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I’ve never felt so trendy before… (via Eat Local Challenge)

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While we’ve been largely successful in our efforts to eat locally for the past two months, we’re well aware that we’ve been doing this at the most bountiful time of year, at least in terms of cultivated crops (spring and summer are arguably better for wild foods). Local farms have probably been producing the greatest diversity of crops they are likely to do all year, and the farmers’ markets are hopping. At least some chickens are laying (ours aren’t, probably because they’re moulting), and goats are producing milk.

This is all likely to change in the next month or two as the weather cools off, and we’ll have to adjust our diet accordingly. Already we’ve seen a strong shift toward more greens in our diet, although our old staples of potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and beans are all still major components of our diet. Most importantly from my perspective, fresh chiles are still available. Tomatoes are also still available. These two important crops will likely vanish from the farmers’ markets soon, unless our abnormally warm weather continues. Our average first frost date is rapidly approaching (November 23rd or 24th), but I would be very surprised if we see freezing weather anytime around then. We were seeing near record highs until just a couple of days ago, when a low pressure system finally moved into the area and brought our high temperatures down to around the climatological average (mid-70’s), though our low temperatures are still about 10 degrees about average for mid-November. There’s actually a possibility of rain later this week!

Anyway, on to the point of this post: With the change in season will come a change in the types and quantity of foods available to us. Food preservation is an important skill which has enabled people to set aside food when it’s abundant so that they can eat when it’s less abundant otherwise. We should have been actively preserving the summer and fall harvests for our (blessedly short) winter, but we didn’t get our act together to do any canning of any sort. We did manage to take the lazy route of freezing a little bit of food. This should help us cope with the lack of certain things during winter, but we really only froze enough to barely supplement our diet, rather than really contribute to it substantially. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve saved in our freezer:

  • A dozen large whole tomatoes
  • Several apples and peaches, sliced
  • Half of a cooked pumpkin
  • A large jar of prickly pear juice
  • A large jar of pasta sauce
  • A small jar of arugula pesto
  • A small jar of desert hackberries
  • Lots and lots of chiles (both roasted and unroasted Anaheims, plus some jalapeños and Gueros)

Eventually we hope to get more sophisticated with our food preservation techniques. In the meantime it will be an interesting challenge to find fresh local food during the winter.

Desert Harvesters is having its final two mesquite milling events this week. The first event will be at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market on Thursday from 3 to 6 PM, and the second event will be at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden on Saturday from 9 AM to 2 PM. The hammermill will be available at both events, so bring your mesquite pods to grind if you haven’t already done so! Both events will also feature mesquite pancakes (a donation of $3 is requested), and the Dunbar/Spring event will also feature live music. More information is available from the Desert Harvesters website. Come to either (or both) events and help support the great work being done by Desert Harvesters!

As a side note, this week’s Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market is the last of the season. After this week we’re going to have to adjust our shopping schedule a little bit, since we’ve come to rely on this market to provide us with much of our food for the latter half of the week.

After this week I may try a different strategy for these link dumps: highlighting interesting articles as they appear.

Over the weekend Marci went hiking in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains with our friend Erin. At one point they stumbled upon some desert hackberry plants (Celtis pallida) full of large ripe orange berries. Unfortunately they were not equipped to harvest many of the berries, but they brought back a small jarfull. The berries are delicious and we are excited to make some hackberry jam.

We went out later to look for more hackberries in the Tucson Mountains, but the plants were mostly devoid of ripe berries. They’re at a lower elevation than the plants in the Santa Catalinas, so we’re not sure when they were producing, but we’ll have to remember next year that mid-fall is hackberry season!

The berries began to spoil very quickly (after the first night they were starting to turn brown), so we froze them until we can figure out something interesting to do with them.

A wash in the Tucson Mountains

A wash in the Tucson Mountains, a typical habitat for desert hackberries and many other native species.

Closeup of native desert vegetation in the Tucson Mountains

A closeup showing characteristic native vegetation along the wash (especially desert hackberries, Acacia, velvet mesquites, etc.), and further from the wash (saguaros, palo verdes, etc.).

A desert hackberry

A desert hackberry (Celtis pallida) along a wash in the Tucson Mountains. This plant was devoid of ripe berries.

Recently I’ve tried modifying our mesquite flour tortilla recipe in a couple of different ways. First, I tried using raw goat milk in the dough instead of water. This didn’t have a huge impact on the consistency of the dough, but seemed to provide an ever-so-slightly richer taste.

The second modification involved using popped amaranth grain in place of some of the mesquite meal (1/4 cup of amaranth and 1/4 cup mesquite flour, plus 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour). I was very pleased with these tortillas, as the amaranth seemed to provide for a much moister and smoother dough, resulting in softer and more flexible tortillas. I did knead the dough a little bit longer than usual, though, so it’s unclear how much of this difference in texture is attributable to the amaranth. The amaranth changed the flavor of the tortillas subtly, but noticeably. I think next time I will try using less amaranth, as the mesquite flavor was too subdued for my tastes, and perhaps I will use carob again as well. Expect a post titled “Amaranth carob mesquite flour tortillas” sometime soon! We’re also working on making local corn tortillas (we’ve made the masa, but haven’t tried making the tortillas yet). We don’t mean to make this a blog about tortillas, but there are worse things to blog about, right?

Tacos made with amaranth mesquite tortillas

Tacos made with amaranth mesquite tortillas. The tacos were filled with fried eggs, fresh tomatoes, arugula, grilled bell peppers and onions, goat cheese, and a salsa made from tomatoes, Anaheim chiles, garlic, and red onion.

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