Posts Tagged With: wild food

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.

____________________________________


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

Enjoy Ya Cholla!

With so much plenty around us in the desert–like this glorious staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)–2-leggeds can be rewarded while social-distancing with healthy outdoor exercise and super nutrition.  Read on…… (MABurgess photo)

The cholla bloom is in full swing!  The low desert in Baja Arizona continues to explode with color late April into early May, with several species of cholla cactus punctuating the landscape colorfully with a rainbow of colors-and a fiesta of flavor.  When the first flower buds open on cholla, traditional O’odham harvesters knew this short window of time is for feasting on this nutritious food, and for drying and storing enough for the rest of the year.

Tia Marta here to share creative and fun ideas for the generous harvest available without getting near a grocery.  For detailed “how-to” ideas, view this earlier SavortheSouthwest post and a short video from a  NativeSeedsSEARCH workshop.

Why harvest unopened buds? Note how loosely opening petals grab spines and don’t let go. After brushing and screening off spines, cleaned buds must be boiled or roasted before eating. (MABurgess photo)

Enjoy my article A Budding Meal _ Martha Ames Burgess EdibleBajaAZ 2014 explaining how Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil harvested cholla, or, check out www.desertharvesters.org for guidance.

Jambalaya a la Cholla made with andouille sausage, sauteed garlic and celery, cooked cholla buds, served with brown rice. Find great jambalaya recipes online–just add prepared cholla buds!

Jambalaya a la Cholla was our centerpiece dinner shared on Zoom with pals.

When you venture into harvesting, be sure to start with three awarenesses:  giving thanks for this plentiful gift from the desert,  watching for snakes, and checking the wind for where spines might blow.

These off-the-wall ideas for sure are not traditional ways of cooking cholla.  Hopefully these ideas can inspire you to get creative with cholla.  As desert dwellers we should all have a deep respect for this much ignored or maligned cactus.  Cholla reminds us that there is no time for boredom.

Try diluting the pucker-up sourness of sauerkraut by adding chunks of apple, caraway seed, and…tah-dah…cooked cholla buds for a wonderful addition!

Try this variation on a favorite comfort food–Add prepared cholla buds to creamed chicken or chicken stew.

Using a simple dill pickling recipe online, I packed 20-minute-boiled buds into canning jars with snips of fresh oregano and I’itoi’s onion from my garden, then filled jars with a cider vinegar and spice mix. After a 15-minute waterbath jars were ready for storage or use as gourmet hors d’oeuvres.

Deviled eggs made with chopped pickled cholla buds are a perfect hot-weather lunch or unusual buffet feature.  Try spicing up your deviled eggs with curry powder for a great complement to cholla!

If planning for future food is on your mind, consider drying your cholla buds. Compare sizes on my drying screen of freshly boiled buds (right) and tiny, stone-hard dry buds(left) ready for storage. If fully dried patiently over several days, buds will keep for years in a glass jar.

For the best in local libation to allay woes of social distancing, quaff a Sonoran quarantini made with Tucson’s ThreeWells Mt.Lemmon gin and garnished with a pickled cholla bud in place of an olive, plus a bulb of I’itoi’s onion. It can’t get more festively flavorful and local than that!

Read more about traditional cholla bud use by Native cultures in Dr.Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert (University of Arizona Press).  Find more cactus cookery ideas in Cooking the Wild Southwest by Savor-Sister Carolyn Niethammer (also UofA Press).

Tia Marta wishes you happy cholla harvesting in our beautiful desert spring!

Dried cholla buds are available online at www.nativeseeds.org and at www.flordemayoarts.com.  You can find them also at the SanXavier Co-op.  For cooking with the sun on these hot days, order handy solar ovens at www.flordemayoarts.com or check craigslist for used solar ovens.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Magical Cereal-ism this Week in Baja Arizona

An important conference focused on ancient heirloom grains is about to happen this week at University of Arizona.  All cerealists are invited!–and that means any of us who love baking and cooking with our local white Sonora wheat, Pima Club wheat, quinoa, kamut, and other heritage grains.

It’s the Heritage Grain Forum — Tuesday and Wednesday, September 3 and 4, 2019.  In the words of organizer Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan, it will “celebrate grain-shed advances in the Santa Cruz river valley & the rest of the West.”

Padre Kino’s White Sonora Wheat, grown organically by BKWFarms, Marana.  Wheatberries available at NativeSeedsSEARCH store.  A new crop will be grown again and viewable at MissionGarden, Tucson, this winter and harvested at their San Isidro Feast in May. (photo MABurgess)

The upcoming conference meets at UA Building ENR2 (1064 E Lowell Street on UA campus just north of 6th Street) in the Haury Auditorium.   For anyone interested in hearing some of the mover-shaker-foodies who helped make the UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation happen for Tucson, come meet them:

Tuesday Sept 3, 4:00-5:30 pm for a lecture on their book Grain by Grain by authors Bob Quinn & Liz Carlisle, with bread + cracker tastings.

Then on Wednesday Sept 4: 8:30am-12:00 noon you can participate in talks + roundtables led by Vanessa Bechtol (SCVNHA), Joy Hought (NSS), Don Guerra (BarrioBread),Jeff Zimmerman (HaydenFlourMills), Ramona & Terry Button (Ramona Farms), Gary Nabhan (author, UA SW Center),  & others, with commentaries by Quinn & Carlisle + more tastings!

I’m excited to meet these amazing Cerealists!

Muff’s heirloom grain scones made with white Sonora wheat, Ramona Farms roasted O’las Pilkan Chui (Pima Club wheat), and wild blueberries.  These are really rich and nutritious, made with eggs and cream in addition to our local heirloom flours and fruits.

Getting in the heirloom grain mood–and fortified with fruits picked up on recent travels–I dived into baking scones using local flours.  Here are my recipe variations on scones in honor of the event:

Muff’s Date Scones (or Wild Berry Scones) Recipe:

Preheat oven to 450 degreesF (A solar oven might work on a very clear day at noon hours, but not today).

In large bowl, sift together:   1 1/2 cups fresh-milled white Sonora wheat flour (or kamut flour, or einkorn)

1/4 cup Ramona Farms Pilkan Haak Chu’i (roasted Pima Club O’las Pilkan) flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp sea salt

Organic eggs, organic mild, Ramona’s roasted heirloom wheat, and raw organic sugar assembled for scone-making. Cut in cold butter into golden white Sonora Wheat mixture.

Make a well in the dry ingredients then pour in wet ingredient mixture. Stir minimally to make dough with few strokes.

Cut into dry ingredients with 2 knives or pastry cutter:   1/4 Cup cold butter

In a separate bowl, beat, and reserve 2 tablespoons for glaze:    2 eggs  

Add to beaten eggs:    1/2 cup cream (or milk)

Chop (optional) fruit– (suggestions:  local dry dates, wild hackberries, wild blueberries)

I chose a dry date (Khadrawy, but Medjool is perfect too) because it is easy to chop into discrete pieces which stay visible and taste-able in your scone!

Pat out dough on floured board, then place chopped fruit or berries on the dough layer, ready to be folded over.

Make a dry-ingredient “well” and pour in liquid ingredients.  Mix with short, quick strokes.  Less handling the better.  Place dough on floured board.  Pat dough to 3/4 inch thick.

Place optional fruit on 1/2 dough then fold dough over once or more.  Lightly roll over each fold with rolling pin.  Cut into diamond shapes and fold if desired.

Fold dough over chopped fruit or berries a few times, rolling very lightly over each fold. (A Light touch is key! Don’t overdo.)

Brush with reserved beaten egg.  Sprinkle with raw sugar grains.

Onto pressed scone dough brush egg “glaze” and sprinkle with raw sugar (or mesquite meal if you are a desert-purist).

Bake about 15 minutes.

Piping hot with butter–Muff’s date scones made with Ramona Farms roasted O’las Pilkan Chui (Pima Club wheat flour roasted), kamut flour, and chopped Dateland dates.  Who needs clotted cream or lemon curd when it tastes so good already?

Most of these heirloom ingredients–grown in Arizona–may be purchased ready to use at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson).  Small trial size packets of heirloom grain with informative labels are available there provided by Flor de Mayo.

Enjoy the rich flavor and nutrition of our heirloom grains– and their stories!  Maybe see you at the conference?…

[Search with keyword “white Sonora” or “wheat” in the search-box at top of this blog page for many other fabulous heirloom grain recipes!]

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beat the Heat with Mesquite Treats!

Naturally sweet solar-oven baked mesquite peanut butter cookies are easy and fun! (MABurgess photo)

It’s blasting HOT outside!  Dry mesquite pods are rattling and falling off the trees!  It’s mesquite harvest time–so gather them quick before they take on any monsoon moisture.

Even in this heat my sweetie wants a dessert and can’t stand store-bought stuff.  OK, I got the solar oven out preheating in the sun.  I’ll bake some old time peanut butter cookies this time with a Southwestern twist–with mesquite!  (And, we’ll keep the heat out of the kitchen.)

For mesquite peanut butter cookies, in addition to mesquite meal you’ll need:  butter, brown sugar, vanilla, flour, baking soda, chunky peanut butter, and honey. Amaranth flour is a great option available at Safeway, Sprouts, WholeFoods, and NaturalGrocers.

Add crunchy peanut butter to creamed butter/honey/brown sugar, beat in egg and vanilla….Then stir in sifted flour mixture to make cookie dough….

Tia Marta here to share a quick and easy mesquite cookie recipe.  No problem–If you don’t mill your own mesquite pods you can find fresh LOCAL mesquite meal at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store .

 

MUFF’S MESQUITE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE RECIPE:

Preheat solar oven (or indoor oven) to 375 degreesF.

Beat until creamy:  1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup local honey, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

Beat in:  1 egg, 1/2 – 3/4 cup chunky organic peanut butter,1 tsp vanilla

Sift together:  1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4-1/2 cup mesquite meal (optional–substitute 1/4 cup amaranth flour for 1/4 cup of other flour), 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda

Stir dry ingredients into moist ingredients for dough.  Roll dough into 1″ balls.  Put on cookie sheet and press with fork. (see photo–Who knows where these traditional patterns come from?  Different cultures have different patterns for peanut butter.  Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking shows a linear pattern from her German tradition.)

Bake:  about 12minutes in conventional oven OR about 20 minutes in solar oven–until done.

Make small balls of cookie dough and roll each in mesquite meal….

On cookie sheet, press each ball of dusted cookie dough with fork in criss-cross pattern….ready to bake….

Preheat solar oven to around 350-375 degrees, then bake about 20 minutes (depending on the sun’s intensity) or until done. The sweet bouquet of cookie-bliss will let you know they are ready! (MABurgess photo)

My “serving suggestion” is to enjoy mesquite peanut butter cookies any time–especially with GOV (good old vanilla) ice cream or an ice-cold glass of tea on a hot day! (MABurgess)

Now here’s another quickie cool and refreshing mesquite treat, if you don’t have time to bake, but using similar ingredients.  It’s a Mesquite Peanut Butter Malted Milkshake— ready in a jiffy:

For a fast cool-down treat, blender up a mesquite peanut butter malted milkshake! You’ll have a meal-in-a-glass in no time–full of complex carbs, calcium, protein, and renewal! (MABurgess photo)

Muff’s Mesquite Peanut Butter Milkshake RECIPE:

In blender mix:

2 cups 1% organic milk (or optional rice, almond or soy milk OR frozen RiceDream)

1 Tbsp. mesquite meal

1/4 cup organic agave “nectar” or syrup

1/2 cup organic chunky peanut butter

2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 Tbsp Mexican vanilla)

1 Tbsp Carnation dry malted milk (optional)

a few chunks of ice

Blender the mix until frothy and serve in chilled glass.  Enjoy the rich nutrition and sweet refreshment of this mesquite meal-in-a-glass!

Carob powder is ground from the pods of a Near-Eastern bean tree, like an Eastern “sister” of mesquite with many similar nutritional components.  For a super-tasty cool shake that satisfies all the food groups (except chocolate!) and helps chill a summer day, add 1/4 cup carob powder to your blender mix.

Add carob as you blender your mesquite peanut butter shake and voila you’re transported into the gourmet snack dimension! (MABurgess photo)

Check out the Iskashitaa Refugee Network to see if they have carob available currently.  And find wonderful local mesquite flour ready for cooking at NativeSeedsSEARCH, (3061 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson; 520-622-5561), along with great mesquite recipe books by DesertHarvesters.org.   Find Freddie Terry, the Singing Beekeeper, with superior local honey at the Rillito Park Farmers Market Sundays.  To order your own Solar Oven, check out www.flordemayoarts.com or contact 520-907-9471 to locate good used solar ovens.

Let’s adapt to heat with these low-tech tools, desert foods, and recipes.  Enjoy the monsoons and happy eating with local mesquite!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sonoran Desert New Year Greetings!

Saguaro fruit is ripe and ready to harvest by many desert creatures. The traditional Tohono O’odham Bahidaj–the saguaro harvest and the rain ceremonies that are an integral part–herald our true New Year in Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert.  But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain.  Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures!  So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus.  The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food.  The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain!  A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us.  Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!

Saguaro fruits as yet unopened and still green may not be ready to collect. Wait a few more days until they develop the “blush.” (MABurgess photo)

Ripe saguaro fruits perfect for collecting are still closed with a luscious rosy color or “blush” to them! (MABurgess photo)

He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”

So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….

Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided!  Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket.  Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness.  Here are some vivid photographic hints.

Saguaro fruit open showing the glorious inner fruit and rind.  At this stage fruit can still be harvestable for making syrup. (MABurgess photo)

Use your thumb to scoop out the mass of sweet pulp and seeds.  (MABurgess photo)

The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year.  If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.

At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season.  Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source.   Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Count yourself lucky if you find totally dried fruit still in the husk! This is Chuñ, the dried sweet fruit, storable or immediately edible, and better than any energy bar. (MABurgess photo)

Bahidaj Chuñ–dry saguaro fruit–is like candy, one of the finest of desert treats! (MABurgess photo)

With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year.  Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp.  Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.

Juanita, and Stella after her, always instructed young harvesters to place the empty husks on the ground near the generous saguaro, facing up to the sky, asking for rain…. I hope they are watching. (MABurgess photo)

You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue.  There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.

Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.

When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”!  It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors.  Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest.  The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit.  Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits.  National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!

My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven.  I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!

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

_____________________________________

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

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

_____________________________________

Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 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

Blog at WordPress.com.