Posts Tagged With: Tucson Farmers Markets

Celebrating la Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador

Tia Marta here to tell you about a beautiful and legendary soul, San Ysidro Labrador, Saint Isidore the Farmer, Patron Saint of Farmers and Laborers – whose feast day is May 15. A major celebration is planned in his honor this Saturday, May 17, in Tucson.

Retablo, painting on metal of San Ysidro plowing with angel, in style of traditional New Mexico folk arts.  From Burns/Drees Collection (Photo MABurgess)

Retablo, painting on metal of San Ysidro plowing with angel, in style of traditional New Mexico folk arts. From Burns/Drees Collection (Photo MABurgess)

San Ysidro (a poor Spanish peasant farmer who lived from around AD1070 to 1130) is revered traditionally, along with his good wife Santa Maria Torribia, for generously sharing bounty from their fields and hearth to those in need—hungry animals and fellow peasants. Legend tells us that San Ysidro, at prayer every morning, was often late to labor in his master’s fields, but the angels, seeing his devotion, would already be plowing for him. Another legend records him with an angel plowing on both sides his oxen so that his labor yielded three times that of his neighbors. Yet another tells how, as he carried corn to be milled, he took pity on poor birds in the snow and gave them half his grain; when his leftover corn was ground, it yielded twice what he had brought. His generosity produced miracles.

San Ysidro retablo art, courtesy of Friends of Tucson's Birthplace

San Ysidro retablo art, courtesy of Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace

Residents of Madrid, Spain, go all out in celebrating San Ysidro’s feast day, as he is the city’s patron saint. In Tucson, it is customary in traditional Hispanic families to celebrate San Ysidro with prayers for rain as his day falls usually in our most arid fore-summer. According to Jim Griffith’s Saints of the Southwest, images of San Ysidro were taken from the church to observe the fields or even buried in the fields until rains came.  Here he has become patron of ranchers and crops–even gardeners. Dia de San Ysidro Labrador is a perfect occasion for us to become mindfully aware of where our food really comes from—the Earth, the soil—and also to fully appreciate the labor, the human care, human energy and other forms of energy that all go into bringing good food to our mouths and bodies. (I guess now we shouldn’t say “food to our tables” anymore, as that is unfortunately kinda passé. I hope some families still sit together at table to eat. We do and it is always a joy. Gosh imagine, we learn so much when we actually prepare and sit over a good meal and converse with each other!) So San Isidro Labrador reminds us of what is critically important with food—its origins in good earth and honorable labor!

NW Mexico craft-arts collector and expert Dr.Barney T.Burns with santo of SanYsidro showing the oxen and angels.

NW Mexico craft-arts collector and expert Dr.Barney T.Burns with santo of SanYsidro showing the oxen and angels. (photo MABurgess)

 

Cottonwood root carving by Mayo Indian, Sinaloa, Mexico, depicting San Ysidro with ox, plow, corn motif, and angel watching him.  From Burns...Drees Collection (photo MABurgess)

Cottonwood root carving by Mayo Indian, Sinaloa, Mexico, depicting San Ysidro with ox, plow, corn motif, and angel watching him. From Burns…Drees Collection (photo MABurgess)

This year the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace has arranged a public celebration of San Ysidro not to be missed, where this tradition is revived in a most appropriate setting—in the new Mission Garden, a living history orchard and garden on the very site of Padre Kino’s original Mission San Augustin de Cukson, at the base of Sentinel Peak. Plan to get there early— procession starts from the Santa Cruz River at 9:00am (May 17) going west to enter the adobe-walled Mission Garden. There, near the living orchard of Mission Period fruit trees and the productive winter vegetable garden coming to fruition, will first be the blessings. A Native American spiritual guide will bless in the four directions, followed by a Christian blessing of the fields, food and animals. Heirloom White Sonora Wheat grown in this living-history vegetable garden is getting ripe and will be ceremonially harvested. There will be tastes of Pozole de San Ysidro, the traditional pozole de trigo. Mariachi music by Las Aguilitas from Davis Elementary will fill the air; the Desert Indian Dancers from San Xavier will bless the earth; and Hispanic historian Bobby Benton will sing. A highlight will be a talk by none other than “Big Jim” Griffith reminding us of our roots in Tucson traditions of San Ysidro. Info tents will have volunteers on hand to answer questions. Native Seeds/SEARCH has donated varieties of heirloom seeds known from the Mission Period and earlier, planted in vegetable and timeline gardens to demo the prehistory of plants used by ancient people of the Tucson area. NSS volunteers will provide info for contemporary gardens. Tucson Herbalist Collective shares medicinal plant knowledge for Mission Garden and will have volunteers available for herbal questions. Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture will be selling heirloom White Sonora Wheat (grown organically by BKWFarms in Marana) and demonstrating how to cook the delicious ancient grain in a modern solar oven! (Great recipes for White Sonora Wheat are available by scrolling back in this blog.) It will be hot– come prepared with hat, sun protection, and water. The celebration is over at 11:30am. What a wonderful way to rejoice in local food, local tradition, and neighbors to share it, on this little piece of floodplain where agriculture has been happening for over 4100 years!

A mosaic of 21 heirloom beans and seeds by artist MABurgess, depicting the angel plowing for San Ysidro Labrador. (photo PeterKresanPhotography.com)  Notecards available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH and www.flordemayoarts.com

A mosaic of 21 heirloom beans and seeds by artist MABurgess, depicting the angel plowing for San Ysidro Labrador. (photo PeterKresanPhotography.com) Notecards available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH and http://www.flordemayoarts.com

Inspired by San Ysidro, I spent several months composing this mosaic of heirloom seeds, depicting an exhausted San Ysidro asleep under a tree while the angel finishes his plowing. See if you can identify any varieties. You can purchase the heirloom beans–and notecards of this image now printed handsomely by Spectrum–at Native Seeds/SEARCH store or at the Flor de Mayo table at Sunday St Phiillips Farmers Market.

San Ysidro is helping us find our way back to connection with the land that can feed us again!

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Wondrous Weeds!

Tia Marta here to share ideas about our new neighbors—the weedy greens popping up all around us.  With those fall rains we had here in the low desert, there is a bloomin’ haze of green on the desert floor– not what you’d call a florid show—but wait—what is happening where November’s mud-puddles were collecting?  That may be real food lurking in your own backyard!  Now is prime time to take advantage of spontaneous tender mercies and phytonutrients.  Interesting tastes await us, to spice up our salads and bedeck our burritos.

"Wild arugula” or London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) provides zesty greens, flower garnish, and later, mustard seeds when mature. (MABurgess photo)

“Wild arugula” or London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) provides zesty greens, flower garnish, and later, mustard seeds when mature. (MABurgess photo)

London rocket (read “wild arugula”) is everywhere, its greenery literally growing before our eyes in every low swale, rocky hillside, every ditch where water has run.  Sisymbrium irio is an introduced weed which we can enjoy with impunity—the more we eat of them the more we are removing competition for our beloved native plants.  So harvest away!  (A good rule of thumb is to collect at least 50’ from a road.  No need to ingest road dust and pollutants when there is so much to be found in friendly yards or out in the des.)

Prepare for a picante treat, sometimes a picante bite, from these wild mustards.  Toss a few wild arugula leaves with baby greens, or in a BLT to liven it up.  Try them steamed with your favorite garden greens or added to stir-fry.

Hot February weather is telling our wild mustards, “Summer’s coming.  Better go ahead and bloom fast!”  Already we see tiny 4-petaled yellow flowers rising from the rosettes of deeply lobed leaves.  Small erect spikelets of seedpods (called siliques) stand out from the central stem.  Whole flower heads with seedpods are edible, and zingingly picante.  Sooner than we think, seedheads will mature and you can harvest their tiny mustard seeds for dressings or salad sprinkles.

This year, if you spy Lesquerella gordoni (bladderpod), it will stand out like little yellow stars on the bare ground. (MABurgess photo)

This year, if you spy Lesquerella gordoni (bladderpod), it will stand out like little yellow stars on the bare ground. (MABurgess photo)

In some wet winters, a different native mustard known as bladderpod has made carpets of lemon-yellow flowers on the desert floor.  No such show this year.  Should you find a patch of blooming bladderpod, try a taste of its petals.  Their nice nip will add vivid color, nutrition, and excitement to any salad, garni, or burrito topping.

Better known as tumbleweed, Russian thistle (Salsola kali) is best harvested in this tender stage—and every rancher will thank you for your service! (MABurgess photo)

Better known as tumbleweed, Russian thistle (Salsola kali) is best harvested in this tender stage—and every rancher will thank you for your service! (MABurgess photo)

The most ubiquitous of weeds is the introduced Russian thistle which no one seems to notice until it dries, dislodges, tumbles across the road on a crosswind, and stacks up next to a fence or obstacle.  So now, while it is in its infancy, go out to that windbreak and find its progeny!  Have no compunction about snipping it at ground level while it is only inches high, young, and tender—before sharp stems develop making it unpalatable to humanoids.  You will be amazed at what it adds, snipped in short pieces fresh in a salad, steamed with butter and pepper, or stir-fried with other veggies.

Our many species of saltbush (Atriplex spp.) are tender and ready for picking in late winter into spring. (MABurgess photo)

Our many species of saltbush (Atriplex spp.) are tender and ready for picking in late winter into spring. (MABurgess photo)

Find saltbush's gray greenery along the Santa Cruz floodplain--or plant it in your yard for wildlife habitat. (MABurgess photo)

Find saltbush’s gray greenery along the Santa Cruz floodplain–or plant it in your yard for wildlife habitat. (MABurgess photo)

Now is saltbush’s time to shine—in landscaping and in cuisine.  Here in Baja Arizona there are many species of Atriplex, and all are edible.  These tough shrubs are desert survivors for sure.  They tend to grow in “waste places” where hardly any other plants can make it.  The name saltbush indicates its habitat, where soil is salty,heavy, or full of caliche.  Quail and other creatures find refuge and forage in the dense shrubs.  If you want to attract birds into your yard, go to Desert Survivors Nursery, Tucson, and buy any saltbush to plant—then stand back.  We humans can join in the saltbush foraging guiltlessly, as saltbush is plentiful and our harvesting may even stimulate re- growth.

Nearly every Native nation in the Southwest has a tradition of using saltbush in multiple ways.   When its stiff salty leaves are youthful they can be picked for cooking with other greens, the style of traditional Akimel O’odham, the River Pima.  My Tohono O’odham teacher Juanita would steam saltbush with cholla buds, and told me how “the old people would roast their cholla buds in layered beds of ontk i:wagi [salt spinach].”  Hopi cooks make a kind of baking powder out of pulverized saltbush foliage.

Try young saltbush leaves cooked with heirloom cannelini beans or cranberry beans—for a flavorful variation on beans-and-greens.  You’ll find that the salts which the plants have sequestered from the soil will add a delicious desert flavoring.  Move over, Hawaiian sea-salt!  (After saltbushes have flowered, we will “talk seeds”—stay tuned….)

NativeSeeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org) and Mission Garden (www.tucsonsbirthplace.org) carry seed of a domestic relative of saltbush called “orache” which provides a purple-leafed “green” for a winter veggie garden.

Did you ever contemplate cheeseweed thru the day? (Are you kidding?) Its palmate leaf is a sun-tracker!  I discovered these young Malva neglecta in late afternoon with each leaf bent westerly, cupped, facing the setting sun.(MABurgess photo)

Did you ever contemplate cheeseweed thru the day? (Are you kidding?) Its palmate leaf is a sun-tracker! I discovered these young Malva neglecta in late afternoon with each leaf bent westerly, cupped, facing the setting sun.(MABurgess photo)

Ah, cheeseweed—the “scourge” of gardeners, when it gets established.  Malva or cheeseweed, so called for its cheese-wheel shaped seed pod, is another one of those introduced weeds which tend to follow humans.  Only harvestable when young– get it while you can.  You’ll find it in disturbed flat areas where stock or off-roaders have churned up the natural soil, along fencelines or untended sidewalk margins.  Beware, cheeseweed seems to be sought-after by wandering dogs as a “marker plant” so wash your harvest well.

New Malva foliage can make a nutritious addition to steamed collards, kale, acelgas, or turnip tops; or stir-fried with peppers, onion, and slices of winter squash.  If you want to explore Malva’s medicinal qualities, try the foliage steeped as a tea for soothing tender digestive tract tissue or urinary tract.  It makes a healing topical poultice as well.

Life-giving weeds are all around us, especially now with their ju-ju rising.  Really no one need be hungry here.  We’d all be healthier if we were eating more of these spontaneous gifts brought by Nature and human mobility.  My respect for weeds and knowledge of their goodness outweighs my frustration as I pull them from my garden.  Here’s wishing you happy weed harvesting, a new way of enjoying the pulses of life in the desert!

If you are lucky enough to locate Carolyn Niethammer’s book Tumbleweed Gourmet, Univ. of AZ Press, 1987, grab it!  Find more info about traditional uses of saltbush in Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert by Wendy Hodgson, Univ. of AZ Press, 2001.  Find medicinal uses of Malva neglecta in Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, Mus. of NewMexico Press, 1989.  Mission Garden is open on Saturday afternoons for guided tours, and NativeSeeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, is open daily 10am-5pm.

Visit me, Tia Marta, for more weedy ideas and heirloom beans galore at the Flor de Mayo booth, St Phillips Farmers Market on Sundays 9am-1pm. (www.flordemayoarts.com).

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