Monday, September 22, 2008

Foodlorists Wanted!
Help Us Build Foodlore Library

This image is Public Domain from the Library of Congress. It's a Qahatika Indian Woman using a long pole to harvest cactus fruit, Arizona. c1907.

Published in: The North American Indian / Edward S. Curtis. [Seattle, Wash.] : Edward S. Curtis, 1907-30, v. 2, p. 108. (source)

I love the photo because in the post below, I have a similar photo of a friend harvesting saguaro flowers. A friend and I are starting a food ezine called Foodlore Library as a way of collecting images like this of food traditions from the past AND from the present. Help us build this library by reading below:

Foodlore Library is an attempt to gather, save and share food stories that might otherwise go lost. We love stories like those in prior posts: one written by Ann Gates Weaver about harvesting saguaro fruit like the Papago Indians once did - who knew it takes the saguaro 40 years to flower and that making the syrup is sooo labor-intensive. Other stories include one about wild strawberry picking by my friend Jessica Spencer from rural Pennsylvania and one written by Marilyn and Craig Toone about eating out of their garden and fishing for trout on the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Your story doesn't have to be complicated or sophisticated- just share a little part of yourself and your love for food. Share a story about a family food tradition, your fav. comfort food (and why it is) some kind of food ritual you do. Check out our developing Web site (note- it's still in the rough phases) e-zine Foodlore Library

Feel free to also send us photos with descriptive captions. Some examples: a photo of you carving out a pumpkin, cooking with your grandmother, mushroom hunting, visiting an exotic locale and the food you found there, eating at your fav. hole-in-the wall restaurant or a photo of you eating around the dinner table with loved ones.

Any questions? Email editor@foodlorelibrary,com

Happy Eating,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Slowest Food: Saguaro Syrup

By Ann Gates Weaver
of Tucson, Arizona

Sure sure, there's that saying "slow as molasses," but what about "slow as saguaro." I'm sure a phrase like that exists in the Papago language, but it simply never caught on. But saguaro syrup is certainly SLOWER than molasses

I mean the syrup itself doesn't have that kind of thick gooey viscosity, but since the cactus doesn't even produce fruit until it is about forty years old and then harvesting it takes forever, it is the slowest food I know. For the Papago, saguaro fruit and syrup was an important source of calories at a time when the desert wouldn't produce much else until lat August. Hower, after all of the hours I spent harvesting in the hot sun not to mention scooping and boiling and straining, to end up with only two pints of syrup- well this syrup is VERY labor intensive so I can see why it's going extinct. It tastes very sweet, but has a very subtle medicinal aftertaste reminiscent of cough syrup which makes it less tasty than other fruit syrups, but we still like it on pancakes!

Saguaro blooms in the spring like most of the other cactus of the sonoran desert, but the fruit doesn't begin to ripen until June. As a fruit gets completely ripe, the outer skin splits open like the petals of a flower to let the pulp and seeds drop to the ground. Seeing this, the first conquistadors wrote that saguaros had red flowers that bloomed in June. This saguaro is just beginning to ripen.

The Tohono O'Odam people would gather the fruits with a tool made from a saguaro rib with a short piece of greasewood tied at an angle to it. This tool was used to push or pull the ripe fruit from the cactus, although they would also gather dried pulp from the ground when possible.

After trying the traditional tool, I decided that my telescopic pool pole with a metal bolt coming out of the side where the net is usually attached was a much better way to harvest the fruit, although I didn't need to telescope it to harvest from the saguaro in my backyard. Even with my new and improved tool, it takes hours and hours just to fill a 5 gallon bucket halfway, and unfortunately this is at the hottest time of the year here- right before the monsoons come to cool things down a bit. Therefore you can only harvest for a few hours early in the morning.

These fruits have started to split open.

The pulp has to be removed from the shell which luckily doesn't have spines. The shell or husk is discarded. This process is quick, but at the end you realize how much of your fruit was actually husk as two and a half gallons turns into about one and a quarter.

The pulp is boiled until it turns slightly orange. Then the fibrous pulp and seeds are separated from the juice by straining it with cheesecloth. There are thousands of seeds in each fruit, all connected by pulp. Therefore, the amount of product you have left at this point is once again diminished quite a bit. The juice is then returned to the pot where it boils until it starts to thicken up and stick to the spoon, although it doesn't ever get thick like maple syrup.

At the end of all the harvesting, scooping, straining, and boiling, I have only two pints of syrup. It tastes very sweet with a very subtle medicinal aftertaste reminiscent of cough syrup. The Papago used this syrup to sweeten everything through the summer while food variety was slim, but we like it on pancakes!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Here's my niece with Zucchini from her mother's garden.

Mexican Rice, Zucchini, and Chicken Salad

I'm going to make this recipe tonight with all the zucchini that is growing out of all my kitchen cupboards this week. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm going to use local Fraga Farm Cheese instead of the queso blanco cheese that it calls for. Fraga Farms is an artisan goat cheese from a farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. I plan to visit the farm and meet a few of the farmers there. I'm also going to replace some of the brown rice with quinoa and use fresh serrano peppers.

From "The Classic Zucchini Cookbook," Ralston, Jordan, Chesman

3 cups diced zucchini or yellow summer squash
1 ½ cups cooked white or brown rice
1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
½ cup chopped scallions, white and tender green parts
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup canola or other light vegetable oil
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup crumbled queso blanco or farmer cheese
Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil. Add the zucchini to the boiling water. Blanch for 1 minute, until barely tender crisp. Drain, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking, drain again, and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, rice, chicken, scallions, and parsley. In a small bowl, whisk together the oils, lemon juice, chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cheese, and serve.
Serves 4.