice-block.  It is an easy process–but timely action required.  If you haven’t harvested from the desert, Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue or at other special Southwest food shops.

To make your own cholla or nopalito pickles, as March approaches, watch for announcements of cholla bud harvesting workshops.  Tia Marta may schedule classes through Mission Garden or www.flordemayoarts.com.

Happy entertaining with a local Southwest flair!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Prickly Pear Peach Sherbet

Combine prickly pear, peaches, and honey for a delicious and healthy homemade sherbet.

It was a relatively wet spring in the Southwest this year, at least in the Sonoran Desert. This has made for a bounty of prickly pears. Once you’ve picked and juiced them, then what? There’s always prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear lemonade, and prickly pear jelly. But why not expand? Since it is still pretty warm throughout the fall, frozen desserts are a good place to start. Combining prickly pear juice with the luscious ripe stone fruits of the season is a good way to combine flavors.

Making your own frozen desserts is easy and healthy-nothing but fruit, honey, and cream. No weird emulsifiers or gums.

No need to peel or dethorn the prickly pear fruits. Make your juice with this easy recipe, then on to the sherbet.

 

Easy Prickly Pear Juice

Using tongs, collect 18-24 prickly pears. Wearing rubber gloves, rinse fruit and quarter. Working in batches, puree fruit in a blender. You’ll need to add a little water to get the first batch started. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids. The thorns will get caught in the strainer.

Although this recipe calls for peaches, any ripe stone fruits will do. Plums and apricots combine deliciously with prickly pear.

Prickly Pear Honey Sherbet

3 medium very ripe peaches, peeled

2 ½ cups prickly pear juice

½ cup honey

3 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup whipping cream or half and half

Slice peaches. Combine with 1 cup of the prickly pear juice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add honey and cook gently, stirring until honey is dissolved.  Transfer the mixture with the remaining 1 ½  cups prickly pear juice to a blender. If you have an ice cream maker, also add the whipping cream. Refrigerate until chilled and then transfer to an ice cream maker.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, transfer to a bowl and freeze until nearly hard. Break up and beat with an electric mixer. Beat whipping cream until stiff and fold into the fruit mixture. Refreeze until hard.

We Savor Sisters love to write about prickly pear. Find more posts here where Amy writes about an upside down cake and where I write about a cocktail made with prickly pear juice.

Need more prickly pear recipes? You’ll find them in my Prickly Pear Cookbook in the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, in National Parks stores, or on Amazon. It includes 60 recipes for cocktails, salads, barbecue sauces, main dishes, and desserts including not just the fruit but the cactus pads (nopales) as well. Even more recipes in Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.

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

Chad’s Sky Island Spice Company

Chad Borseth sells his wild-crafted products from his website and at farmers’ markets.

Chad Borseth grew up in rural Southern Arizona, roaming the hills, learning about the plants, picking up clues to what was edible, such as mesquite and Emory acorns. This past January, he started Sky Island Spice Company to introduce others to some of the flavors unique to the Sonoran Desert.  It’s Carolyn here today to introduce you to another of the small entrepreneurs who are sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for local desert products.

One of Chad’s products is solar-evaporated Sonoran Sea Salt. “It’s got a unique blend of minerals,” he says, “and lower sodium. But it’s high in magnesium and potassium. It also has a different mouthfeel.”  People who like to rim their margarita glasses with salt, will go for his  prickly pear and lime salt.

The solar-evaporated salt from the Sea of Cortez is infused with prickly pear juice and lime juice.

Because of the nature of wild supplies (that would be Mother Nature), Chad’s stock varies with the season. Through the year he will have granola made with acorns and mesquite, hot cocoa mix made with cacao and powdered mushrooms, and something he calls “nopaliditos,” salt-cured nopal or prickly pear pads. They are reminiscent of the saladitos beloved of Tucson kids. He adds flavor to our native chiltepines by smoking them over mesquite. Chad doesn’t confine himself to the desert; summer finds him in the pine forests looking for mushrooms and plants that grow in the higher altitudes. (No worries about the mushrooms–they are for his own use. The mushrooms in his products come from reliable commercial sources.)

Fiery hot chiltepines picking up flavor over mesquite coals.

Those with adventurous palates who are willing to be surprised (pleasantly), can sign up for the Sky Island Spice Company subscription box. At this point, Chad is limiting the subscriptions to just fifteen customers. Every month they will receive a box of three special items not in the regular stock. That might include such items as cookies or wildflower tea. The July box included syrup made from manzanita blossoms.

You can find Chad’s products on the web at Sky Island Spice Company or on Facebook.

Here’s an easy recipe to use Chad’s smoked chiltepins. It is from my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. The combination of chile and chocolate is a favorite of mine and adding the smokiness of both the smoked chiltepins and the chipotle chiles adds a sophisticated taste. Of course, you can add the chiles to your own homemade ice cream, but if time is short, a good quality commercial ice cream works fine.

Easy Chocolate-Chile Ice Cream

1/2 gallon commercial chocolate ice cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried and crushed chiltepins, seeds removed

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles

Transfer the ice cream from the carton in large clumps and transfer to a flat baking pan to soften evenly. (If you try to soften it in the carton, the outside will get too soft while the inside stays hard.)

Meanwhile, crush the chiltepins in a small mortar, removing the seeds. Sprinkle the crushed chiltepins and the ground chipotle chiles over the ice cream and stir to combine. Repack into the carton or transfer into a bowl and refreeze.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the foods and people of the Southwest. She has just completed a book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It will be published by the University of Arizona Press in the fall of 2020. Find her books on her website.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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

illustration palo verde post June7,2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

As long as I’ve been writing about wild foods–and that is many decades–I’ve read about eating the just-emerging shoots of ferns, a great delicacy. But since practically all of my foraging has been in the desert, I’ve never had a chance to gather this mountain treat. Then last year, we became part owners of a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, next to Tucson, at 8,000 feet. The hill behind the cabin is covered with FERNS due to a fire on the mountain about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw them last summer, I began plotting my gathering experience.

First, I had to figure out if my ferns were edible. I turned to John Slattery’s book Southwest Foraging, and he assured his readers that only one kind of fern grows in Southern Arizona, the bracken fern, and that it is edible. He did advise cooking it in two changes of water to deal with “carcinogenic substances.”

We’ve had a unusually cool spring in Southern Arizona, so cool that we didn’t get up to our cabin until late May. But spring was very slow coming that high (it had snowed earlier in May), and the ferns were just coming up. I was in luck. I only picked a handful because I wasn’t sure I’d even like them and I didn’t want to waste any.

However, a rinse, the two changes of cooking water, and a quick saute in butter and lemon juice provided a little snack with a slightly nutty taste just as delicious as promised. There will be no second chance this year, it’s a fleeting season. By the time we get to the mountain cabin again the ferns will be unfurled. But I will for sure be up there next year in May and this time I will gather more!

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

Shoots nicely cooked with butter and lemon juice and ready for eating.

Update:  I did my original gathering and cooking in the third week of May. We returned to the cabin the first week of June and there were still ferns just emerging and the tops of others further along were still furled and tender. I had forgotten to take butter and lemon juice, so I cooked the tips in olive oil and drizzled a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar over them. Great! So depending on the year, the fern season at 8,000 feet runs for maybe a month.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest. You can see her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. In the fall of 2020 her book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy will be released by the University of Arizona Press. In it she details the last 10,000 years of culinary history of the Santa Cruz Valley and why the inhabitants of the area are still eating the same things after all these years!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake!

Wild desert rhubarb–canagria–is up from its hiding place deep in sandy desert soil triggered by our wonderful winter 2019 rains– ready to harvest for upside-down cake! (MABurgess photo)

Known as hiwidchuls by traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters, canagria (literally “sour cane”) by Spanish-speaking amigos, Rumex hymenosepalus by science nerds, Arizona dock by herbalists, and wild rhubarb by those who might know its relatives in northern climes, this rarely-seen tuberous perennial has responded gloriously to our winter rainfall.  It is currently bedecking the riverbanks along the Pantano, Rillito and Santa Cruz where Native People have gathered it probably for millennia.  But it won’t be there for long–so act now if you want a tangy-sweet treat!

Tia Marta here to share a fun recipe that celebrates this short-lived desert food:  Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake.  (If you seek a rationalization to counter sugars and fat, check out its available Calcium, plus helpful soluble and insoluble fiber.)

Wild rhubarb stalks look like celery with a pink tinge. Peel off any tough fibers, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces to use as the lemony flavor in the “bottom” of your cake–which becomes the top when turned upside-down. (MABurgess photo)

Put chopped canaigria into the butter-and-brown-sugar melt in the iron skillet, and dredge them til all coated with sweetness. It helps to have your skillet warm, as a head-start before baking. (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb leaves can be boiled twice to eat as greens.  The plant also has many important uses other than food–tannins for medicine, dye from its root, and food for a native butterfly.  Read more about hiwidchuls in my February 2017 savor-post using rhubarb as the keyword in the SearchBox above.

 

I’ve used other ingredients in this recipe from our Baja Arizona palette of delicious heirlooms to make it super-local.

RECIPE FOR WILD ARIZONA RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (“Skillet Cake”):

Preheat oven to 350F.

Into an iron skillet, melt 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter.

Stir in and stir until dissolved 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar. (I use 1 cup to balance the rhubarb’s lemony sourness.)

Place diced wild rhubarb on top of butter/sugar mixture (as in photos above).

Pour batter right over the wild rhubarb/butter/brown sugar mix in bottom of skillet. (MABurgess photo)

When done, the cake will pull away from sides of skillet. At this point you can keep it in pan to cool down and heat again later, or turn it over immediately. (MABurgess)

To make batter, sift together: 3/4 cup White Sonora Wheat flour

1/4 cup amaranth flour (e.g.Bob’s Red Mill)

1/4 cup mesquite meal

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of sea salt.

Separate 4 eggs, yokes from whites to beat separately. Beat egg whites gradually with 1 cup sugar and whip until stiff.

Add  1 Tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp vanilla to beaten egg yokes.  Fold egg yoke and whites mixture together then gradually add sifted flour mixture.  Pour batter over the still warm or hot rhubarb in skillet.  Bake about 30 minutes or until it tests done.  To serve right away, place a pizza pan or plate on top of the skillet bottom side up, then carefully turn the paired pans over.  Your warm cake will drop easily onto the inverted (now right-side-up) plate.  Remove the skillet carefully.  To gild the lily, you can garnish your cake top with whipped cream.  Enjoy the zippy tang and good nutrition of a wild rhubarb upside-down-cake made with our special heirloom wheat, mesquite, and amaranth!

 

We took our cake out on a camping trip, quick re-heated it in the skillet over the campfire, and turned it over to serve on a pizza pan for a fabulous and nutritious breakfast pastry. (MABurgess photo)

For access to heirloom products and artwork of heirlooms from Flor de Mayo, check out NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and catalog,  and museum shops at Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park.  And visit my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com.  (Enter your favorite native food word and find great recipes at this very blog–search box at top right.)  Enjoy every bite of flavor with gifts from our beloved Sonoran Desert!

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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