Saturday, Oct, 9, 2005
pumpkins and squash from the market, photographed on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
This is the last day of the year for the Flagstaff Community Market, which is managed by by the Center for Sustainable Environments at nearby Northern Arizona University. In Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet, an hour’s drive south of the Grand Canyon on the flank of the San Francisco Peaks, a hint of winter is in the air. Five vendors of produce are here today along with several jam and chutney makers, a bread man, a weaver, soap maker, honey man, and egg lady. Many of the farmers have wound down for the season. But there is still a last-ditch selection of summer vegetables, including okra, tomatoes and eggplant. I pick up a few of the summer standards. But I’m here today looking specifically for unusual foraged foods from the wilds of northern Arizona. I’m not disappointed. I find elderberries, serviceberries and an intriguing — and often misnamed — herb called scented lippia.
I figured I might find a few such items here because the Center for Sustainable Environments has made a concerted effort to help preserve native food traditions of the region with programs including Canyon Country Fresh, a network of stores and restaurants “committed to purchasing ingredients, foods, and products directly from local sustainable farmers and ranchers in northern Arizona.”
The center also administers Seri Fair Trading Post, an organization for Seri Indians of the SonoranDesert and the islands in the Gulf of California, which is dedicated to “revitalizing Seri traditions while protecting their environment.” One way it does so is by selling a few Seri products on the center’s table at the farmers market.
With my market purchases in hand, I took an afternoon road trip north of Flagstaff to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, 70 miles north of town. On a loop along the south rim to Cameron and back to Flagstaff, I stopped at another of my favorite places in the vicinity, Wupatki National Monument, about 35 miles northeast of Flagstaff. Amidst the early Pueblan ruins scattered through the monument, I have put some of today’s farmers market purchases on display. For some, this is an historically appropriate setting. The shallow depression in the desert floor beneath the Box Canyon dwellings is at the bottom of a funnel in the landscape for winter rains. In the damp ground on the canyon floor, the inhabitants of this site nearly 1,000 years ago grew crops including pumpkins, squash and chile peppers.
Pumpkins, Acorn and Butternut Squash in the
Box Canyon Dwellings near Lomaki Pueblo
Price: $1.50/lb. for pumpkins and squash
Pomegranates amidst the BoxCanyon Dwellings
Pomegranates are a native of the Middle East. Spanish settlers introduced them to the Americas in the 1700s.
(Clockwise from middle top) cherry tomatoes; tomatillos; Jerusalem artichokes; cayenne; chilepeno, serrano and jalapeno pepper; turnips
Cherry Tomatoes and Tomatillos at Wukoki Puebo
(left to right) Jalapeno, Serrano, Chilepeno
and Cayenne Peppers at Wukoki Pueblo
rice: $3/basket for tomatillos and tomatoes
$1.50/lb. for peppers
The peppers, as well as the cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and turnips are from Whipstone Farm, north of Prescott in the ChinoValley southwest of Flagstaff. Chilepenos are said to be a hybrid mutant jalapeno, larger and milder than its relative.
Jerusalem Artichokes on a wall at the Box Canyon Dwellings
Called Jerusalem artichokes, despite the absence of any connection to Jerusalem or artichokes, this is a native American food crop, though not a native to the Southwest. When Europeans arrived, they found tribes along the eastern seaboard growing the perennial tubers, which are produced by a species of sunflower and were among the crops introduced to the Pilgrims by the indigenous tribes of Massachusetts. They have the mild, sweet taste and texture of water chestnuts. I tried some raw — similar too but somewhat tougher than jicama. Others (see photo to the right), I peeled, sliced, carmelized in butter, and sprinkled with salt, pepper and lime juice.
Carmelized Jerusalem Artichokes
(left to right) Osha Root, Scented Lippia, Elderberries,
Utah Serviceberries, and Arizona Black Walnuts
Price: $1.25/gram for Osha root
$4/ounce for elderberries and serviceberries
$5/lb. black walnuts
$3/bag for Scented Lipia
The Center for Sustainable Environments, the sponsor of this farmers market, has a table where I pick up some literature about several of the center’s other projects. Today the center is selling, on behalf of the Seri Fair Trading Post, $3 bags of a sustainably harvested herb labeled “Sonoran oregano (Lippia graveolens).” That actually is a misnomer. Lippia graveolens isn’t even in the same plant family as oregano. The herbs both reside in the order of Lamiales. But oregano comes from the mint family branch while lippia, which can grow as large as a small tree, is one of the verbenas. The crushed dried leaves of the plants certainly do smell alike. But that’s no excuse for calling the herb Sonoran Oregano when it’s got a much more melodious, botanically correct name, Scented Lippia. Other appellations bestowed on the herb in its range from the Southwestern borderlands of the United States through Central America include Hierba Dulce, Romerillo de Monte, and Redbrush. In Central America, it is used as a tonic, stimulant and expectorant as well as a condiment, according to the Texas Native Shrubs Web site.
I acquired the other herbs and berries from John Munk, founder of Thunderfoot Earthworks, and a forager as well as a propagator of organic heirloom seeds. I sampled a tiny nibble of Osha root that Munk gathered in the Rocky Mountains near Telluride. He recommends it for sore throats and insists it will ward off colds, and in fact saved him on a couple of occasions from getting pneumonia. He gathered the two types of berries near MormonLake 30 miles or so from Flagstaff. To prepare the dried elderberries for use in muffins or other recipes, Munk recommends soaking them in orange juice. The serviceberries can be used to make tea or simmered in maple syrup, for a serviceberry-flavored pancake topping.
Black Walnuts amidst red rocks near Sedona
The Flagstaff area got drenched with rain last winter. Consequently, Gayle and Richard Clark, of the Cowboy Honey Co. in CampVerde, a few thousand feet below Flagstaff in the VerdeValley south of Sedona, were blessed with far more wildflowers than they had seen in years. Their bees had a field day. Most of the honey on the Cowboy Honey table was from bees that had feasted on a potpourri of wild flower varieties and it had the standard golden hue. But one bottle stood out. It was filled with dark, amber colored honey.
The dark honey is from bees that gorged on nothing but the nectar of the fairy duster, after a bumper crop of the desert flower, which hasn’t made a good showing in years of drought that preceded last winter’s reprieve. Here in a clearing in a pinion-juniper forest north of Flagstaff, it was obviously a good summer for wildflowers, though the petals have long since died and fallen off.
Verde Valley Fairy Duster Honey
Price: $6/bottle for Fairy Duster Honey