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Rediscovering Heirloom Treasures: Celebrating Forgotten CSA Gems in the Kitchen

June 26, 2024

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Rediscovering Heirloom Treasures: Celebrating Forgotten CSA Gems in the Kitchen

Heirloom Grains: The Hidden Gems of Our Foodscape

Tia Marta here, ready to take you on a culinary adventure through the bountiful yet often overlooked heirloom grains of the Southwest. As a devoted food historian and passionate home cook, I’ve been fascinated by the incredible diversity of ancient grains that have sustained cultures in this region for millennia.

You see, Tucson – the UNESCO-designated International City of Gastronomy where I reside – is blessed with a rich agricultural legacy that extends far beyond what meets the eye. While the supermarket aisles may be dominated by ubiquitous wheat, rice, and corn, our local foodscape hides a treasure trove of forgotten grains just waiting to be rediscovered. From the nutty, low-gluten charm of heirloom White Sonora wheat to the vibrant, antioxidant-rich allure of Purple Prairie barley, these ancient cultivars offer a world of culinary potential.

As I learned from a recent blog post, the dynamic duo behind “The Little Women Cookbook” – Jenne Bergstrom and Jacqueline Soules – have already begun to uncover the delicious synergies between these heirloom grains and the flavors of the Southwest. Their Saguaro Seed Cakes, for instance, marry the caramel-y notes of saguaro fruit with the robust nuttiness of mesquite, amaranth, and White Sonora wheat. And that’s just the beginning.

Discovering the Treasures in Your Own Backyard

You see, the more I explore the rich agricultural history of this region, the more I realize that the answers to our culinary creativity have been here all along – rooted in the very soil beneath our feet. Take the story of White Sonora wheat, for example. This heirloom variety was first introduced to the Southwest by Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino in the late 17th century, but it nearly vanished from our foodscape until a devoted group of farmers, researchers, and food advocates stepped in to revive it.

Today, you can find organically-grown White Sonora wheat-berries from BKWFarms at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store, ready to be milled into fragrant, golden flour for everything from tender pastries to hearty breads. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the heirloom grains thriving in our own backyard.

As I browse the aisles of the NativeSeedsSEARCH store, I’m always struck by the sheer diversity on display – from the deep purple hues of Magdalena barley to the warm, earthy tones of Pima Club wheat. Each variety has its own unique flavor profile, nutritional qualities, and centuries-old culinary traditions. But more than that, they serve as a living testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the peoples who have called this desert Southwest home.

Rediscovering the Flavors of the Past

So how do we go about rediscovering these heirloom grain treasures and celebrating their role in our culinary heritage? Well, for starters, I encourage you to dive headfirst into hands-on exploration. Attend a workshop at the Mission Garden to learn the art of traditional grain milling, or visit the NativeSeedsSEARCH store to stock up on a variety of whole-grain flours and berries.

And once you’ve got your pantry stocked with these flavorful, nutrient-dense heirlooms, the real fun begins. Why not try your hand at a batch of Saguaro Seed Cakes, layering the caramel-y notes of saguaro fruit with the toasty goodness of mesquite and amaranth? Or whip up a savory Purple Prairie Barley Pilaf, celebrating the vibrant color and robust texture of this ancient grain?

The possibilities are truly endless when you start to explore the culinary potential of these heirloom treasures. And the best part? You don’t have to go it alone. Throughout the Southwest, you’ll find a thriving community of like-minded food enthusiasts, eager to share their knowledge and passion.

Connecting with Your Culinary Heritage

Just this past September, I had the pleasure of attending the Heritage Grain Forum at the University of Arizona, where I rubbed elbows with some of the movers and shakers behind Tucson’s UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation. From Don Guerra of Barrio Bread to Gary Paul Nabhan of NativeSeedsSEARCH, these culinary visionaries shared their insights on everything from ancient wheats to the importance of preserving regional food traditions.

And you know what struck me most? The sense of community, collaboration, and sheer joy that permeated the entire event. These weren’t just academics or food nerds – they were passionate curators of cultural memory, determined to ensure that the flavors of the past remain alive and vibrant in our modern kitchens.

So if you’re looking to reconnect with your culinary heritage, I encourage you to seek out similar gatherings in your own community. Whether it’s a hands-on workshop at your local food co-op or a lecture series at a nearby university, these events offer an invaluable opportunity to learn, network, and tap into the collective wisdom of those who came before us.

Embrace the Bounty of the Seasons

Of course, rediscovering heirloom grains is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to celebrating the forgotten gems of the CSA world. As we move through the seasons, our regional foodscape is brimming with a dazzling array of fruits, vegetables, and other treasures – each with its own unique story to tell.

Take the humble mesquite pod, for example. For centuries, the Tohono O’odham and other indigenous peoples of the Southwest have revered this legume as a vital source of sustenance, grinding the pods into a sweet, nutritious flour. Today, you can find mesquite meal at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store or from local harvesters, ready to be incorporated into everything from baked goods to savory sauces.

Or consider the vibrant prickly pear cactus, whose tender pads (known as nopalitos) and juicy fruits have long been staples in Southwestern cuisine. Whether you’re pickling the pads for a unique pizza topping or whipping up a batch of refreshing prickly pear lemonade, these resilient desert gems offer a world of culinary potential.

And let’s not forget about the bounty of heirloom fruits that grace our orchards and gardens – from the fragrant quince (or membrillo) introduced by Jesuit missionaries to the rich, almost date-like flavor of the Dateland fan palm. By celebrating the seasonal cycles of these beloved produce, we not only honor our agricultural roots, but we also connect with the rhythms of the land that have sustained us for generations.

Bringing it All Together

As I reflect on the wealth of heirloom treasures in my own culinary backyard, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude and wonder. These aren’t just ingredients – they’re living links to the ingenuity, resilience, and culinary artistry of the peoples who have called this region home for millennia.

And when we take the time to rediscover and celebrate these forgotten gems, we don’t just nourish our bodies – we also nourish our souls. We connect with the flavors of the past, honoring the hard work and creativity of those who came before us. We immerse ourselves in the cyclical rhythms of the land, attuning our senses to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

So the next time you open your CSA box or browse the aisles of your local farmers market, I encourage you to look beyond the familiar. Seek out those heirloom grains, fruits, and vegetables that may have slipped through the cracks of our modern food system. Lean into your curiosity, embrace your inner food historian, and let the flavors of the past inspire your culinary imagination.

After all, the true gems of the CSA world aren’t just nutritious and delicious – they’re also a vital link to the rich cultural tapestry that makes this region so unique. So let’s rediscover them together, one bite at a time. Who knows what culinary adventures await?

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