Posts Tagged With: wild food

When Drought Led to Famine, What Did People Eat?

Here in the Southwest, we’re heading into our second year of severe drought after a few years of normal drought. Because we humans live in the Twenty-First Century, we can live on food grown and imported from rainier regions or grown with water pumped from deep in the earth. But what about the indigenous people who lived here centuries ago, how did they cope with drought? What did they eat when the rains didn’t come or were spotty?

It’s Carolyn here today, and I began to look for some answers in the new book Famine Foods: Plants We Eat to Survive (University of Arizona Press, 2021) by Paul E. Minnis, an archaeologist/ethnobotanist. Dr. Minnis writes: “Food shortages of various kinds and severities have been a part of humanity for as long as humans have existed.” Later, he writes, “Out of these experiences, humans have developed a range of responses to deal with these problems including the use of famine foods.”

Although Minnis looks at how people respond to food shortages world-wide, I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the Southwest. Because famines only occurred every so often, there was the chance that plants that weren’t eaten regularly, but could be eaten might be forgotten. The Zuni of New Mexico embedded ethnobotanical knowledge by making plants integral parts of ritual paraphernalia so people had to remember where to gather them and they also included knowledge of plants in ritual liturgy. So even if someone had not actually eaten a plant, they had heard of it.

People facing food shortages also changed their minds about what they considered proper food. During the Second Century in Greece, peasants facing food shortages would eat acorns they had stored to feed their pigs. However on the California Coast, centuries later, Native Americans subsisted to a great part on acorns and considered them a fine and preferred source of food.

Here are some wild foods that sustained desert dwellers in Southern Arizona for millenia even in droughtrs: saguaro, mesquite, barrel cactus, and both prickly pear pads and fruits (pictured above). My colleagues and I have written about all of these numerous times over the years, not as famine foods, but as ways to bring the desert into your life.

This years saguaros are blooming further down on the arms. Botanists believe this may be related to the drought. More fruit means more opportunity for baby saguaros. (Photo by Doug Kreutz)

Another way Native Americans faced food shortages is what Minnis calls “social banking.” In 1939, the town chief of Acoma, a New Mexico Pueblo said, “The people of Zuni are coming. They have no crops. They are coming to work for us. Some day we might have to go to them when our crops are small.” The Tohono O’odham when facing food shortages would sometimes go visit their cousins the Akimel O’odham who had an easier time growing crops with the Gila River water. Because there were no draft animals, it was easier to move the people to the food rather than try to transport large quantities of food.

To learn more about how people all over the world have survived food shortages and famine, get a copy of Famine Foods and learn about human resilience.

Want to know more about history of food in the Southwest? My new award-winning book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage covers more than 4,000 years of food history, from the hunter-gatherers, to the Early Agriculturalists to today’s farmers.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Curry Toppings with a SW Flair

Ideas for curry are in the air…On an adventurous (pre-Covid19) tour of Morocco last February 2020, as fellow travelers, we befriended a remarkable character, Kip Bergstrom, an enthusiastic foodie who seeks out the absolute “right source” for his gourmet dishes.  Diving headlong into Moroccan lamb, he found a local, caring sheep farm (for him Connecticut) and has become online chef for www.wearwoolnewlondon.com

Curry dishes call for crystallized ginger so my inventive Southwest solution is candied local fruit rinds as “side boys” or toppings!

Tia Marta here to share how Kip’s “LambStand” has inspired me to go local with lamb curry in the Southwest.  Being a mindful omnivore, I found Sky Island Brand from the 47-Ranch near Tombstone, AZ, providing lamb at Bisbee and Sierra Vista Farmers’ Markets from their arid-adapted, heritage churro sheep.

My family tradition at Easter has always been to serve lamb roast–then lamb curry soon after, so I’m getting ready.  Mom’s favorite touch to complement complex curry flavors was to dress the table with a festive array of toppings all around the main dish–what she called “curry boys” or “side boys.”  (Not sure the derivation of this term—like servants long ago around the table offering toppings?)  Regardless, these complementary dishes are a visual and gastronomic joy, so I’ve taken it as a fun challenge to create local Southwest curry toppings from local gardens and desert harvests.  These flavor combos promise to surprise and delight you in any curry dish–lamb or vegetarian….

In place of regular store-bought toppings called for in typical curry recipes, here are my creative suggestions:

Fresh from the garden, here are ingredients to make Muff’s Chirichurri Mint Sauce.

In place of regular mint sauce, I make a Southwest version of chimichurri sauce:

Muff’s Chimichurri Mint Sauce Recipe:

Ingredients: handful (1/2 Cup) fresh mint leaves from the garden

2 Tbsp chopped I’itoi’s onions (tops and all) from our mini-oasis veggie patch (also available from Mission Garden as starts (or shallots chopped)

3-4 small cloves heirloom garlic (or 2 lg garlic cloves) chopped

2-3 little chiltepin peppers whole (when I can get there before the birds–use sparingly) OR 1/2 tsp chile pepper flakes

1/2-2/3 Cup red wine vinegar,

1 Tbsp olive oil

Optional–up to 1/4 Cup fresh cilantro chopped

Chimichurri Mint Sauce Directions: Blender, chill and serve fresh in a small cruet.

In place of the traditional peanut “side” I like our local bellotas (Emory oak acorn nutmeats) or pinyon pinenuts.

In place of shaved coconut, I purchased jujube fruit from Tucson’s Mission Garden–grown in the Chinese garden section there.

In place of raisins and coconut toppings, try dried jujubes, desert hackberries, or crunchy dried chun (saguaro fruit)!

Chutney is a must as a curry topping!   Using a variation on Mom’s recipe, I make a local peach-mango and barrel cactus fruit chutney that should win prizes.  You can find a fabulous cactus-with-chia chutneys or barrel cactus seed mustard at BeanTreeFarm ordering online for easy pick-up.  

Barrel cactus fruit chutney, garden rosemary-garlic jelly, and Bean-Tree Farm’s barrel cactus mustard make great toppings!

Velvet and screwbean mesquite pods were used in making Tia Marta’s Mesquite/Membrillo Conserve–a great curry garnish!

Another goodie to use as a topping is my mesquite/membrillo conserve  that I made using quince fruit (membrillo) from Mission Garden plus a concentrated sweet syrup made by boiling down whole mesquite pods(See last October’s Savor-post.)

With fresh eggs from the Mission Garden “farm” I first boiled then pickled them for another curry complement.

In place of candied ginger, I made candied Meyer lemon-peel and grapefruit-peel from our little huerta trees and the fragrant sweet-lime peel from Mission Garden’s unusual citrus.  Click for the recipe in the SavortheSouthwest.Blog archive.

I’m topping off our SW curry meal with Rod’s amazing backyard olives (a future post?), an extra chiltepin hit, then partnering it all with a wee dram of bootleg bacanora mescal.

Your taste buds will be delighted and amazed to discover how all these different flavors blend and complement each other to enhance any curry dish!   

 

 

In a festive array around the curried lamb centerpiece, the Southwest’s low-desert bounty provides a garland of delectable complementary flavors!

I’m sending thanks to our desert gardens within and beyond the garden wall, for the plenty that our Sonoran Desert provides.    Here’s hoping these ideas might inspire you to try your own to dress up a curry dinner– lamb or vegetarian—in whatever habitat you live!

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

Atole, a mug of warm comfort

Hi friends, Amy here with a hot drink way more satisfying and nourishing than hot cocoa for a quiet, cold night. Atole is a drinkable porridge that can be flavored to suit your taste and whim. Of course, fond family memories of making and enjoying it this time of year make it all the sweeter.

The ingredients are flexible and it is a great way to showcase a small amount of wild harvested or specialty food items.

Corn tortilla meal, in this case from a very starchy blue corn, was treated with lime, dried and ground for making tortillas or tamales. Of course it also comes in white and yellow varieties, but all colors are much starchier than grocery store corn meal. There are also toasted starchy corn meals specifically for making atole. If you don’t have of these on hand, you can substitute corn starch or a mix of corn starch and regular corn meal.

I used water but milk of any sort (cow, coconut, almond, rice) is great. Local honey is delicious, but any sweetener, including granulated sugar, is fine. Or the drink can be left unsweetened.

I shelled and ground acorns from Emory Oak trees (Quercus emoryi), that are mild and edible as is. Other species of acorns are more bitter but can be leached by putting the shelled acorns, whole or ground, in cold water for a few minutes and draining. Repeat the leaching of tannins this way until they are not bitter, to your taste. Mesquite meal is excellent in place of, or in addition to, the acorn meal.

Atole is great with or without chocolate. Cocoa powder works perfectly, but instead I toasted raw cacao nibs in a dry pan until shiny and fragrant, then ground them. For spice, I added a chiltepin to the molcajete with the nibs. A coffee grinder is also a excellent way to grind the acorns and nibs.

I also added a spoon of Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder for spice. Cinnamon or vanilla would also be welcome additions. Everything goes together cold in a pan and thickens as it comes to a simmer.

Due to ingredient variation, more liquid may be needed to make drinkable. Adjust the seasonings and add a pinch of salt to taste.

Enjoy, stirring often to keep everything suspended. Mmmmm… Stay safe and warm!

Atole de bellota
From Amy Valdés Schwemm of Mano Y Metate

Per serving:

1 cup water or milk (cow, coconut, nut, grain, etc)
1 tablespoon corn masa meal (or corn starch)
1 tablespoon acorn meal (or mesquite meal or more corn)

To taste:
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (or cocoa powder)
1 tablespoon Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder (see ManoYMetate.com)
1 tablespoon honey
1 chiltepin
A dash of salt

If stating from whole acorns, shell and grind. If bitter, cover with water, soak for 30 minutes and drain. Repeat as necessary for your taste.

Toast the cacao nibs until shiny and fragrant, then grind with the chiltepin.

Put the water in a small pan and whisk in the acorn and corn meals. Heat, stirring often, until slightly thick. Add the rest of the seasonings and stir until well combined. Drink in mugs, stirring with a spoon to suspend the coarser parts as you enjoy.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Libations, Mesquite, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prickly Pear Coconut Frozen Pops

Hello friends, it’s Amy here with my new favorite late summer treat. Pink prickly pear pops are creamy and easy to bite, yet vegan using coconut milk. For a prickly pear peach sorbet using cream and honey, try Carolyn’s recipe from last season. Also, try Tia Marta’s Prickly Pear-Mesquite-White Sonora Wheat Muffins (Ihbhai c Kui Wihog Pas-tihl).

 

With the drought, there are very few prickly pears out in the wild this year.

However, the young plants in my yard near water harvesting basins set a decent amount of fruit, especially for their size.

Even though the fruit may look purple sooner, I usually wait until September to harvest. If picked before total ripeness, the firm flesh holds onto the juice and it is more difficult to extract. To check, I simply pluck them off the plant with kitchen tongs. Ideally, the fruit separates easily from the plant and the skin with no tinge of green at the base tears the fruit open a bit (see the holes in the bottoms of the fruit in the photo below). If juice runs where the tongs squeeze the flesh, it’s definitely ready!!!! 

I then blend the whole fruit, spines and all.

The hard seeds remain intact, while the pulp and skins are pureed. Then I strain the slurry through a cloth napkin or other piece of fabric. Cheese cloth is not fine enough.

This strains out the seeds, pulp, pieces of skin, spines and the tiny, skin-irritating glochids.

It drains slowly, so sometimes I tie the ends of the fabric, hanging it to drip in the refrigerator. 

The clear juice is ready to make treats or savory food right away, or freeze for later. As an extra precaution, I let the juice stand, then pour the clear liquid from the top, sacrificing the bottom inch from the vessel to leave behind any sediment.

To make pops, I heated some juice with lemon and sugar, then thickened it slightly with cornstarch to make a thin syrup.

After taking it off the heat, I added a can of coconut milk. Add a little lemon or orange extract, if you like.

When completely chilled in the refrigerator over night, it is ready to be frozen in an ice cream maker.

If you just pour the mixture into the pop molds, it will freeze as hard as ice. But this method makes pops that are easy to bite.

Of course, it can be eaten now as soft serve or frozen in one container to enjoy as a sorbet. But spooned into reusable pop molds, it is portion controlled!!!

Prickly pear coconut frozen pops (or sorbet) 

By Amy Valdes Schwemm

1 cup prickly pear juice

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

13-15 oz coconut milk

lemon or orange extract (commercial or 100 proof vodka infused with zest) to taste

Bring first four ingredients to a gentle boil. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water in a small dish. Add to pan, and simmer for one minute. Add coconut milk and extract. Remove from heat to cool and refrigerate until well chilled. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze. Firm in freezer, either in pop molds or a lidded container. Enjoy!

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

Mesquite and Chocolate: A Love Story

Mesquite Chocolate Mousse for two

 

Cooks and those they cook for all love chocolate. It’s Carolyn today and I see in other food blogs I follow that people light up for chocolate recipes. Our readers loved Amy’s recipe for Chocolate Mole Dulce Cake a few weeks ago. Today I’m going to give you a recipe for combining chocolate and mesquite. The two flavors enhance each other perfectly, making for creamy, caramel-y, chocolate-y deliciousness. And rich. You always want rich with chocolate.

I usually make my mesquite broth starting with pods. Most mesquite pods appear in late June to early July, but there is usually a small fall crop as well. Even with our very scanty rains this year, I see lots of new mesquite pods on trees in our neighborhood. The crop is much smaller than the early summer crop, but you can probably find enough pods to make this recipe. If all you have is the mesquite meal from a previous year, that will work as well.

For the liqueur in the recipe, which is optional, you can use coffee liqueur (like Kahlua), maybe hazelnut, or whatever you have on hand and like. Or you might even substitute a little strong coffee.

Gather a basket of mesquite pods. Remember to gather only from the tree, never from the ground. Some people say the ones with red stripes are sweeter. I can’t tell the difference myself.

Mesquite Broth

To make mesquite broth, slowly simmer 2 cups of broken pods in 4 cups of water for about an hour until they are very soft. When cool, wring and tear them (hands in!) to release the sweet goodness into the water. Strain.  You can get more details in my previous post on mesquite broth here. If you don’t have the pods, you can make broth with mesquite meal. For this recipe, combine 1/2 cup mesquite meal with 1 1/2 cups water and stir until completely dissolved. You may have to use a whisk. If your mesquite meal is coarse and doesn’t totally dissolve, strain before making the Mesquite Mousse.

These wine glasses contain a rather large serving of this rich dessert. But it is so delicious, you’ll probably finish it off anyhow.

Mesquite Mousse

2 cups mesquite broth

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk

½ cup water

6 tablespoons cornstarch

2 beaten eggs

¼ cup liqueur (optional)

¼ cup cocoa

¼ cup sugar

Combine mesquite broth and milk in saucepan. In small bowl, combine water and cornstarch and stir until smooth. Add to mesquite mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickness of pancake batter. Turn off heat and let cool for about eight minutes. Stir occasionally to keep skin from forming. If it has a few lumps, beat with a whisk until smooth. Meanwhile beat eggs in small bowl.

Please follow the next step carefully. If you try to rush, you will end up with bits of scrambled eggs. Here we go: When mesquite mixture has cooled somewhat, add about a fourth cup of mesquite mixture to the beaten eggs and stir. Add another fourth cup and stir, and then add a half cup. Add egg-mesquite mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for about four minutes.

Divide the mixture, taking out half which is about two cups. Put it in another saucepan, and stir in ¼ cup cocoa and ¼ cup sugar. Stir over low heat until cocoa is incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Layer mesquite and chocolate mixtures in small wine glasses and chill until set.

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In just two weeks my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage will have the official publication date. It’s already in the warehouse and ready to ship. Five years ago Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and this is the story of why a desert town received that honor. All history is a series of stories and A Desert Feast tells in lively stories how the residents of the Santa Cruz Valley developed from hunter-gatherers to corn growers to cattle raisers to today’s sophisticated consumers where prickly pear even goes in our local craft beer. We’re going to have a big rollout party in October, but if you can’t wait, ask your local bookstore to order it for you. For more mesquite recipes, check out Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. 

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

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: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sonoran Plant-Power Treats

Rosy, ripe Bahidaj — saguaro cactus fruit–is calling from the tops of giant saguaros all across the Sonoran Desert–attracting whitewing doves and venturesome, thankful harvesters…….(MABurgess photo)

Saguaro chuñ and chocolate pair nicely–especially when they are topping home-made mango ice-cream!

The bahidaj harvest heralds the Sonoran Desert New Year, a time of celebration and prayers for rain by the First People here–the Tohono O’odham who keep traditions actively benefitting all.

Tia Marta here to share ideas for bringing bahidaj from your own yard or desert landscape to your table and taste buds.

Wild desert fruit and seed harvests, when packed into these Sonoran Plant-Power Treat energy bars, harnesses their solar-powered nutrition into kinetic energy when you need a tasty boost!

Toward the end of the saguaro harvest season–before monsoon rains arrive–many fruits will drop from cactus tips and hang to dry in the branches of their palo verde nurse trees.  My mentor Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil called these sweet crunchy delicacies chuñ (pronounced choooñ.)  You can pick them right from the tree branches to eat as a snack like dried figs, or take them home for serving in desserts or–tah-dah– in Tia Marta’s Sonoran Plant-Power Treats!

Partnered with other high-energy desert seeds and fruits, we can store the bahidaj’s potential energy for future muscle-action.  Long ago my son got excited about my desert energy-bar inventions and wanted me to go into business, repeating Petey Mesquitey’s mantra, “We’re gonna be rich!”  Here–so YOU can be rich in your appreciation of desert gifts– are the steps for making my Sonoran Plant-Power Treats.  (Just remember when you start production and make your million, this is copyrighted):

step 1–Dust the bottom of a food mold, or dish, or shallow pan with mesquite flour (available at www.nativeseeds.org).  Find out about milling your own mesquite pod harvest at www.desertharvesters.org.

step 2–With your thumb, press dry or semi-dry chuñ into the mesquite flour and flatten it down.

step 3–Dust the flattened chuñ with more mesquite flour.

step 4–sprinkle with chia seed

step 5–add local honey (from Freddie Terry or San Xavier Coop Assoc.) or agave nectar to cover (but don’t use as much as I did here)

step 6–Cover with a dusting of local carob powder (available from Iskashitaa.org).

step 7a–Pop amaranth grain in a hot dry skillet (harvested wild or available at www.nativeseeds.org).

step 7b–Sprinkle popped or griddled amaranth seed

step 8–Sprinkle crunchy barrel cactus seed (wild harvestable) and sea salt (seed salt mix available from BeanTreeFarm) on top.

steps 9, 10, 11–Mix ingredients, set molds out to dry in the sun until mix is getting stiff, remove from mold. Pat out on mesquite- dusted board with fingers.

step 12–Cut into squares for additional drying in sun until firm. Enjoy the rich energy of Sonoran Plant-Power Treats in small bites!

Of course, to make your own Sonoran Plant-Power Treats, you can try any variation or combination of these delectable ingredients from the desert’s erratic bounty.  

As you add each one, name it with the grace of gratitude.  The plants need to hear our appreciation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Rusty Makes Barrel Cactus Jam with Less Sugar

Rusty Ramirez, cook at EXO, with one of the delicious breakfasts she serves with her homemade barrel cactus jam.

I just love to make jam. It’s Carolyn with you today and over the years in this blog I’ve shared with you lots of jam recipes, some with prickly pear, lots with citrus.  It does something to my soul to stand over a simmering pot of fruit and end up with glistening glass jars full of jewel-toned deliciousness. Today I want to talk about lemony-tasting barrel cactus jam.The issue with it and all jams is the sugar. Most jams take lots of sugar, at least as much sugar as fruit, sometimes more. Try reducing the sugar and you end up with runny jam.

But while doing research for my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, I had the opportunity to interview lots of professional cooks. What fun that was, and I always learned something.  From Rusty Ramirez, the breakfast cook at EXO Coffee Roasters here in Tucson, I learned there is a way to make jam with less sugar. You use a product called Pomona Low Sugar Pectin.

There is a book I found with recipes using this product, and if you’d like to begin making jams with less sugar, it might be a good idea to try some of these recipes before modifying them with different fruit. When I get inspired, I’ll see what I can do about prickly pear jam. If you are used to making jam the old-fashioned way, you’ll find this a somewhat different process.

 

Rusty did her own research and came up with a formula to use the Pomona Low Sugar Pectin to  make barrel cactus jam. EXO serves it for breakfast on the fabulous bread from Barrio Bread made with heritage grains.

Cut barrel cactus fruit ready to be sliced and cooked.

I won’t be able to share all the stories in A Desert Feast with you until September, but I’m going to give you a sneak peak with Rusty’s recipe now. Rusty includes the seeds in her jam. If you don’t want to do that, in a previous post, I gave you a great recipe to use the seeds in a cheesy-rich appetizer.

EXO Coffee Roasters Barrel Cactus Jam

25-30 ripe barrel cactus fruits

½ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons of  Pomona Low Sugar Pectin

4 teaspoons calcium water (instructions on how to make it are included in the pectin box)

Rinse the fruits, cut off the tops and bottoms, and chop roughly. Place the chopped fruits into a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and add water to about an inch over the fruits. Bring the water to a hard boil, and then reduce the heat to a slow boil for 30 minutes.

While the fruit is boiling, whisk together the sugar and pectin in a bowl and set aside.

When the fruit is cooked, remove from the heat and place into a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth in a sink. You should have about 3 cups. Rinse the fruit with cold water until there isn’t much mucilage left in the fruits. They should be tender when you squeeze them.  The seeds will collect at the bottom, You can add them to the marmalade or dry them in the oven to snack on later.

Transfer the cooked and rinsed barrel cactus fruits back into the saucepan with 4 teaspoons of calcium water and the 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Stir well with a heat proof spatula. Bring the fruit to a soft boil and add the sugar/pectin mixture to the pot slowly while continuously stirring the fruit so that the pectin doesn’t clump. Before you remove the marmalade from the heat, make sure that all of the sugar/-pectin mixture has dissolved. Put your sterilized jars on a heat-resistant surface. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars, filling to the neck and leaving about a half inch at the top.

Cover with the lids and let the marmalade cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

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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.  In September, there will be a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. 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, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 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: , , , , , , , | 4 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: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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