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Savor the Southwest
 I produce a blog with two other remarkable women involved in the food of the Southwest. We discuss edible wild plants, foods that grow well here like citrus and olives, and flavors typical to the Southwest. Sometimes we'll highlight a new book by one of our colleagues. We take turns so there are three posts every month. The links will take you to the full blog.

When Famine Came, What Did People Eat?

Paul Minnis, University of Arizona Press, 2021

 

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.

 

(click here to read the rest of the review)

 

Talking Tucson Food with Some Cowboys

From left, Alan Day, producer Stan Hustad and Russell True record an episode of "The Cowboy Up" podcast at White Stallion Ranch. The podcast explores aspects of cowboy culture and highlights authors and traditions.

 

 

Had fun discussing Tucson food and why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy with the great guys at the Cowboy Up! podcast. The local paper ran an article about their all-things-Western podcast.  Every week they interview somebody who has a great story to tell about life in the West.

 

You can read the article here and listen to the podcast with me here. 

Top Pick: Southwest Books of the Year

Feel so honored by having my book named to this prestigious list. 


A Desert Feast
Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritagel
by Niethammer, Carolyn J.

Tucson is a food city, boasting, as Carolyn Niethammer writes, the best 23 square miles of Mexican food north of Mexico. It is also the first US venue designated as a City of Gastronomy by the United Nations. Why should that be? Niethammer explains: the honor grows from having a food tradition that extends back thousands of years, making use of hundreds of desert plants, and then adding on to it, like so many ingredients in a good bowl of cocido, elements from many other food traditions and cultures. We can eat food from just about every corner of the world here, and we've made it part of an almost inexhaustible culinary lexicon. You'll want to try Niethammer's carefully curated recipes--and develop a greener thumb by growing ingredients yourself and a broadened geography by visiting the growers and chefs she highlights. Every Southwestern city--every city, period--needs a book like hers, and it's Tucson's good fortune to have this. --Gregory McNamee.

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Crispy Crackers with Barrel Cactus, Blue Corn, and Herbs

Delicious homemade blue corn crackers can be part of a snack tray with cheese, cold cuts and olives. 

This is an easy recipe and is a good way to showcase any seeds or herbs you have gathered in the wild. I used barrel cactus seeds. Blue corn gives a hearty flavor. If you have any Sonoran White Wheat flour you have can hoarding for something special, this is perfect. You can read the details for making the crackers here.

 

I have been spending most of the fall working on publicity for my new book A Desert Feast, Celebrating Tucson's Culinary Heritage. Tying on my apron and getting back in the kitchen to invent a new recipe was exciting and reminded me of how many times over the years I have done that. (NO, making dinner every night is way not the same thing!)

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Having Fun with an Old Fruit

Quinces look similar to apples but are hard and astringent and need to be cooked to bring out their flavor.

 

I've been experimenting with cooking unfamiliar foods since I wrote my first cookbook back in the early 1970s. These were usually edible wild plants that used to feed the Native people or early cultivars that appeared with the first wave of farming. 

Quinces originated in the Near East (countries like Turkey) and were brought to the new world by the Spanish. They arrived in Sonora and what is now Southern Arizona around 1700. They are different that their relative, apples, because they need to be cooked to be palatable.

You can read about my process to learn about quinces, my attempt to combine a few different recipes, and the ultimate end of the odd jam I produced as filling for empanadas (turnovers). 

Mesquite and Chocolate: A Love Story

To cook this dessert, first make a mesquite pudding, add chocolate to half of it, then layer in glasses. The flavors complement each other deliciously. 

Mesquite trees usually produce pods in June, but they also put out a small crop in autumn. If you can find some or have some left over from earlier, you can make this delicious dessert that combines the luscious flavors of caramel and chocolate. Find the recipe here. 

 

Mesquite is a desert tree that sends down roots so deep that it can make it through even severe droughts. It grows widely throughout the West.  Its nutritious pods with an appealing sweet flavor have been used by native desert dwellers in the arid Southwest for thousands of years.

All About Prickly Pear

It's prickly pear season.

Newcomers and new generations discover prickly pear. I'm always happy to talk about harvesting this delicious fruit. I've learned lots of tricks to make it easy to get the juice and quick to start making something delicious. You can read a  Nice interview with me here!

 

Make A Delicious Drink with Mesquite

Mesquite broth mixed with coffee and topped with whipped cream makes a perfect brunch drink.

Mesquite pods are a reliable food that has sustained Southwest desert populations for millenia. One of the reasons Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that we still incorporate some of these foods into our modern diet. This week's blog post gives an easy recipe for making a delicious mesquite drink and some ideas for including mesquite into other easy recipes. People have said that the flavor of mesquite is sort of like a fruity brown sugar.

 

Read the whole post here.

How to Make Jam with Less Sugar

A breakfast set out at EXO Roast with Rusty's barrel cactus jam and toast made from heritage wheat by Barrio Bread.

 

I love to make jam and marmalade, but I cringe at the amount of sugar in most recipes. That sugar is necessary to make the product jell. But in researching my new book "A Desert Feast," I spoke to many professional chefs and learned some secrets. One, from Rusty the cook at EXO Roast, is how to make jam with less sugar. Here's what I learned

 

Call it Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal, It's time.

Fresh prickly pear pads are found in gardens in April and May. They are available year 'round in Mexican grocery stores. 

 

 

Prickly pear pads or nopales are a common vegetable in Mexico, as common as green beans in the U.S. They are a traditional food in Southern Arizona, brought by people who migrated from Mexio and eaten long before that for millenia by people who lived on the wild foods of the desert. Here are instructions for how to prepare the pads and several recipes to make nopales your new favorite vegetable.

 You can find many recipes for prickly pear pads and fruit in my Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants and The The Prickly Pear Cookbook.