What am I doing on these grey days and frigid nights? Dreaming of spring! After all, February 2 is Groundhog Day, the official start of the longing-for-spring season.
To celebrate I’m sorting through my saved-seed collection, lusting after seed-catalog photos and drawing maps of my garden-to-be. Whether you’re a garden virgin or experienced, Prescott has some great spring opportunities for you, and whether you plan to have one tomato plant in a single pot or a quarter-acre food forest, you can get the materials and support to grow your own.
The public libraries in both Prescott and Prescott Valley have seed libraries! Yes, you can “check out” seeds! They are free, available now, and are selected to grow successfully in this area. All you need is a library card, and you don’t have to return them! You can donate to help support this service, or you can save seeds and then make a return. You can learn how to save seeds on the Prescott Public Library YouTube channel, which features videos on seeds, gardens, composting, and seed-saving, all recorded by local experts.
Prescott’s seed library is supported by Friends of the Library and the Prescott Farmer’s Market. For more information contact the Adult Services librarian at 928-759-6196.
Prescott Valley’s seed library is funded by a grant from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. For information contact Michelle at email@example.com.
If you don’t know what to do with those seeds, the libraries are hosting the Plant-to-Plate lecture series. It’s an in-person gardening class taught by University of Arizona-trained master gardeners. In six sessions Plant-to-Plate covers the basics, including soil, planning, planting, care, weeds, insects and harvest. The course includes a text (in pdf format) that covers each subject in more detail. Like all other library services, these classes are free.
Plant-to-Plate Schedule: Prescott Public Library Founder’s Suite, starting Thursday, February 23 (4:30-6pm) and continuing every other Thursday till May 4.
Prescott Valley Public Library, starting Monday, February 6 (5:30-6:45) and continuing on the second Thursday of each month through June.
For more information on Plant-to-Plate contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seed Mania! 2023 is a free community seed festival that features food, fun, seeds, networking, speakers, demonstrations, and kids’ activities for everyone. This year it will be held on Sunday March 5, 1-6pm at the Prescott College Crossroads Center. Come to meet and play with local school-garden champions — there’s a dedicated kids’ area. Team up to network and learn from soil, seed, garden, mushroom, corn and compost experts. Join in to trade, donate or purchase seeds at bulk prices. Catch the heritage seed-based meal, prepared by me. Don’t miss this one!
Seed Mania! is co-sponsored by Prescott College, Slow Food Prescott, the Prescott Farmers Market and the Museum of Indigenous Peoples. For more information contact PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.
So you want to grow food in your garden, but you don’t know where to start or you keep running into failures. The Grow Food in Your Backyard Project is designed for you. Slow Food Prescott matches experienced and master gardeners one-on-one with beginners. You’ll get your very own garden mentor! Support extends beyond advice, including free distribution of seeds, soil, plants, irrigation equipment, liquid fertilizer and, when needed, raised beds, row covers and fencing. GFIYB builds community with social gatherings and information-sharing. If you want to grow your own and need help, please apply. If you’re an experienced gardener, GFIYB needs your help as a mentor. Join the community of gardens!
2023 is the third year of this successful program, which includes school, church, government and tribal gardens. Applications will be available February 1. To apply please contact PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.
Twice a year the Prescott Farmers Market hosts a massive seed giveaway and exchange, with knowledgeable and friendly staff on hand to help with questions. As of this writing the spring seed event has not yet been scheduled. Check the PrescottFarmersMarket.org for dates, or contact email@example.com.
Those wonderful Yavapai County master gardeners run a help desk with science-based garden information. Contact them with questions at 928-445-6590 Extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s true I’m not dreaming of spring: I’m preparing. As soon as this chill grip breaks I’ll be out there digging and planting seeds and growing a gardening community. Join us!
In the beginning there was the weed Heracleum sphondylium, aka common hogweed or borshchevik in Ukranian. The Borschchahivka River flows through Kyiv and it, no doubt, was lined with this plant, a wild rank weed related to carrots and parsnips that loves wet places. As far back as 1500 years ago the leaves, stalks and flowers were chopped and fermented in a brine to produce a green soup tasting something between sour beer and sauerkraut. This early borscht was no doubt enjoyed widely by Central European Slavic tribes in the years before nation states.
Borscht (also spelled borshch) eventually evolved to include many of the vegetables people stored for the winter-- cabbage, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, onions, garlic-- and was boiled up with bones and meats into a great sour winter soup. It did not contain beets. Red beets as we know them did not appear in Eastern Europe until the 1500's. Most versions of borscht now contain beets; some do not. When beets did arrive, they too were chopped and fermented and contributed to borscht's sour flavor.
Borscht as a poor foraged peasant soup rocketed to fame when it was adopted and adapted by Marie-Antoine Carême, the first international celebrity chef. Working for the powerful, rich and famous all over Europe he invented haute cuisine and cemented his fame with several books including The Art of French Cuisine in the 19th Century (printed in five volumes). In 1819 he was employed as the the chef for Russian Emperor Alexander I. Carême enhanced common borscht with roast and stewed chicken, also duck, veal, oxtail, marrow bones, bacon and sausage and then topped with beef dumplings (quenelles), deviled eggs and croutons. Borscht was transformed from fermented weeds into an exotic meat stew for the rich and powerful.
Starting in the 1870's, Mennonite and Ashkenazi Jewish refugees, fleeing religious persecution, migrated to Canada and America. They brought their well-loved traditional borscht. From the 1920's through 60's Jewish residents of New York flocked to the Catskill Mountains for vacations. They stayed in Jewish resorts and ate in Jewish restaurants where borscht was served all day, every day. The Catskills became known as the "Borscht Belt."
In the same time period, back in the USSR, the Stalinist culture machine worked to establish a uniform Soviet cuisine that would unite the disparate Soviet nationalities. Borscht was at its center. Borscht was celebrated as "the common denominator of the Soviet kitchen, the dish that tied together... the high table of the Kremlin and the meanest canteen in the boondocks of the Urals... the beetroot soup that pumped like the main artery through the kitchen of the east Slav lands." * Borscht (in a tube) even made it into the Soviet space program as homey food for the cosmonauts.
In Ukraine borscht was eaten three times a day; for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everyone's grandma had their favorite recipe. Last year, 2022, the Russians invaded Ukraine and the United Nations placed borscht on the list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding." Ukranian borscht is endangered! The UNESCO description describes borscht as a centuries old tradition that unites people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. In the region of Podillia the third day of a wedding is named do nevistky – na borshch. That means ‘visit daughter-in-law to eat borscht’. Borscht is also celebrated in folk tales, songs and proverbs. The Russian invasion threatened the status of borscht as a part of Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
Several other ethnic and national groups passionately claim borscht as their own cultural icon. Several religious traditions serve it with ritual significance. In Eastern Slavic countries "Memorial borscht" is served at wakes; the soul of the departed floats to heaven on its steam. "Peysakhdiker Borsht" is an essential dish during the Jewish Passover celebration. In the Belarusian-Ukranian border area steaming borscht is offered to the souls of the departed.
In the early 1900's Eastern Europeans moved to big cities in China. As a result, there is a popular Shanghai Chinese version of borscht called Luo Song Tang, (which translates to "Russian soup") made with oxtails and western ingredients like potatoes and tomatoes but no beets. Borscht exemplifies the concept glocalization-- at the same time, both local and global.
What is borscht? There are thousands of recipes-- meaty, smoked, vegetarian; served hot or cold, with diverse additions of beets, greens, cabbage, potatoes, beans, mushrooms, dumplings, carrots, tomatoes and etcetera. It is typically sour which can come from fermented beets or cabbage, sauerkraut or kvass, lemon juice, vinegar, tomatoes, even Granny Smith apples! It is typically earthy sweet from beets or other vegetables and is spiced with pepper, bay leaf and garlic, and maybe dill, horseradish or allspice. Borscht is usually topped with sour cream (though I like thick buttermilk), which creates a beautiful play of red-white swirl patterns and flavors.
I thought this was going to be a simple story about a simple beet soup but you see borscht is a soup with many stories. Borscht has come so far and spread so widely. It is loved, revered and honored by so many. It's delicious. For the new year, why not serve borscht to symbolize solidarity with the Ukranian people? Offer a borscht toast to their courageous resistance and wish them warmth, health and peace.
* The Story of Borshch, James Meek, The Guardian
Let Me Count the Ways of Making Borscht, Olia Hercules, New Yorker
Spiced Mushroom Borscht, Sarah Karnasiewicz, LA Times
Shanghai-Style Red Vegetable Soup- Luo Song Tang, 罗宋汤
This vegetarian recipe was given to me over 25 years ago by my friend Jean Ward. It was a family recipe from her Russian dad and her Ukranian/Polish mother. They lived in Ukraine. Borscht was served on a daily basis. Jean remembers her mother adding beans to the recipe and mushroom filled dumplings. But Jean prefers the "old recipe," this one. This is the recipe I love and have been making all these years. I made my own little change, adding cauliflower instead of cabbage. The carrot, celery and dill hearken back to the original Hogweed, as they are all members of the same plant family. Serves 6-8.
1-ounce dried mushrooms OR 4-ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chopped cauliflower or cabbage
1 Tablespoon kosher salt, to taste
Garnish: Sour cream or thick buttermilk and finely chopped dill
If using dried mushrooms, simmer them in 3 cups water for 15 minutes. Set aside. Sauté fresh mushrooms in oil until golden. Add onions and sauté until lightly browned. Add beets, carrot and celery, sauté 5 minutes. Add 6 cups boiling water, bay leaf, pepper, lemon juice and tomato paste and simmer for 15 minutes. If using dried mushrooms, drain them, reserving stock. Then coarsely chop them. Add mushroom stock and mushrooms to soup. Add cabbage or cauliflower and simmer another 20 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice as needed. Cool to let flavors blend. Can be served cold or hot. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or a streak of thick buttermilk. Sprinkle with finely chopped dill.
The inspiration for Sopa Casado (‘Married Soup’) comes from the Turquoise Room Restaurant at La Posada in Winslow. The original La Posada was designed and built in 1930 by Mary Jane Coulter. Working for the Fred Harvey company, she also designed some great iconic buildings at the Grand Canyon (Desert Watchtower, Hermit's Rest, Hopi House, Lookout Studio). The original La Posada closed in 1957 and fell into neglect and disrepair. It was almost bulldozed.
Forty years later visionary investors purchased the building and began the restoration. For the restaurant they brought in John Sharpe, a top chef from Orange County in California. That's when I visited and experienced this amazing soup, really two soups in one bowl. One is an earthy, dark black bean, the other creamy yellow sweet corn. They appeared in one bowl, swirling around each other in a yin-yang embrace. Each bowlful was marked with a red chile cream signature. Each delicious spoonful played off contrasting flavors and colors, creating a taste adventure. I just had to figure out how to make it myself.
I remembered an excellent Yucatecan black bean soup that I had been making for years: Frijoles Negros de Olla (‘Black Beans in a Pot’). The recipe is simple. To make it you'll need three cups of cooked or canned black beans.
Start with a couple of tablespoons of oil in a medium soup pot. Add one chopped onion, a half-teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground black pepper, one tablespoon of mild chile powder and a teaspoon of salt. Sauté over medium heat until the onions and spices are browned. Stir continuously. Now add the beans, any bean-cooking liquid, and enough water to measure 1-1/2 cups. Turn off the heat. Blend till smooth. Return soup to pan and heat gently. Add milk (dairy or nondairy) to thin to a thick but pourable consistency. Turn off the heat. Taste and add salt or pepper al gusto (‘to your liking’).
I also remembered Sopa de Elote, fresh corn soup from Mexico, which I’d also been making for years. This is another very simple recipe. If it’s fresh corn season, you'll need about three ears of corn.
Cut the kernels from the cobs and measure four cups. Any extra will be great as a garnish or in a salad. If corn season has passed use frozen extra-sweet corn, but do not defrost it. Put the kernels in the blender with 1-1/2 cups of milk (dairy or nondairy) and half a teaspoon of salt. Add 1-1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (my own personal variant; I usually cook the squash in the microwave). Blend till smooth. In a medium soup pan gently heat two tablespoons of butter or oil. Add a tablespoon of wheat or corn flour and stir for a minute. Now pour in the blender contents. Heat to a simmer, stirring all the time. The soup will thicken. Turn off the heat and taste. Add salt al gusto.
For the “signature” I remembered the recipe for Lighthouse Salsa from a friend years and years ago. She got it from a lighthouse keeper in Mexico. This crunchy, raw, tangy, spicy salsa is a great contrast to the two smooth soups. You'll need half a small onion, two cloves garlic, two green onions, 1/4 bunch cilantro, half a jalapeño pepper, and half a yellow chile pepper (mild), all finely minced. Chop three or four fresh ripe tomatoes. Mix everything together and add two or thee tablespoons of lime juice, a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of sugar. Stir well. Taste. Adjust seasonings with sugar, salt and lime juice.
When you're ready to serve, gently heat the two soups. Have a large spoon available for each. Tilt the soup bowl and carefully pour in one or two big spoonfuls of soup on one side of the bowl. Then gently spoon the other soup on the opposite side. It's much easier than it sounds. Cover the intersection of the two soups with a thick line of Lighthouse Salsa. Serve immediately with hot tortillas or chips. I call it Sopa Casado but maybe I should call it Sopa Prestada (‘Borrowed Soup'). Thanks to Chef John Sharpe for the original inspiration.
Visit La Posada and the Turquoise Room in Winslow for an amazing hotel and dining experience: laposada.org
John Sharpe's original signature soup recipe (very different from mine) and many others appear in La Posada's Turquoise Room Cookbook. (Recipes below.)
Photos by Gary Beverly.
Frijoles Negros de Olla — Black Bean Soup
Makes about 5 cups. This soup is also delicious on its own, garnished with salsa and Mexican crema or avocados. Keeps well refrigerated or frozen.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon mild chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cooked or canned black beans, drained with cooking liquid reserved
Bean-cooking liquid and enough more water to measure 1-1/2 cups
Milk (dairy or nondairy) as needed
Additional salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a medium soup pan. Add onions, chile powder, cumin, pepper and salt and sauté till onions are limp and browned and spices are toasted. Place beans, bean liquid/water mixture in blender with onion and puree until smooth. Return to pan. Thin with milk to a thick but pourable consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking, al gusto.
Sopa de Elote — Fresh Corn Soup
Yields about 6 cups. This soup is also delicious on its own, especially in fresh-sweet-corn season. Garnish with ripe tomato, avocado, cilantro or green onion. Keeps well refrigerated or frozen.
4 cups sweet corn kernels, cut from the cob or frozen (not defrosted)
1-1/2 cups cooked butternut squash (substitute any cooked winter squash or pumpkin)
2 cups milk (dairy or nondairy)
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 tablespoon wheat or corn flour (not cornstarch)
Place the corn, squash, milk, and salt in blender. Blend until completely smooth. Gently heat the butter or oil in a medium soup pan. Add flour. Stir for a minute over medium heat. Add blender ingredients. Heat to a simmer, stirring constantly. Turn off heat. Thin with milk to a thick but pourable consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste, al gusto.
From Roberto, a lighthouse caretaker on the east coast of Yucatan. He used three jalapeños —
aieee! Refrigerate to store. Makes 2 cups.
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 white onion, finely minced
2 green onions, finely cut
3-4 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 jalapeño, minced (more or less to taste)
1/2 yellow (mild) pepper, minced
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt and 1 pinch of sugar, more or less to taste
Salt and sugar to taste
Mix together all ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and sugar and more minced jalapeño, al gusto.
What do mustard and chiles have
Heat: Without actually being
hot, they create the physical sensation of heat.
Health: They are both rich in health-giving
Holiday: Both make exciting holiday eating
and homemade gifts.
What is mustard?
The brassica family contains cabbage, kale,
Brussels sprouts, arugula, turnips and mustard.
Here we are talking about mustard seeds.
They come in yellow (milder), brown
(medium) or black (more potent). You’ve
probably had “prepared mustard” like
French’s or Dijon made with ground
mustard seed or maybe you’ve tried German
mustard with the seeds still visible.
Mustard seeds are impotent until
they are crushed and mixed with water.
That starts an enzymatic cascade resulting
in the creation of mustard oil, allyl
isothiocyanate (aka AITC), the chemical
responsible for that breathtakingly pungent
punch. AITC protects the plant from
predators (like us), but it is also harmful to
the plant itself, so it is stored away in a clever
mechanism that it is activated only when
Mustard, specifically AITC, has a long list
of health benefits that protect the body from
disease and damage by helping prevent cancer,
lowering cholesterol, balancing insulin levels
and reducing inflammation. It’s a decongestant,
antibacterial, antifungal, reduces pain
and strengthens bones. So enjoy the burn!
The heat in chiles
The chemical that gives chile peppers
their heat, capsaicin, is different. Humans
seem to love the burn, so we have cultivated
and spread chiles worldwide.
Why do we love them so? Capsaicin
tricks the body into thinking it is on fire. It
interacts with a protein on the tongue that
usually senses heat. Your brain responds by
sending out pain-killing endorphins and pleasure-
giving dopamine. Together they trigger a
nice high sense of well-being.
According to a 2017 study from the University
of Vermont and a 2015 study published
in the British Medical Journal, regular
chile eaters have less cancer, diabetes, obesity
and cardiovascular inflammation, and live
Chiltepin, the mother of all peppers, is
the original pepper that has been selected and
hybridized for centuries to give us hundreds
of modern varieties. It can be found growing
near Tumacacori, Arizona. Chiltepins are ferociously
hot to us and other mammals who
would chew up their
seeds. But it’s not hot at
all to birds who swallow
the seeds whole, then
disperse them with a nice
poop of fertilizer.
Red peppers, sweet
or hot, are the ripe version
of green. The ripening
and aroma, making them
seem more like fruit and
less like a vegetable. Red
peppers are in season now. I am an enthusiastic
red-pepper lover and this pepper jam is a
great way to preserve them. Make it hot or
sweet to your taste, but be sure to use fresh
(not dried) sweet red peppers and hot red
How do you tell how hot peppers are?
Remove the stem and take a little nibble.
Heat is concentrated in the seeds and in the
Mustard and chiles are daily reminders
that life is exhilarating. Online I have two incarnations
— Smoky Honey Mustard and
Red Chile Jam — that deliver. They’re simple
and inexpensive to make, and will knock the
socks off your family and friends. Pack them
up for stellar gifts to be enjoyed, savored and
This mustard is full of harmonic dissonance, a mixture of love and alarm. Give me more! It’s strong and smoky, sweet and pungent, and particularly enchanting with smoked meats or cheeses. I love it on a BLT.
This is a fermented recipe, giving the added boost of lactobacillus, the same probiotic found in yogurt. Start it three days in advance so these beneficial bacteria have a head start. Use cold water. Cold water makes mustard hotter and hot water halts the enzymatic reaction that creates AITC and flavor potency. Makes 2 cups.
¼ cup whole brown mustard seeds*
¼ cup whole yellow mustard seeds*
½ cup cold water
¼ cup plain, unsweetened yogurt (dairy- or plant-based) or live kombucha
2 tablespoons ground mustard*
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
Grind the mustard seeds coarsely in a spice grinder or blender. Pour them into a one-pint glass jar. Add the cold water and the yogurt or kombucha. Mix. Seal jar tightly and set aside at room temperature for three days. Stir in the mustard powder, salt, garlic powder, liquid smoke, cider vinegar and honey. Refrigerate. Mixture will thicken as it sits. This mixture has a tendency to separate, so shake before using.
* Natural Grocers carries ground mustard and mustard seed.
** Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, mustard is food safe at room temperature, but room temperature will destroy the pungency. Refrigerate for maximum quality.
This four-ingredient jam recipe produces a sparkling red, fresh-flavored condiment that emphasizes the natural sweetness of the peppers. I love it with cheese and crackers, and it’s stunning over cheesecake. Make a lot, bottle it up and enjoy treating your friends to this winter treat. Makes 2 cups.
For this recipe I chop the sweet peppers, then mix in hot chiles to taste. While the jam simmers I taste again and add chiles until the balance is perfect.
1¼ pounds red peppers, a combination of sweet and hot chiles, to taste
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water or as needed
Remove the stems and seeds from the sweet peppers. Cut into large pieces. Remove the stems from the hot peppers. Leave the seeds in for a hotter version, or remove them for a milder version. (Be careful, or wear gloves. Capsaicin oils from hot chilies can burn your skin.) Chop the sweet peppers and hot peppers separately in a food processor (or by hand) until they are finely chopped, but not ground. Keep them separate.
Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Hold out some of the hot chilies. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Taste and adjust heat by adding more hot chilies. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, adding more water if needed to keep the mixture from drying out. Set aside for 4–8 hours. Using a strainer, drain all liquid into a bowl. Set solids aside.
Return liquid to the pan and bring it to a boil. Cook until it thickens into a syrup. Stand by, and watch very closely — this burns easily. Add the pepper solids, bring to a rolling boil and turn off immediately.
Hot-pack into sterilized glass jars with new lids. The lids should seal as the jam cools. If sealed, the jam can be stored at room temperature. Alternatively, freeze or refrigerate.
Summer is over. Make soup.
Many years ago I experienced a soup like this in a little Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. I was impressed with how the meat was not dominant and was cooked in as a condiment to enhance body and flavor. I was impressed with how the beans absorbed and married in with the meaty flavor. Long before the kale craze, I was impressed with how the kale wilted with tender harmony. I was impressed with how this soup hit the spot with my favorite Italian taste profile — garlic, onions, fresh herbs and a flash of red chile flakes for extra warmth. I was so impressed that I worked up this recipe.
Italian Sausage, Bean and Greens Soup
Mise en place. Get it together
First, lay everything out. Professionals call this mise en place. Using a sheet pan, make piles of each prepared ingredient.
A good, spicy Italian sausage is essential for this recipe. Use pork, turkey or plant-based vegan sausage (like Field Roast Italian Garlic and Fennell). Use two sausage links, peel off the wrappers and cut them into slices. Make a sausage pile on the sheet pan.
Add these ingredients in individual successive piles: six big cloves of garlic, finely minced, and one large onion, chopped (about three cups).
Continue preparing and piling: a pound of yellow or red potatoes, rough-cut in 1-1/2” pieces, or use 1-1/2 pounds of that monster zucchini crowding your refrigerator.
Now for the greens. Take your pick: kale, Swiss chard, collards or cabbage. Pile the leaves up and then slice them thinly into fine shreds. Give the shreds a few cross cuts. You’ll need three or four cups of packed greens.
Then the beans: two or three cups, cooked from scratch or canned. Take your pick among white navy beans, garbanzos, lima beans, black beans or even lentils. Drain the bean liquid and set it aside. (This rich bean stock can take the place of some of the water.) Put the beans in a bowl and set them on the prep tray.
Depending on how well seasoned the sausage is I usually throw in some fresh oregano, rosemary and/or sage. This is optional, use one or two sprigs, put them on your tray. (By the way, oregano, rosemary and sage are incredibly easy to grow. They are all perennial, which means everlasting. Buy plants at the nursery. They can go in pots or in the ground. With minimum care, they will thrive and give you all the fresh herbs you ever need.)
Get out the salt, olive oil, and pepper mill (fresh-ground is best) and some red pepper flakes. (I like El Guapo chile quebrado, crushed chile, from the Mexican spice rack.) Set them all on the tray.
Finally the grated Italian cheese, which is also optional: Pecorino Romano, sheep cheese, from Sardinia via Costco is the best. Grate about 3/4 cup. Leave it in the measuring cup and put that on the tray.
Your mise en place is now complete.
All set. Go cook.
Get out a big pot. This recipe makes twelve cups. Fire up your burner, put the pot on and add three tablespoons of olive oil and the sausage. Over medium heat cook and stir, sizzle and brown. Add the onions and garlic and continue stirring and browning.
With the browning there are two complex chemical processes going on. Caramelization, the browning of sugars, for sweet, nutty flavor and brown color, and the Maillard reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. The chemistry is complex but the result is deep flavors and aromas that you can smell right now.
While things are sizzling add a big pinch of black pepper and the sprig/s of green herbs (optional). Keep the heat low enough to avoid burning. Stir often and don’t worry about some sticking. This process creates the foundation of flavor for this soup. The French call this the fond.
When everything is nicely browned add 6-1/2 cups of water (include the bean juice in this measurement). Add the potatoes or zucchini. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is tender. Add the greens and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and remove herb sprigs if you used them.
Now “season to taste,” meaning salt, pepper and chili flakes, and taste, taste and taste to get it perfect. Season gradually. These last pinches make the difference between blah and great. Go for perfection. Then garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkle of cheese (optional).
In this season of change, away from summer and toward winter, this nourishing, vibrant, satisfying and warming soup really hits the spot.
View the full recipe with this article on 5ensesmag.com.
Italian Sausage, Bean and Greens Soup
Chef Molly Beverly
Makes 12 cups
2 links or 1/2-pound hot Italian sausage (pork, turkey, Field Roast plant-based)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large cloves garlic
1 large onion
6-1/2 cups water, including bean juice
1 pound red or yellow potatoes or 1-1/2 pounds zucchini/summer squash
2-3 cups cooked or canned beans (white navy beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, black beans, lentils)
1 big bunch kale, Swiss chard, collard greens or 1 head of cabbage
Optional fresh herbs: 1 sprig of any or each: fresh oregano, rosemary, sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Optional garnish: 3/4 cup grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
Peel and slice sausages. Mince garlic. Chop onion (about 3 cups). Rough-cut potatoes or zucchini in 1-1/2” rough-cut pieces. Thinly slice greens (3-4 cups packed). Drain the beans and save the liquid. Substitute this for some of the water you will be adding later. Lay out all ingredients on a baking sheet in separate piles.
Heat a 1-gallon (or larger) pot over medium heat. Add sausage and stir until browned. Add onions and garlic, a big pinch of pepper, and optional fresh herbs. Stir regularly until nicely browned. Watch carefully and avoid burning.
Add water (including any bean juice you have saved) and the potatoes or zucchini. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is tender. Add the greens and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and remove herb sprigs if you used them. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Serve garnished with grated cheese (optional).
Late summer in Prescott, walking the Farmer’s Market, I see the thick peppers, luscious tomatoes, purple-striped eggplant and summer squash in abundance, and I ask myself, “What can I do with all this lovely produce?” It’s time to gather them home: time to make ratatouille!
Ratatouille is a 200-year-old peasant dish from the sunny Mediterranean countryside of Provençe in France that showcases these abundant late-summer vegetables and herbs — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, basil, parsley, onions and garlic. Ratatouille celebrates them with unpretentious style in a simple stovetop stew. It’s delicious hot or cold, served with crusty bread, over pasta or polenta, or as a side dish. Think of it as the summer captured.
The Veggies: Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash
Gardens are bursting with these ingredients right now. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and summer squash are in season, which means best prices and best quality. Look for fully ripe (maybe a little overripe) tomatoes, firm eggplant and squash, and thick, meaty bell peppers (any color, but I love red!). You’ll need about a pound and a half of each, more or less — this is a method, not a recipe, so don’t fret over exact weights.
Cut the tomatoes finely, transferring them, including the juice, into a small bowl. Then cut everything else into roughly one-inch pieces. Put the eggplant in a separate bowl and the other ingredients on a baking sheet in separate piles.
Toss the eggplant with a teaspoon of salt. Mix it around and set it aside for about 20 minutes while you prepare everything else. The salt sucks water out of the eggplant (a process called osmosis), making the resulting cooked eggplant firmer, creamier, more savory and less oily.
Aromatics: Onion, garlic, basil, parsley
Here comes the flavor! Chop about 1-1/2 pounds of onion (any color). Finely mince six fat cloves of garlic. Pile these on the baking sheet.
Basil is at its best right now. It’s a strong herb with a tender soul. It loses flavor and turns bitter if bruised or dried. Handle it gently.
Basil is such a star in this dish that it is added twice. Tie three sprigs of basil together with some cotton string, making a basil bouquet. Then take six leaves, stack them up and, using a sharp knife, gently slice them very thinly. This is called chiffonade. Put both the bouquet and the chiffonade on your baking sheet. The bouquet will be added early to flavor the base, and you’ll sprinkle the chiffonade on top for a bright, fresh finish.
Parsley completes the garnish flavor, earthy and green. Unlike basil, it’s tough. You can chop it finely without affecting the flavor. Do that, three tablespoons. Put the parsley on your baking sheet.
The Foundation: Olive oil, red wine, salt and pepper
Good, everyday olive oil (about 1/4 cup) and any bold, dry red wine (about a cup) are basics in this recipe. The oil and wine carry flavor and add depth. Salt balances and ties flavors together. Cook without salt and you’ll notice things taste flat or sour or greasy. Add salt “to taste,” which means you have to taste and taste and taste until you taste “delicious.”
Finally, black pepper adds an earthy note; use freshly ground or coarsely cracked. When herbs or spices are finely ground, the aromatic oils are exposed to air, where they evaporate and lose potency.
Now you have your mise en place – a French culinary phrase which means “put in place” or “gathering.” It refers to the setup required before cooking.
Add vegetables one at a time, the slow-cooking ones first and the fast-cookers last to avoid overcooking and preserve their unique flavors and textures.
First dry out the eggplant. Roll it up in a dish towel and squeeze gently. For this dish you’ll need a wide skillet that holds eight cups comfortably. Use cast iron if you can. Heat the pan over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and the eggplant. Stir and turn regularly until the eggplant is lightly browned. This process concentrates flavors and caramelizes sugars. We don’t think of vegetables as having sugar, but they do. The result is a complex, nutty flavor and rich brown color. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside.
Continue over medium heat using the same pan. Add two more tablespoons of olive oil, then the garlic and onions. Stir continuously until they are golden (also caramelized). Add summer squash and stir regularly till lightly browned. Add the chopped peppers and continue stirring until they show tinges of browning. The caramelizing is finished.
Next add the tomatoes, wine, big pinches of salt and pepper, and the basil bouquet. Cover and simmer for ten minutes. Finally, stir in the eggplant. Cover and simmer a few more minutes. The vegetables should be coated with a viscous sauce, halfway between runny and dry. Add a bit of water or cook a bit longer until you have this texture. Remove the basil bouquet.
Almost ready! Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Taste again. Go for perfection. You’re not only producing a really delicious ratatouille, you’re practicing taste training. Serve sprinkled with the chiffonade of basil and the chopped parsley.
You’ll find this recipe in traditional form below, along with Maria Mancini’s creamy polenta recipe to go with it!
Serves 8. Thanks to Chef Alice Waters for inspiration.
4 tablespoons olive oil
About 1-1/2 pounds of each:
Eggplant, cut into 1" pieces
Bell pepper (any color), cut into 1" pieces
Summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1" pieces
Onion, medium chop
Ripe tomatoes, finely cut
4-6 cloves (about 2 teaspoons) finely chopped garlic
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
About 1 cup of dry red wine
3 stems of basil tied together into a basil bouquet, and 6 additional basil leaves finely sliced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Prepare the vegetables and put them on a baking sheet in separate piles. Put the tomatoes in a small bowl. Put the eggplant in another small bowl.
Toss the eggplant with 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside for 20 minutes. Roll the eggplant in a dish towel and lightly squeeze. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a wide skillet. Cook the eggplant until lightly browned, turning frequently. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté onion and garlic until golden. Add summer squash/zucchini and sauté a few minutes longer. Until lightly brown. Add bell pepper and stir until they are also lightly browned.
Add tomatoes, red wine, the basil bouquet and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Finally add eggplant. and continue the simmer for a few minutes longer. All vegetables should be soft and they should be coated with a nice viscous sauce, not watery, but not dry. Add more water if needed or turn up heat to evaporate extra liquid. Remove basil bouquet.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning. Serve garnished with finely sliced basil leaves and parsley.
Serve hot or cold, as a main or side dish, or with crusty bread, polenta, pasta, or rice. Otherwise poach an egg, chicken or fish in the sauce or add some cooked white beans. Freezes well.
"I love ratatouille over Maria Mancini’s creamy polenta. Polenta takes about 30 minutes to make, so start it first. And I always, always make extra because it’s great the next day for lunch over pasta, or for dinner with grilled fish. Or freeze some ratatouille so you can capture and enjoy the taste of late summer abundance all winter long." — Molly
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 cup dry whole grain cornmeal or polenta
4 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan that can hold 6-8 cups. Add polenta gradually, sifting it through your fingers and stirring constantly. Stir in half the oil/butter. Stir regularly, over low heat. scraping pan as needed, for about 30 minutes. The mixture will be thick. Stir in remaining oil/butter and cheese. Pour portions onto individual plates and top with sauce or pour into a pan. It will firm up as it cools, but can be easily reheated. Refrigerate to store.
The vivacious and enthusiastic school-garden champion Stephen Ritz of the South Bronx in New York believes that “education and food education go hand-in-hand because children, first and foremost, will never be well-read if they’re not well fed … and teaching children that input equals output really dictates how they treat themselves and the planet.”
He proclaims that “Teaching kids to count is cool, but teaching them what counts is even better!” Many garden educators around our area share these sentiments, and these ideals are reflected in their programs.
For Sara Reveile, Prescott’s Farm to School Coordinator, one of the main goals of garden education in Prescott Unified School District is nutrition education and connecting kids with local farms and produce. She hopes that experiences in the garden will encourage kids to eat healthy foods and learn where their food comes from. She notes that kids are more willing to taste fruits or vegetables that they “poured their souls into growing.”
As a result of our modern food systems, most of what kids eat comes from the Three Bs: bags, boxes, and bottles. Any activity that inspires kids to eat fresh, whole foods, especially those grown right at home or at school, help build healthier habits and healthier kids.
At schools throughout Prescott Unified School District, Reveile helps organize tasting events in which students get to share and celebrate the foods they have grown. The Yavapai Community Health Department, local farmers and representatives of the Prescott Farmer’s Market often attend these events to help students learn more about local agriculture and how it connects with their health and lives.
Tasting events at some of Prescott’s Title 1 schools often result in kids trying certain vegetables for the first time. For educators like Reveile, the hope is that students will take their enthusiasm for these new foods home and feel inspired to expand their diets or even start their own home gardens with their families. As a school-garden educator myself at Skyview School, some of my favorite moments are when parents email me pictures of their children working in the kitchen, or their family sitting around the dinner table eating something my students tasted at school, or even grew at school and brought home to share with their families.
Scholly Ketcher, a master gardener and volunteer at Primavera School, echoes the sentiment that teaching children where food comes from and how fresh-grown foods taste is an important goal of edible education. Scholly first worked with students in Head Start programs, and was able to witness the beauty and benefit of watching kids sink skin into the soil. She admitted that even when garden projects fail to produce the abundant produce one hopes for, there is still huge value in students learning and working outside. Scholly enjoys volunteering at Primavera, where they are currently revitalizing and expanding their existing school garden.
In addition to health and nutrition education, a core goal of school gardens throughout our community is environmental education. In the gardens students learn about plants, animals and soil, as well as the complex systems and cycles in which they interact.
Sarah Vincent, education director at the Highlands Center for Natural History, points out that research shows “people learn best in outdoor classrooms,” and the center’s staff and volunteers take this to heart. The organization hosts a wide variety of onsite programs for people of all ages and abilities, as well as a schoolyard habitat program.
The Highlands Center takes great pride in being a mission-driven nonprofit serving the community as a leader in environmental education and sustainability for over 25 years. During that time it has helped establish over ten schoolyard habitat gardens, in every one of Prescott’s public schools. These schoolyard habitats aim to lift up native plant and pollinator species and help students develop an appreciation for the long history of humans interacting with and relying on our local plant communities for physical and cultural survival.
Whether students are on campus at the Highlands Center or learning in a schoolyard habitat, Sarah Vincent explains that their main goals are to help students gain skill and knowledge, develop connections to place, and give them opportunities to experience moments of quiet observation and mindful reflection.
Developing physical connections with place is vital for kids. Whether it is “hiking, rolling down a hill, or smelling a tree,” Vincent affirms that opportunities for exploration and play engage students on a deeper level than many traditional learning experiences.
Among garden-based educators around town an important conversation is emerging about the possibilities of integrating edible gardens and schoolyard habitats. These conversations reflect broader trends toward more regenerative and ecologically informed agricultural practices. A thriving, productive garden depends on healthy soils, water, and intact pollinator populations. Food production does not occur as an isolated process. All the natural cycles that occur in a wild environment also play out in a garden ecosystem. This is why many people are drawing inspiration from the food forest agricultural model.
Skyview School has been intentionally working on this model for several years. The school’s habitat garden is a food forest that includes native flowering plants with fruit trees, berries and seasonal bean crops. In turn, the spaces dedicated to crop production are flanked with native wildflowers and shrubs. We employ companion planting, and you’ll find very few straight rows anywhere in the garden.
While this model may not work for all school-garden spaces, even having more typical habitat gardens in close proximity with a school’s edible garden provides powerful, exciting and often spontaneous learning opportunities for kids.
To be future problem-solvers, students will need to tackle complex issues like climate change and food insecurity through creative, integrated, whole-system approaches. What better place to develop systems-level thinking than in a garden? Likewise, we all greatly need agricultural practices based on regeneration, not just sustainability, to improve the health of our planet and ensure healthy food is available for all people into the future.
Prescott schools have a lot to be proud of! It’s clear that local educators and administrators recognize the importance of joining the nationwide educational trend toward incorporating garden-based learning with core curricula and school environments. Like the Bronx educator Steven Ritz has long recognized, Prescott’s schools are embracing the belief that “the ability to produce food in cities, hyper-local, hyper-fresh and hyper-connected, creates opportunities for learning, better health, better wealth, better nutrition and a more robust society. There is just no better aim for our schools!
The goal of Torme is to create a unique, relaxing, community-based bistro with contemporary European influences, featuring simple presentations with quality ingredients, friendly service and, of course, Pings.
In the years Barry Barbe has been in Prescott he’s created seven restaurants — Zuma’s, Belvedere’s, 129-1/2, Acme, Monk’s, the Triple Creek Kitchen Hilton Garden Inn, and El Gato Azul — each better than the last. Torme, he says, is his last. He's back at his favorite job: being in the kitchen, rolling out the pasta, welcoming guests and hobnobbing with his staff.
It’s also his best yet. The location is a modest 1920s Prescott bungalow, once on the quiet edge of Prescott’s past. Now it’s the buzzing corner of Fair and Valley Streets, right across from the busy Fry’s market. Barry thought Torme would be up and running in ninety days, but it took nine months. “Almost 100 years old, the little old house was pretty rough,” says Barry. “It needed a lot of work.”
Barry is returning to what he does best — soups, pasta, dressings, salads and sauces, made fresh every day from scratch using the very best seasonal ingredients sourced from local growers, the restaurant's own kitchen garden (going in this summer), complemented with special choices from the finest international suppliers.
The interior glows with relaxing understatement. Like the food, it’s quiet and elegant, from the muted grey-green walls, amiable staff, comfortable seating and colorful art (produced by Barry’s Prescott friends), to the smooth jazz floating through the air. Barry envisions Torme as a casual local restaurant with a neighborly vibe.
Soon there will be patio dining and a grab-and-go “cucina” market featuring menu items, gourmet cheeses and cured meats. This summer Torme will be available for special parties on weekends (for groups of up to 130). It’s a great location for a wedding, bar mitzvah or quinceañera with the able assistance of catering director Jennifer Garber.
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of sitting down with Barry for a chat and a taste of the menu. Service started with olive oil-rosemary focaccia, carrot slaw (honey, mustard, tarragon) and house-made boursin cheese (ricotta, goat cheese, fresh herbs, garlic, black pepper) — a really good start.
Next, “An Ode: Primo Ravioli,” consisting of oversized fresh pasta filled with four cheeses (goat, Parmesan, ricotta and cream), flavor notes of chives, nutmeg, lemon zest, and finished with toasted hazelnuts in browned butter. Bravo! This is Barry's signature dish, embodying the way he looks at food, not smothering our tastebuds with one overwhelming flavor, but featuring an undercurrent of “pings.” With every bite, a different “ping” of flavor. Barry says this “embodies everything I look for when I have food.”
I sipped on “Strawberry Fields,” which Barry describes as “a riff on the classic cocktail, with Kettle One, St. Germain, strawberries, and thyme. St. Germain is a great liquor made of elderflower, and has a sweet floral nose that screams ‘spring.’ When paired with thyme and strawberries, the cocktail resembles our goal of creating ‘pings’ for the palette.”
Barry and I enjoyed several dishes full of “pings.” I fell hard for the Fig and Prosciutto Salad — I do love figs — beautifully presented on a bed of baby greens and carrots. Oh, so full of “pings.” sharp and fruity, meaty and creamy, blessed with rich fig balsamic and cracked black pepper.
“Good food,” Barry says, “is not that difficult. It’s simple and straightforward.” Yes, especially when Barry puts it together with a lifetime of research, knowledge, understanding and creativity.
I have a soft spot for smoked salmon. Fettuccine Di Spinachi Con Salmone Affumicato — even the name is delicious. That translates to fresh spinach pasta, caramelized onions, garlic, Italian pancetta bacon, roasted tomatoes, house-smoked salmon, cracked pepper and pine nuts, and even the description is delicious.
Every day Barry and his dedicated staff make their traditional red sauce (sautéed carrots, onions, parsley, oregano, with red wine, plum tomatoes and two or three hours of slow simmering), hand-twist tortellini and hand-fill ravioli, freshly grind and season Italian sausage (pork, fennel, red pepper, oregano, basil, garlic and a few secret ingredients), all the sauces and dressings (aioli, pesto, puttanesca, vinaigrette) and bake fresh olive-oil focaccia. They make everything on the menu every day. Nothing sits more than 24 hours.
Every day Barry and co-workers are in the kitchen doing what they love most with passion, just waiting for you to stop by.
Torme Restaurant is at 802 Valley Street in Prescott, open Monday through Friday 11-3, with evening hours and patio seating coming soon. Closed weekends. Reservations recommended; call 928-778-7123 or email@example.com.
The old, dirt South Cross L Ranch Road through the high desert brings me to a cliff edge towering over a rough arroyo gulch. The view past the arroyo spills down onto a field of flat bottom land and the distant brushy banks of the Agua Fria River. Perched atop this cliff is an otherworldly cluster of buildings looking quite like an alien space colony.
Tall concrete buildings are cut by cantilevered porches, porticoes, and expansive round windows. Soaring arches and landscape-sized half-shell apses are decorated with bold architectural designs. Is this a dreamscape?
Yes. It was Paolo Soleri’s architecturally designed dream of a city built on the human scale, where cars are left behind, buildings work with natural forces instead of against them, spaces are designed for comfort, entertainment and services, and it all blends into the natural landscape with minimal environmental impact. The visionary Italian architect started Arcosanti in 1970 as a prototype city of the future, where residents could live good lives surrounded by work, play, community and nature. Over 50 years later his message, blending architecture and ecology — arcology — is more powerful than ever.
Arcosanti is more than a model. It’s home to over a hundred working residents. It’s an event center (get married at Arocosanti!), a performance hall, a research facility, an educational lab, an architecture school, a very unusual AirBnB, an artisan bell factory with a store, and a café. Visitors and guests come to explore, to learn, or to stay. Some visit the café for lunch and an excellent brew while taking a break from the high-speed freeway lanes between Prescott and Phoenix.
In the café I sit down with Nikki Check, Director of Guest Experience and Operations, and Kate Bermesderfer, Senior Director of Communications and Development. Like the outside, the interior space is out of this world. It’s open and airy, with private nooks, soaring views and the intermittent reverberating sounds of gigantic Arcosanti bells.
Nikki and Kate fill me in on what’s happening. Arcosanti is emerging from pandemic isolation by reviving art shows, performances and educational events to spread the word that Arcosanti remains a viable prototype for the good life in harmony with the planet.
Nikki treats me to the special of the day: High Desert Salad (tepary beans, nopal, tomato and avocado) dressed with hot sauce, cotija cheese and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) on a bed of Arco greens and a cup of exceptional locally roasted, fair-trade coffee. The café specializes in simple, seasonal, healthy, garden-to-table and flavorful food, with gluten-free and vegan options. It has been completely renovated with new kitchen equipment, flooring, countertops and lighting, and a redesign of the space. And it’s newly reopened with a seasoned, innovative chef and a fresh focus on Arcosanti-grown and local products.
New orchards are being planted, adding to the existing olive, fig and apple trees. Several Arcosanti greenhouses grow greens and salads, tomatoes and cucumbers for the café in season. The twelve-acre bottomland field will be planted in beans, corn and other edibles for use in the café. Local wild plants like prickly pear and mesquite will be sustainably foraged for specials.
After lunch I catch the Arcosanti tour (three or four daily, $18 per person, children free) and enjoy the guided exploration. The striking half-shell apses are outdoor factories for bronze and ceramic bells. You can watch the artisans at work pouring liquid bronze or clay into forms and finishing each with a unique Arcosanti design. The silt-casting techniques used to make the bells are the same ones used to form the apses and arches! More huge silt-cast arches span the central meeting and performance spaces.
We visit the library, archives room, a classroom and the swimming pool, with stellar view, set on the cliff edge. It’s the cliff edge I like the most, with sweeping views, vertical Italian junipers, verdant fig and olive trees, fragrant rosemary bushes, and a parklike atmosphere. Trails lead across the desert highlands and down toward the Agua Fria.
The tour begins and ends at the bell store, offering hundreds of bronze and ceramic bells, each one different, hanging singly or mounted in arrangements, small ones, large ones, tinkly tones and deep reverberations. It’s a fantastical end to a fantastical visit, and I’m taking a bell home. Every house needs a bell. (You can order bells online at cosanti.com)
Next time you’re screaming down the highway, take that exit at Cordes Junction and follow the Arcosanti signs into human time. Take that exit to discover how we can live lightly and better on the earth, and relax with a good cup of coffee.
Arcosanti is open to the public seven days a week 9am-5pm. Visitors may shop, relax, and gather in the Visitors Center free of charge. The café is open Thursday through Monday, 8:30am-3:30pm. Make reservations for specialty tours, classes or workshops, or find jobs, rooms, performances and festivals on the website (arcosanti.org) or call 928-632-7135. Register for the free online speaker series Food in the Desert: arcosanti.org/lecture-series.
February 2 is Groundhog Day, the day farmers and gardeners start thinking about plantings for the coming season. I talked with several of Prescott's star farmers and gardeners to see how they assess the ‘21 growing season and what they plan for '22. The answers were all interesting, and each offered a nugget of farming insight. This month I’m featuring the Mortimer, Whipstone and Delicious Earth Farms, as well as urban gardener Kathleen Corum.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashlee Mortimer, marketing manager and eldest child of farmer Gary Mortimer. Mortimer Farms is a direct-marketed, public-access, you-pick, educational, festival and adventure farm. Started in 2010 on the 150-acre site of historic Young's Farm, it is family-owned and operated, dedicated to sharing the joys of farming.
Ashlee started right up telling me about the biggest wonder of 2021, blackberries. “Customers who came to pick were rewarded with big sweet blackberries, the best ever. Of course, kids showed off their blackberry-stained hands and smiles.”
In 2021 Mortimer designed and planted a high-tech corn maze using a tractor guided by GPS satellites, and installed two greenhouses that extend the growing season. In January they were already harvesting beets and lettuce, with early tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini on the way.
Ashlee says, “2022 will be the first harvest of the new orchard with 3,600 apple and peach trees. And we're redesigning our public space into a garden relaxation area, with tables, benches, water features, you-pick vegetables and berries, and herb and lavender beds.” Smell the lavender, hang out with the flowers, birds and bees, pick your own berries and eat lunch. The Windmill kitchen is open on weekends 10-6. It doesn't get any better than that.
Ashlee reminded me that at the end of 2020 the Mortimer family was able to purchase the farm property, where before it was on a long-term lease. So Mortimer Farms will be a community asset for generations to come. Go, visit, enjoy and support.
Mortimer Family Farms is located at the corner of Highways 69 and 169 in Dewey-Humboldt, 12907 E. State Route 169, Dewey. Mortimerfamilyfarms.com
Kathleen is a retired engineer living in Grandview Estates in Prescott Valley. On her residential lot she grows almost 150 different fruits and berries: apples, European and Asian pears, apricots, Japanese and European plums, pluots, peaches and nectarines, quinces, pomegranates, elderberries, cherries, currants, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, josta berries, grapes, mulberries, strawberries and figs. In addition, she has several lush vegetable beds and a couple of fish ponds. And she still has room for her house! Kathleen is a wonder of small-scale complexity. In 2021 the fruit trees yielded a bumper crop. Kathleen was slammed with a lot of fresh fruit to manage — dry, freeze, can, jam, juice, jelly — an exhausting wealth of abundance. That doesn't happen every year. Sometimes late frost zaps all the emerging flowers, sometimes disease or birds get them.
For 2022 Kathleen is planning her vegetable garden to avoid the “late-August food-preservation slam.” She's starting now in hot beds with quickly maturing crops like radishes, carrots, lettuce and greens, that can be eaten right away and don't need processing for storage.
Occasionally Kathleen gives tours. If you'd like to see the ultimate in urban gardens, contact Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shanti and Corey Rade of Whipstone Farm are Prescott's premier local farmers. On their 15-acre farm they grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and flowers year-round. They sell at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, offer a summer CSA*, sell wholesale to restaurants and florists, and stock a farmstand at the farm, where I love to shop. Shanti says, “We farm with our heart and health in mind.”
Shanti found 2021 super-challenging. Covid was a huge disruption. Sales were good, but the input prices skyrocketed and labor was scarce. In a normal year they employ twelve workers, but in 2021 they were down to six at times. Sometimes they got seeds in the ground but didn't have the labor to care for the plants. That crop had to be abandoned, a lost effort for Whipstone and less great veggies for us all. Seeds were in incredibly short supply. The seed companies were also short-staffed; some seed orders took up to eight weeks to arrive.
Shanti hopes the labor problems will resolve in 2022. She knows that farm work is hard and doesn't pay much more than minimum. Still, her workers are like family and she wants them to afford a better quality of life. Shanti predicts price increases for 2022 given the increases in minimum wage and costs for shipping, supplies and seeds.
Veggies from our local growers are worth much more than what you find at the grocery store: fresher (less waste), superior variety, organic practices, and funding the local community. Local produce is actually pretty comparable to supermarket prices, but of much higher value all around. There’s nothing better than knowing your local farmer.
Their well stocked, always open farmstand is at 2164 North Juniper Ridge Road,
* The Whipstone Farm CSA is a subscription program where members pay up front for the season and in return receive a weekly box of fresh, locally grown veggies and/or bouquet of flowers. See the website for details.
Earl Duque and Delisa Myles own and run Delicious Earth Farm, the small urban farm on Gail Gardner Way across from the fairgrounds. Watch for the summer farmstand with Earl's hearth-baked artisan sourdough breads, in addition to Delicious Earth vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Earl grew three super-successful crops in 2021.
Lettuce: He planted ten varieties week-by-week in succession, so the lettuce could be harvested at peak crispness and sweetness. Lettuce turns tough and bitter if not picked at the optimal time.
Eggplant: I personally attest to the farm’s most-radiant deep purple, fulsome corrugated Black Beauty eggplants. They are excellent in ratatouille, the French vegetable stew, served over corn polenta with a generous shaving of Pecorino Romano. Mama mia!
Cushaw squash: This is a big-necked, green-and-yellow-striped heritage winter squash that keeps well into early spring.
For 2022, Earl plans to experiment with Asian crops from the Kitazawa seed company (Kitazawa.com). The catalog is fascinating, full of vegetables that I've never seen or grown, but now I’m inspired to give them a try. Delisa will be growing cut flowers. Watch for them as you drive by and remember to stop by on Wednesday evenings this summer.
Earl loves gardening and thinks of his biggest success as community-building. Gardening is non-political, drawing people of all persuasions in to chat and make connections. Contact Delicious Earth Farm at email@example.com, or facebook.com/DeliciousEarthFarm. The farmstand is at 530 Fairgrounds Avenue in Prescott, open Wednesdays June-September, 5-7pm.
Next month I'll be continuing this report with community and school gardens and how you can get started with a garden in your own back yard.
Earl shared his recipe for Delicious Earth Stuffed Cushaw Squash. (You can use any winter squash with a big seed cavity.) Cut off the neck and make it into squash soup later. (If your squash does not have a neck, skip this step). Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Fill the hollow with fully cooked and fully spiced rice stuffing. Now invert the stuffed squash on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender. To serve, cut the squash body into triangles, like a pizza, and turn them back to reveal the stuffing.
Hi. My name is Tala and I’m four years old.
I love Nature Niños. It’s so, so exciting. Every month we play in nature. Last week I made a boat out of bark, sticks and leaves. I found cicada shells and made a little world for them to play in. Once it rained and we made mud meatballs. I made a picture out of leaves. There were stumps to walk on back and forth. I went the whole way without falling off. Last week there were free hats and scarves; I got a yellow hat and a pink scarf! I like to sit in the rock circle and make soup out of dirt and rocks. Roxanna reads stories about the woods and the animals. Sometimes Spanish stories. I can talk to my friend Cecelia in Spanish. Hey, come play with me at the next Nature Niños. You’ll really like it!
My whole family comes, Mommy and Daddy and baby Jerry and even Grandpa sometimes. Mom likes to talk to the other moms about how to take care of babies, which isn’t easy. Dad took Jerry in the water and they got their feet wet. That made them giggle. Grandpa and I went on a scavenger hunt. That’s like a treasure hunt in the woods. We found red leaves and acorns and rabbit tracks. Then we went on a hike and found the creek. I tried out my boat. It floated! Ranger Ellen helped me jump all the way over. That was scary fun. Ranger Ellen helps me feel strong and happy in the woods.
The best thing about Nature Niños is that everyone can come. Everyone is happy and everyone can play. There’s so, so much to do. The worst thing about Nature Niños is that it only happens once a month. But now I know where the good places are, and we can go again and again.
Nature Niños is a free, bilingual nature-play program designed for kids up to age eight, their families and caregivers. The program meets at a different park or trailhead the first Saturday of each month,10am-noon, rain or shine (schedule below). Each location has been selected for family-friendly amenities like easy parking, trails that can handle little feet and strollers, bathrooms, water and shade. The event features welcoming supervision and multiple-activity play areas, such as playing with natural materials, nature-focused art projects, guided hikes and scavenger hunts, story and music time, weather-related giveaways, healthy snacks, and family-focused support. The goal is to bring littles and their families into the abundant natural resources in our area.
Nature Niños is the brainchild of eight women representing the Community Nature Center, Yavapai County Health Department, Yavapai County Extension Office, City of Prescott Recreation Services, the Natural History Institute, Americorps/Vista, and Prescott College. Working with their local agencies, they cooperated to find a friendly, fun solution to getting kids and their families out into Prescott’s wealth of natural spaces. Supporters include over 19 organizational partners, including First Things First, Arizona’s Children, GEM Environmental, and the National Wildlife Federation’s ECHO program.
Why is this important? Research shows again and again that immersion in the natural outdoor world builds strong, intelligent, healthy, happy and well adjusted people.
This focus is endorsed by the US Centers for Disease Control, US Department of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association.
If you need more evidence, just look around. You don’t need a bunch of studies to show how well this project works, you can see it in the kids and families. It’s a wealth of healthy interactive learning, and the kids are just bursting with joy. So, Tala says, take the kiddos to Nature Niños. Together we can teach our children how to protect their health and the health of the planet.
Rain or shine, usually the first Saturday of each month, 10am-noon
Jan 8: Pioneer Park and Brownlow Trails
February 5: Vista Park
March 5: Constellation Trails
April 2: Community Nature Center
May 7: Highlands Center for Natural History
June 4: Peavine Trail
July 9: Heritage Park and Willow Lake Trails
August 6: Goldwater Lake
You can find more information about Nature Niños at these websites:
Home gardening is booming. Due to the pandemic, demand for seeds has skyrocketed and seed companies have run short of vegetable seeds. Apparently being stuck at home with time to kill moved folks to look for healthy exercise, healthy food, something educational to do with the kids, and stress relief. Gardening fills that bill.
Even better, gardening is scientifically proven to make you happier. That's because dirt has microbes in it (mycobacterium vaccae) that produce the mood elevator and antidepressant serotonin in the brain. (“Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Way to Antidepressants,” medicalnewstoday.mom)
Early this spring I Zoomed in on Prescott College's “Food Systems Friday” and listened to a presentation by Gwen Garcelon of the Roaring Fork Food Alliance, who described her project to build community resilience and food-security by teaching people how to grow food. She enlisted university-trained master gardeners from her area, matched them with beginning gardeners one-on-one, and the gardens happened. I thought, “this would be a great pandemic project for Slow Food Prescott,” of which I am the chair. “We can do this.”
I called Gwen for help and we approached Jeff Schalau, director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Yavapai County, and Mary Barnes, program coordinator for Yavapai County Master Gardeners. Master gardeners are required to put in a number of volunteer hours, and they were hard-pressed to find pandemic-safe choices. They liked the idea and we joined forces.
We distributed applications and found 20 experienced mentors familiar with local growing conditions and 20 enthusiastic beginning gardeners. Then we matched them up, and the Grow Food In Your Backyard Project was launched to teach people how to grow food.
The mentors acted as advisers and coaches, while the gardeners put in the labor. They worked together to analyze the particular climate, location and soil conditions, build garden beds and install irrigation systems, select the right seeds and plants for the season(and account for family likes and dislikes), identify weeds, resolve disease, insect, and pest problems, and know when and how to harvest. That's a lot to figure out and learn.
I started growing food in my backyard over 50 years ago, knowing nothing. I made a bazillion mistakes. I overwatered and underwatered, over-fertilized and under-fertilized. I planted the wrong crops at the wrong times. I planted in bad soil. I harvested too early and too late. I battled strangling vines, sucking aphids, invasive Bermudagrass, corn borers, blister beetles, tomato hornworms, mold, viruses, snails, rabbits and javelina, and sometimes I lost. My garden was flattened by hail and heavy winds, scorched and shriveled by searing heat and restored by life-giving monsoons. Eventually it paid off with fresh, healthy, delicious and abundant garden harvests, while enjoying the wonder and reward of it all.
Growing food is a dance with nature, a grand adventure, and you never know what’s coming next. It teaches us patience, humility and persistence. In the words of my favorite vegetable grower, farmer Corey Rade of Whipstone Farm, “Just don't give up.”
The project needed labor and money to build garden infrastructure like raised beds, irrigation systems and fencing. It needed donations for seeds and seedlings, soil, fertilizer and tools. Here's where the real magic happened.
Armed with a strong letter of intent and the backing of the UofA Extension, we marched out into the community and asked. We received a fantastic response in seeds, soil, plants, tools, drip systems, water timers, liquid fertilizer, lumber and cash. We are grateful for grant support from the Yavapai Community Foundation, the Alta Vista Garden Club and Trinity Presbyterian Church.
Wonderful volunteer gardeners and mentors worked together to build raised beds filled with composted soil, install water timers and drip tape, fence out rabbits and trap gophers. Seeds were planted. They came up! The seedlings grew into peppers, chiles, squash and other veggies. Weeds were pulled. Lush gardens gave us a bountiful harvest.
The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project developed into a community, sharing problems and solutions over Zoom, touring each other’s gardens and enjoying a potluck garden celebration. Thanks to Rita Carey of YRMC's “Your Healthy Kitchen,” we have a video on the project, with interviews and a garden tour. To see it, search for “The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project” on YouTube.
In the final evaluation there were certainly some problems this first year, but every single gardener said that they will be growing food in their backyard next year. Of course, growing food is addictive and contagious, and we're doing it again.
The Grow Food In Your Backyard Project is powering up for an even more successful 2022 season, and we need you. If you're an experienced gardener, we need more mentors. (You don’t have to be an expert.)If you're a beginning gardener, we want to help you succeed. Request applications for both mentors and gardeners at PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.
If you live outside the Prescott/Yavapai County area and would like to bring this project to your town, contact Gwen Garcelon of the Roaring Fork Food Alliance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Molly.
What do autumn leaves and red peppers have in common? They both start off green, full of chlorophyll, and turn red in the fall.
Chlorophyll is a huge, complex molecule responsible for photosynthesis, which“ is largely responsible for producing and maintaining the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere and supplies most of the energy needed for life on Earth,” says Wikipedia.
So your green leaves and green peppers both produce oxygen and energy. The cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall trigger change. Trees and peppers degrade the green chlorophyll into bright yellow, orange, and red compounds. In the peppers these are health-promoting phytochemicals and antioxidants, like vitamins C and A. The shift in flavor is astounding, changing from grassy and slightly bitter to aromatic, fruity and sweet. (I haven’t tasted the leaves .…)
Fall is the season for sweet red peppers, and now is the time to use them lavishly. Yes, red peppers cost more. That’s because they ripen on the plant longer while developing those beneficial compounds and rich flavors. At the same time, they are exposed to more destructive forces like insects, molds and sun scald.
Pick thick-fleshed, bright red, firm peppers at the grocery or Farmer’s Market. Raw sweet red peppers are a delight in salads as a crunchy garnish or as scoops for dips. Cooking concentrates and intensifies the natural sugars and flavors. Try the following experiment and see which method you like. To start, buy three pounds.
Chopraw peppers into half-inch pieces and sauté in olive oil with chopped garlic, onions, salt and pepper until the peppers are shriveled and have brown spots. Taste. Adjust seasoning.* Taste again. Wow! Fried red peppers are great alone, but don’t stop there. Toss them with pasta and grated Romano cheese, scramble them with eggs, make Chicken Cacciatoria, or try my Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta recipe below.
Place whole peppers on a grill over a hot flame. If you have a gas stove or barbecue, set them on the burner grid; if your range is electric, roast under the broiler. Grill over a wood fire for an even more complex, sweet-smoky flavor. Using tongs, turn the peppers often. You’re looking for a blush of char (not charcoal) here. When lightly blackened all over, toss the peppers into a bowl and pop on a lid. Allow them to cool, then the skins will easily slip off underrunning water. Remove the skins, stems and seeds.
Fora sumptuous Roasted Red Pepper Salad, cut the peppers up, drizzlethem with extra-virgin olive oil, a grind of pepper and a flourish ofsalt. Add another layer with sliced, fresh mozzarella. Mamma mia, dothat’s good! Expand this idea with cooked cubed potatoes, Greek olives, white beans and/or chopped fresh herbs. You don’t need a recipe.
I freeze hundreds of red peppers every fall to add some color to the gray days of winter. I love this recipe from Spain: Potatoes in Roasted Red Pepper Dressing. Check it out under Recipes, below.
and make red pepper paste: Remove the stems and seeds and put the peppers into a blender. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt and sugar, and grind as smoothly as possible. Pour this puree into a wide skillet and heat over a gentle flame. Cook slowly and stir regularly, to a jam-like consistency. Taste and adjustseasoning.* Chill. Then get out the crackers and cheese for a smackdown super-flavor, super-healthy appetizer.
Absolutely modify the spices — garlic, onions, curry powder, marjoram, thyme, etc. — to your taste. Use red pepper paste on and in anything, like toast, in sandwiches, minestrone soup or hummus. One pound of red peppers will give you about ½ cup of highly concentrated summer sunshine. You will not have enough. Make more.
When the leaves start turning it’s red-pepper season. Fresh, fried, fire-roasted or paste, enjoy them now and fill your freezer for a taste of summer sun all winter long!
*Adjust seasoning: While cooking always taste your dish before you serve it. Add salt, sugar, pepper and more spices or herbs to achieve a perfect balance.
Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta
Makes one 10-1/2”-diameter skillet, 4-6 servings
1/4-pound pasta, spiral rotini or tubes
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (about 3) red peppers, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped firm tomatoes
2 large pinches cracked red pepper, more or less to taste
Additional olive oil, as needed
Cook pasta in boiling water al dente. Rinse with cold water. Toss with a little olive oil and set aside. Beat eggs together and add cheese.
Heat1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet (preferably cast iron)and sauté peppers, garlic and onion until golden. Add salt, tomatoes and cracked red pepper. Remove from pan, scrape clean and set aside.
Pour the remaining olive oil into the scraped pan. Heat over medium flame, then add enough eggs to cover the bottom of the pan. Add half of the other ingredients, distributing them well. Cover with half the remaining eggs, then the other half of the ingredients. Finish with the remaining eggs. Cover and cook over low heat until set. Flip the fritatta over and cook the top. Alternatively, slide the fritatta under a broiler and cook until the top is firm. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Potatoes In Red Pepper Dressing
A classic Spanish tapas dish. Serves 6.
2 pounds red or white potatoes, all about the same size
1 pound red bell peppers
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or miso
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
12 black olives, pitted (preferably Greek)
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in simmering water until just tender for 20-30 minutes depending upon the size of the potatoes. Drain and chill. Peel and cut into one-inch pieces. Boil eggs 15 minutes. Run under cold water and peel. Cut olives into quarters.
Roast the peppers. Place them under a broiler, on the open flame of a gas range, or on a charcoal grill. Turn frequently until the skin is well charred and bubbly all over but not burned through. Wrap in a damp towel. To peel, dunk pepper in cold water. Skin will peel off easily. Remove stem and seeds.
Place the peppers, cayenne pepper, sugar and anchovy paste or miso in food processor or blender and process until pureed. Add oil and vinegar and buzz until blended.
Ina medium bowl combine potatoes, roasted pepper sauce and olives. Toss lightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Keeps refrigerated for five days.
Photos by Molly
What Allee Steinberg of Two Bites Bakery loves most is when customers say, “That was the best (blank) I’ve ever had.” Patrons of her stand at the Prescott Farmer’s Market have a multitude of reasons to say it: Green Chili Cheddar Scones, Chocolate-Chip Chili Cookies, Triple-Citrus Gingerbread, apricot biscotti, buttermilk honey rolls, asiago-cheese bread, challah, deli rye and Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Bread, among many, as well as her best seller, Chocolate Halvah Sweet Rolls, which are stuffed with chocolate chunks, sesame paste and halvah (a sesame chocolate confection).
But Allee and Al, her husband and business assistant, weren’t always deliciously creative bakers. In 2005 they were another retired couple, escapees from harsh Midwest weather, enchanted by the Prescott area and bumping around for something to do. Allee had been a dental hygienist. She had never run a business or gone to culinary school, or even worked in food service. Then she discovered the Arizona Cottage Food Program, which licenses baking in home kitchens. Allee told herself, “I’ll just bake some stuff and sell it at the farmer’s market.” They were already dedicated market patrons, and Allee found the PFM requirements consistent with her own values — 10% local ingredients, and producer-only sales. So the adventure began.
Allee loves cooking and had been baking since she was 16.When she married Al in 1974 she was determined to learn to bake whole-wheat bread. The first loaves were heavy, “thick as a brick,” and she learned to balance the heaviness of whole grain with lighter flour. Then there was the sourdough experiment. Allee caught, cultivated and adopted her own lively starter that she’s been dedicated to ever since. They even take it on vacation!
A producer-only market means that everything sold at the market is grown or produced by the seller. Allee loved the idea of knowing where her food comes from and having a personal relationship with the farmer, rancher, brewer, candy maker or baker. She incorporated this concept by sourcing ingredients from Hayden Mills, The Honey Man, Danzeisen Dairy, Whipstone Farm, Skull Valley Lavender Farm, other PFM vendors, even eggs from her backyard chickens. Allee believes that fresher, high-quality, local ingredients make for a better experience.
In 2013 Allee and Al opened Two Bites Bakery at PFM. Monday through Friday Allee starts baking at 7am and works through till 4:30, when she “takes a break” to cook dinner. Then she packages and stores everything and finishes around 8:30. Every Saturday year-round Allee and Al stock their table with 100 loaves of bread, trays of sweet rolls and scones, eleven different cookies and biscotti in a wide variety, with seasonal variations. Every Saturday Two Bites Bakery practically sells out. Allee says “I never thought it would be so successful.”
Interested in experiencing “the best” baked goods you’ve ever tasted? Visit the Two Bites Bakery stand at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, and get there early if you’d like to try her Chocolate-Chip Chili Cookies or Chocolate Halvah Sweet Rolls.
Photos by Gary Beverly
My mind’s eye pictured the old Prescott, dirt roads and small cabins with homestead gardens over-spilling with prized tomato vines. I fantasized that generations of seed-saving gardeners had selected a tomato perfectly adjusted to our place on earth. I wanted to taste it. I wanted this tomato.
I ordered seed, which germinated quickly, grew rapidly, and produced nice fruit early and abundantly, right up to frost. The tomatoes surprised me. They were smallish but definitely not cherry tomatoes. They had a lot of characteristics of plum tomatoes, with dense flesh and no belly-button core. And they ripened well, sitting on the counter, resisting rot and mold. They were substantial and pulpy enough to make a rich tomato sauce. Best of all, they were not too sweet or too sour, extraordinarily balanced, and actually fulsome delicious. That first season we enjoyed Prescott tomatoes fresh, dried, sauced, and canned.
Alas, the next time I checked, Prescott tomatoes were no longer listed in Native Seeds-Search offerings. A search brought me to only one company, Tomato fest in Carmel, California. That's when I decided that this tomato has to come home, back to Prescott. I took this on as a challenge.
Tomato fest (tomatofest.com) owner Gary Lloyd Ibsen generously donated hundreds of seeds in 2018 and 2019 to be distributed at local seed-exchange events. Over the pandemic year I put in 20plants and distributed the seeds freely. Seeds and plants went out to Slow Food gardeners, the Farmer's Market seed exchange and the Public Library seed bank.
I wanted to learn more. I called Native Seeds-Search and asked, “Who brought these seeds in? When? What's the backstory?” The answer was “Sorry, they were dropped off by someone from Prescott, but we have no other record. We just don't know.”
Meanwhile, Native Seeds-Search needed someone in the Prescott area to grow seed for their collection. Of course I volunteered. For the 2021 season I planted exclusively Prescott tomatoes and no other variety so they wouldn’t cross-pollinate. I planned to save seed, replenish the Native Seeds-Search stock, and distribute seed and tomatoes (with seed-saving instructions) to all of Prescott.
Native Seeds-Search sent me 400 seeds that were last grown in 2011, with a tested germination rate of only 24%. I planted them all in flats. After a week a few tomato sprouts came up. As they grew, I transplanted them into cups. Six weeks later they were still coming up. By that time the first emergent tomatoes were ready to go into the garden I had the 80 plants I needed and 80 more to give away.
That's how I wound up at the Farmer's Market on a mid-May Saturday morning with trays of Prescott tomato plants. And that's when I ran into my longtime friend, Prescott native Janet Markham.
“How would you like a Prescott Tomato plant?” I asked.
“Oh,” Janet said, “are those the tomatoes that John Hays grew for years? The little rosy plum tomatoes that grow so vigorously and reseed themselves everywhere?”
“Is that the John Hays, former Arizona state senator, of the historic Hays Ranch in Peeples Valley?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, that's right.”
I say, “Can you put me in touch?”
Janet told me, “I’m meeting his daughter in an hour, I'll get you her number.”
State Senator John Upton Hays died in 2016 at the age of 88. His daughter, Becky Hays Rovey, still lives on the family ranch (established in 1912) and keeps his garden.
So I took the drive to Peeples Valley and met Becky. She talked about how her father loved this tomato, grew it for 50years, saved seed and distributed plants to friends. He wanted to share and preserve this unusual variety, so probably was the one who took it to Native Seeds-Search. “That's the kind of thing he would do,” she said. As I talked with Becky, more story unfolded.
“Where did the seed come from?” I ask.
Becky pulled out a repurposed plastic medicine bottle, labeled and filled with tomato seeds, and explained, “Dr. Brailler of Wickenburg developed these tomatoes and many other plants for our arid environment. He was the first medical doctor in Wickenburg and a good friend of my dad's.”
I plan to follow the trail of tomato seeds to Wickenburg to learn more about Dr. Brailler. Stay tuned.
You can purchase and taste Prescott tomatoes this season from the Schaffer Farm booth at the Prescott Farmer's Market. Watch for them there at seed-saving events too. Next spring you'll be able to find Prescott tomato seeds at Farmer's Market seed distributions and in the library’s seed library. Native Seeds-Search should also have seed for their spring 2022 catalog listing.
Let's bring these tomatoes back to every Prescott garden and farm, home to our kitchens and plates, and celebrate the past, enjoy the present and pass Prescott tomatoes on to the future. And let's send our gratitude to John Hays for passing them on to us.
“Native Seeds-Search is a nonprofit seed conservation organization based in Tucson, Arizona. Our mission is to conserve and promote the arid-adapted crop diversity of the Southwest in support of sustainable farming and food security. Native Seeds-Search seeks to find, protect and preserve the seeds of the people of the Greater Southwest so that these arid adapted crops may benefit all peoples and nourish a changing world.” Nativeseeds.org
1. Usefully ripe, mature tomatoes
2. Cut them in half around the center (equator). Have a bowl ready. Using your fingers, tease out the seeds and the watery pocket around them. Save the rest of the tomato for eating. I buzz them up in the blender as a base for sauce.
3. Pour the watery, seedy mixture into a glass jar. Add 1/4 cup water for every cup of seed mixture. Cover lightly.
4. Allow the mixture to ferment for a few days. It might develop a covering of white mold. This process dissolves the gelatinous seed coat and destroys seed-borne viruses
5. Add more water and slowly pour off any floating seeds (which are sterile). Again fill the jar with water and slowly decant. Viable seeds sink to the bottom. Repeat this process until the water is clear.
6. Pour these seeds and water into a kitchen strainer and rinse under running water.
7. Spread the seeds on a coffee filter, paper plate or parchment paper to dry.
8. Allow to dry fully, for 2-4 weeks. Seeds are fully dry if they easily crack in half when bent.
9. Store in sealed, labeled glass jar in a cool dark place.
Slow Food Prescott broke the pandemic isolation with a celebration of the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project, connecting teachers and gardeners in a project co-sponsored by Slow Food Prescott, the University ofArizona Extension Office, and Master Gardeners.
We matched 20 experienced gardeners with 20 beginners, with the goal of teaching them to be successful backyard gardeners.
We received generous community support of soil (PrescottDirt), lumber (Foxworth-Galbraith), supplies (The Home Depot and Prescott True Value Hardware), liquid fertilizer (Agro-Thrive), seeds, plants, labor, and money.
Delisa Myles captured the garden lessons in the poem below. Delisa is a former Prescott College professor, dancer, choreographer, educator and co-creator of Delicious Earth Farm.
What to Expect in the Arizona Garden
by Delisa Myles, June 2021
Expect images on the seed packet to be what will grow in your garden. Expect feeding your family, friends and neighbors the overflowing abundance, the cornucopia of colorful foodstuffs harvested on the dates predicted on the packet. Expect big flowers and cantaloupe, peaches heavy on the limb.
Expect unrealistic expectations.
Expect insects, aliens from another planet, who appear overnight and suck the life right out of every hopeful leaf. Insects who munch with their relentless mouths, carving diminishing designs out of petals, leaves and roots.
Expect javelina, deer, gophers, chipmunks, skunks, rabbits, finches, quail, snails and other unnamed crawling, flying, jumping, wily creatures who invite themselves to dine in your garden beds. Expect the disappearance of entire plants, roots and all. And expect the clean-cut stems of flowers just about to bloom, laying shriveled on the ground.
Expect starting over.
Expect daily work and watering. Expect bindweed and foxtail as your most prolific crop. Expect the wonder of a minuscule seed turning into a green shape all its own. Expect to look closely for the smallest of changes, in color, size, plumpness or wilt.
Expect to look to the sky and pray for rain. Expect to love clouds, the ones that bring rain and the ones that give shade, just a little relief from the blistering days. Expect 100-degree temperatures, expect drought. Expect existential angst about global warming.
Make magic. Hang crystals on your fence, like raindrops, to inspire and seduce the clouds. Charm the clouds with your tears so they will show mercy on your parched patch.
Expect high water bills, and dry wells.
Expect deep fear for the longevity of the water table. Expect to think about moving to a wetter place. Expect to wrestle with the saying, “bloom where you are planted.”
Expect plants to grow where they prefer, where you didn’t plant them, like hollyhocks growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk. Expect cucumbers to complain about the heat and petition for shade. Expect even tomatoes and chilies to ask for shade. When the seed packet says plant in full sun they did not mean Arizona. No one here, not one plant, even a cactus, or any human would not rejoice with a sliver of shade or a few cloudy days and a good soaking monsoon.
Expect exhaustion, frustration and overwhelm.
Expect dirt in the cracks on your heels, dirt on your face and dirt permanently under your fingernails. Expect to wear a large hat and long-sleeved shirts.
Expect awe at the tenacity of sunflowers, yarrow and mullein. Expect pampering your basil a little, just till it gets to a certain size and then watch it take off. Eat pesto for months, and freeze some for February.
Expect to feel quiet satisfaction when you eat a salad from your garden, each lettuce leaf a testament to your good work.
Expect to treat your tomato plants like blood children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Expect to save seeds for generations so those tomato children, with your diligence, will continue.
Expect to fall in love with life a little deeper, to respect yourself a little more for accompanying your garden through another season of failures and victories.
Expect to believe in faeries, the rare desert variety, and to put your faith in invisible friends, the allies and the aliens.
Expect to gaze deeply at the vibrating colors of flowers, how they emerge out of nowhere, how they open, attract and wither. Expect to see your own face do the same.
Expect to learn firsthand that you are an indivisible part of this Mothership Earth. You are the living history, the one kneeling down as countless ancestors before you, tucking seeds into soil. Expect to make a promise to the future, that you will keep believing in magic, hard work and the miracle of water falling freely from the sky.
Expect to open your garden gate with a silent prayer, with curiosity and presence, with hunger and humbleness.
Please contact Delisa Myles for permission to reprint: email@example.com.
Join the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project: PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa. org, and learn more about Slow Food Prescott at: facebook/slowfoodprescott.
Start with vine-ripe tomatoes. Taste them. Great flavor is the key to great sauce. I adore the Carbon variety (seed available from johnnyseed.com) and love traditional Italian plum tomatoes like San Marzano and Roma.
The best tomatoes, of course, come from a backyard garden or local farm. Soft tomatoes are best for sauce, a small flaw is okay. Tell the farmer that you want “seconds.” If you need to ripen tomatoes, do that in a single layer, at room temperature, stem-end down. Stem-end down is important: they'll ripen evenly and keep twice as long.
Italians are pasta connoisseurs, eating 60 pounds a year for every man, woman and child, more than anyone else in the world. That boils down to a serving every day for everyone. (Americans eat just 26 pounds per person per year.) Buy Italian pasta; it just tastes better.
Select a shape that fits the sauce. Chunky sauces need chunky pastas. Smooth sauces need skinny pasta. Cook that Italian pasta in a large pot with lots of vigorously boiling, salted water. It's ready when the pasta is al dente, i.e. chewy, just after firm but before soft and way before mushy.
Basil and oregano, both members of the mint family, are interchangeable, but they are not the same. Basil is delicate. Use it fresh, stack the leaves up and slice them thinly, add it at the end of cooking or as a garnish. Oregano is basil's tough cousin. Buy whole-leaf dried, and add it early in the cooking. I like to crush it in my palm and toss it into the sauté with the garlic. (Find whole-leaf oregano with the Mexican spices in your grocery store, or buy an oregano plant for your yard and you'll have it forever.)
I grind pepper right out of my pepper mill into the sauté as well. Dried oregano and cracked peppercorns are rich with oil-soluble aromatic compounds. The best way to extract them is in a gently heating pool of oil. I recommend extra-virgin olive oil. Trader Joe's has a big selection with great prices. Scientific evidence shows extra-virgin olive oil to be the “healthiest fat on earth.” (Check out healthline.com)
Garlic, garlic, how I love thee! After 35 years of growing Chino Valley Silverskin, both commercially and in my home garden, I feel like an expert. Raw garlic should be used sparingly and micro-minced to diffuse the punchy flavor. Oil-toasted garlic is my cooking signature. I chop it and treat it to a slow olive-oil sizzle until golden, developing a mellowness that complements many things, including tomatoes. You can buy Chino Valley Silverskin from Whipstone Farm at the Farmer's Market or at their farmstand in Paulden. [whipstone.com]
If you use cheese, please buy a block and grate it yourself. I keep it in the freezer, handy and ready. I'm partial to Pecorino Romano, a salted, hard sheep cheese from the island of Sardinia with a 2,000-year-old origin. It is full of rich nutty flavor, and a super bargain available at Costco.
Last but not least: salt. It is true that salt is the balancing act in flavor, harmonizing the sweet and sour elements of your tomatoes. Use it wisely: add a little at a time at the end of cooking until the flavor is perfect.
I made this for lunch every day back when I was a potter. It comes together fast and serves four.
Start with 1/2 pound of thick pasta (tubes, twists, shells) cooked al dente in lots of salted water. While the pasta is cooking, chop 2 pounds of very ripe tomatoes. Then mix them with 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, 10 Greek olives cut into big pieces, 6 basil leaves finely sliced (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano), and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the pasta is done, drain quickly and return it to the cooking pot. Add the tomato mixture and 2 ounces of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, and stir everything together. Grind in some black pepper and a couple of dashes of salt, mix and taste. Of course, serve this immediately. Enjoy! and get back to work.
For four servings start with 1/2 pound of spaghetti cooked al dente in a generous amount of salted water. Drain, toss with olive oil, and set aside.
Peel the tomatoes and crush the pulp. There are two ways to do this. You can cut the tomatoes in half, around the equator, and then grate the pulp side on a hand grater, leaving the skins behind. Alternatively, drop those tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove quickly and chill them in ice water. The skins will slip right off. Crush the resulting naked tomatoes with your hands or in a food processor.
Now place 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped, in a wide skillet. Put the pan over medium heat and let the garlic sizzle slowly. Add a couple grinds of fresh pepper and a teaspoon of dried whole-leaf oregano. When the garlic is golden, slowly pour in the tomatoes. Simmer about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt, pepper or oregano as needed. Drop the pasta into the sauce and allow everything to simmer together for a minute or two. Serve with a grating of excellent cheese.
I developed this recipe while cooking on a fierce, fire-breathing two-burner propane stove at the Farmer's Market. The farmers donated flawed tomatoes that they couldn't sell. The characteristic seared flavor comes from sugars caramelizing on the hot skillets.
Start with 2-1/2 pounds of very juicy, very ripe tomatoes. Chop them finely and mix them with 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Let this sit for an hour or so. Meanwhile. coarsely chop up a whole bulb of garlic.
Put two large cast-iron skillets on two burners at medium heat. Right away put 2 tablespoons of olive oil and all the garlic in one skillet. Add 1 teaspoon whole oregano leaves, or skip this step and add basil later. Sizzle gently until the garlic is golden. Turn up the heat on both skillets to high. Slowly pour the tomato mixture into the pan with the garlic. Let it come to a rolling boil. Now, very carefully, pour the contents of the first skillet into the second skillet, letting the liquid go first. Let it boil ferociously for a few minutes, then carefully pour it back into the first skillet. Repeat pouring back and forth until the sauce thickens.
In a large pot of salted water cook 1/2 pound of your favorite pasta al dente, drain well. Add your pasta to the sauce. Toss and heat for a minute. Top with finely cut basil (if you’re using it instead of oregano) and a grating of excellent cheese.
They move to New York. She plants a garden on the fire escape. He moves into management. They move to LA. She plants a backyard garden. He trains in restaurants. After two decades in this story they get tired of the hospitality industry, of the pressure and responsibility, of never seeing time off and of working long hours.
So they put together a plan, explaining it this way: “We decided that we were done with the big-city thing. We decided to move where we would have some space and start a garden farm that’s more serious.”
“Where,” I ask, “do a waitress and a bartender get the taste for farm-fresh?”
“In the finest restaurants where we worked,” they replied. “Once you’ve tasted food that is grown in season by people who care, you can’t go back to the convenient, commercial stuff. Once you’ve tasted a tomato in season, grown in the sun, there’s no going back.”
So they started to search. They looked far and wide for their ideal small farm. California was too expensive. Emily’s parents had retired in Prescott, so they searched around Northern Arizona. In 2018 they found the perfect property on Heidi Lane in Chino Valley, with a big red barn, good old buildings, fruit trees, a well, and 2-1/2 acres adjacent to protected farmland (Chino Valley High School’s Cooper-Morgan Ag Center).
They planned on selling vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, and serving special farm dinners. Then they saw the restaurant space available on the highway, another red barn. “We liked the idea of having a smaller farm, and shifted our focus to the farm as an extension of the restaurant,” Emily explained. Working backward from Emily’s gardening to the restaurant, using Joe’s experience and excitement — that’s the definition of Farm to Restaurant. Emily sparkles with enthusiasm: “I have so many ideas, I can’t process fast enough. It’s a stretch on attention and ambitions.”
The Heidi Lane restaurant opened in December 2019 with six tables and counter service. Emily and Joe feel lucky to have opened before the pandemic took hold, establishing a small clientele. Then business got very slow. They pivoted to bring in what they could get through the restaurant purveyors and became a mini-general store. It was a tough time for restaurants, especially startups. They almost closed. They stuck it out with a very limited menu and no employees. This fall, business started rebuilding and is better than ever.
Now the restaurant is moving toward what they would like to see — more vegetable-based specials, more creative main dishes, and a special menu of small dishes. Joe bakes bread daily. All soups, sauces, pickles and desserts are made on site. Produce and eggs (“when the girls are laying”) come from the Heidi Lane Farm. Other ingredients come from local farmers, in season whenever possible.
When you go, don’t miss the buttery, feather-light biscuits and Bread Pudding with Chard, Feta, and Green Garlic. When you go, try the Carrot Torte. Here’s the description from their Facebook page: “Carrots are sexy. Yeah, I said it. Dig our Carrot Torta — A spread of black beans, a layer of coriander, pickled carrots, a grip of roasted carrots topped with a delicious carrot molé sauce. Finished with crema, cilantro, and lettuce.” Or try the Mushroom and Herb Toasted Cheese Sandwich, described here: “The mushrooms come from our pals at Sun Valley Harvest and are a mix of shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake. The sandwich is spread with an herb cream sauce, and then toasted in the oven with a blend of provolone, Swiss, and Oaxaqueño cheeses.” These are specials, so you might miss them, but whatever Joe has on the menu will taste unforgettably great.
You can also find Emily and Heidi Lane Cafe at the Prescott Farmer’s Market with hot soup (like Carrot Posole or Spinach Green Garlic and Potato), freshly baked bread, and local honey and vegetables.
Back at the farm, it’s all potential. They just cleared a quarter-acre of the nasty weed tree, Chinese elm, installed an irrigation system, and planted heritage apple trees. Another quarter-acre is laid out and planted in sweet and grinding corn. Emily is planting perennials and fruit. I tour the initial plantings of asparagus and artichokes, rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries and grapes. “The grapes are from the old vines on this property and at the cafe make delicious eating and wine.”
Emily took cuttings and is now ready to plant the vineyard. I tour the greenhouse and see all the flowers, herbs and vegetables waiting to go out into the summer warmth to the other quarter-acre of vegetables. This and everything else is grown with strictly organic practices.
Emily is ecstatic, Joe is excited. She grows, Joe cooks. We win.
You can find Emily and Joe at Heidi Lane Cafe, 838 W. Highway 89 in Chino Valley, open Tues-Sat 8am to 3pm. Also at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, Saturdays 7:30am–noon, Instagram and Facebook @heidilanecafe, and watch for farm dinners coming in the future.
This cross between a mushroom and a soybean cake originated over 1,000 years ago in Java, Indonesia. Soybeans are an excellent pantry staple because they are super-high in protein, however, like other beans, they are solidly difficult to digest. In China and Japan they are ground and soaked and cooked and strained. Then the “milk” is congealed into curds and pressed — that's tofu. It takes all this processing to make soy easy to digest.
Tempeh developed in tropical Java, where perfect conditions for fermentation exist —high heat, high humidity, native soybeans and the Rhizopus oligosporus fungus. It occurs naturally on beautiful yellow-flowered sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) and on teak leaves, which are both used as traditional food wrappers. Perhaps ancient people compressed cooked soybeans into a cake, then wrapped that cake in the right leaves, and set it aside for a day to discover that cake of soybeans transformed into an appetizing delicacy, bound and encased in a fluffy white mycelium. It smelled fresh; it tasted delicious; it was filling and energizing.
A mycelium consists of the threadlike branches of fungi. They move into a food source on a microscopic level, secreting enzymes and dissolving big molecules, breaking them into simpler carbohydrates that we can use. In soybeans, mycelia digest the oligosaccharides, complex carbohydrates that are not easy for us to digest and end up causing “digestive distress.” Rhizopus works so well that the resulting tempeh digests easily with none of the dreaded gassy effect.
Tempeh is an excellent substitute for meat. It has 18 grams of protein per three-ounce serving. Unlike the plethora of meat analogs on the market today, it comes about through a totally natural process. Consuming less animal products is a powerful weapon against many environmental challenges and an effective way to improve your own health.
These are good reasons to eat tempeh. Lately, I’m excited about the Smoky Grilled Tempeh recipe in Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moscowitz. She is a marvel at making vegan tasty, and she isn't afraid of punchy spicing. It's an inspirational recipe that caught me up. Now after a multitude of trials I have added my own adaptations, including more garlic, easier methods, and, best of all, using it as the heart of a great burger.
I’ve tried a lot of veggie burgers, finding them mushy, squishy and meh on flavor. The Smoky Braised Tempeh burger is firm, charred, smoky and very satisfying. This burger dances with all those traditional burger accompaniments — pickles, mustard, ketchup, red onions, tomatoes. Leftover Smoky Braised Tempeh bits just disappear from the refrigerator as nuggets of flavor on salads, in stir-fry or soups, fried into eggs, on pizza, and onward. We love this stuff.
And here's how to make it!
Start with a pound of tempeh (available at all the natural-food stores or make it yourself.) Cut the tempeh into burger-sized slabs and lay them in a wide pan, one layer deep. In a bowl mix together 1 cup water, ¼ cup each of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and olive oil, 2 tablespoons of both liquid smoke and smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Pour this over the tempeh slices. Let marinate for 15 minutes to an hour, then turn the slices over and marinate another 15 minutes.
Pour a thin slick of olive oil into a large cast-iron skillet and heat over medium heat. Place the tempeh slices in the pan in a single layer. Let sizzle until browned, then add half the marinade. Simmer uncovered until the marinade has evaporated. Turn the pieces over and add the rest of the marinade. Simmer to evaporate, and let the slices brown a little at the very end. Remove from heat, serve on toasted buns with all the usual burger fixings.
Enjoy the delicious and satisfying experience of a high flavor, healthy and planet-supportive burger.
Adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz
You'll need some simple equipment to prepare the beans and simulate the growing conditions of Java.
Purchase the soybeans and starter online.
I could not find them at local stores, so I bought 25 pounds of organic soybeans on the internet. Order the tempeh spore online, too. I bought a pound (a lifetime supply for me) on Amazon for under $10.
Soak, cook, drain and dry the beans.
Soak 2-1/2 cups soybeans overnight. In the morning rinse and rub them well until the casings come off and the beans split in half. Rinse and rub until casings rise to the top of the pan, then skim them off with a strainer. Now cook the beans for 40 minutes, until they are firm but al dente. Skim off any more casings that have risen to the top. Drain the beans fully, let sit a few minutes in the strainer to cool. Then pour the beans onto a towel. Roll them up. Unroll and then let them sit out to air dry.
Inoculate the beans: Put the beans in a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon tempeh starter and 2 tablespoons cider vinegar. The vinegar creates an acid environment that discourages unwanted microbes. Mix well.
Form the tempeh: I use baking sheets lined with parchment paper placed so it wraps all around the beans. I compress the beans into a cake about an inch thick and secure it with tape. Alternatively you can put the mixture in a one-gallon zip bag and poke a bunch of holes in it for air circulation.
Put the tempeh in an incubator: The ideal incubation temperature is about 88F (31C) degrees. We use an old refrigerator rigged with a set-point thermostat and a pan of water for humidity. Here’s an even lower-budget solution: outfit an ice chest with a small crock pot. You'll have to fiddle around to get the right temperature. Check out this site for more instructions: thetempehlab.com.
When is the tempeh ready? The mycelium takes 24 hours, more or less. Check the temperature often. The process gives off its own heat, so you may need to adjust the temperature. You'll know it's done when the entire mass is covered in a nice white fuzz and the beans hang together. If you leave it longer, you might see some grey spots begin to form. That's the fungi sporulating. Don't worry, still good to eat.
Cut, and chill the tempeh immediately in a single layer. Then you can pack it. Refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze it for up to six months.
What I get out of my garden is pure joy. After 50 seasons of gardening, I'd like to share some helpful advice for newbie and continuing gardeners alike.
This time of year it's flat soil, a blank canvas. The garden emerges as a co-creative dance with seeds, soil, sunlight, water and the variants of nature. Every day it's a challenge and experience of discovery, wonder, frustration, and beauty, and I get to have a role in it. It is awesome. I swear, there is something in dirt, some anti-depressant, stimulating component that has a deep effect on me.
My advice for new gardeners is to plant trees. I live on the open prairie land of Yavapai County, where the wind and sun are desiccating and fierce. In 1979 we planted a windbreak of Arizona Cypress. Now they are fifty feet high. These trees changed the climate by blocking the wind, the June hair dryer blast and the winter blizzard. Now I can grow berries; my peppers don't shrivel on the plants; the seedlings don't wilt. Trees have the power to change the microclimate and affect climate change. Plant some.
For a broader perspective, I asked experienced local gardening friends for their opinions. “Why do you garden? What advice do you have for new and beginning gardeners?”
“There is much that is not in our control (weather, pests, diseases). Learn from your failures and observe them closely. Then try again with your new information. Learn to let go. Remember gardens don't have to be neat to be productive.
“The soil is everything. Start a compost pile and actively manage it. Get your neighbors to give you their food waste to build your pile faster. Consider it a resource! When I started growing food, I began to put more thought into what I was buying and where it comes from. Food grown with love tastes better.”
“I've learned countless personal and universal lessons as a gardener, but one thing I always say to my students is that gardens teach us patience. The plants in a garden show us that you cannot rush things to mature, and nurturing things patiently, over time, is the only way to fully enjoy their sweetness.
“Start small and add on, or try new things bit by bit as you are successful. Plan ahead for wildlife pests. Fencing and electrical deterrent systems are essential for success. Use an automated watering system that is water-efficient and consistent. This is smart water use for our dry climate, and the plants love it.”
“Growing a garden isn’t difficult to do, but the rewards go far beyond putting food on the table. Your garden will teach you something every day, all year long if you are out there trying new things, learning new techniques, and constantly trying to improve your skills and increase your knowledge.”
“Start small and ask questions! Gardeners love to talk about gardening. Be patient with yourself and your garden, and rejoice in your successes!”
“The big lesson I have learned is that gardening and growing food are community-builders. They help break through political views. My neighbors (of a different political persuasion) and I share our crops, our experiences, and even our compost and manure.
“My advice for beginning gardeners is to get in there and plant something. Remember it's a grand experiment. A third is for the critters, a third may just die for no reason, and one third you'll be able to eat and enjoy. I call that success.”
“Take time to look and observe, then ask yourself lots of questions, like, ‘What is that bug? Who's digging up my plants? Why do the peppers on the north side of the plant look better than the south side? Why is the corn taller on one end of the row?’ There are a ton of questions, all interesting and wonderful.
“Plant more than you think you’ll need so you can share the surplus. Accept that not everything will work out and plenty will go wrong, so take delight in solving the little problems.”
“The biggest lesson I have learned from growing food is the investment and work that it truly takes. You'll never scoff at food prices again, and you'll see for yourself how mass-produced food can only be as cheap as it is because of subsidies. The gratitude I feel for every meal is reflected in the effort I've put into gardening. You have no idea how good food can taste till you grow it yourself.”
“Growing food for me is rewarding in many ways. I like the planning, physical activity and therapy that come from cultivating something. I have learned to plant what we can consume and what we enjoy as a family, but have struggled to learn how to preserve, store, can and eat it fresh. I’m that guy with a hundred pounds of extra zucchini.”
“It seems really obvious and simple, but plant what you like to eat. Every year I plant tomatoes because they're easy to grow, but no one in our house really likes tomatoes. This year I'm focusing on the things that we actually love to eat.”
“Persistence and patience are important. Don't give up! It will get better. Growing food takes practice. Don't plant too early. Don't pick too early. Just wait.”
“I like gardening because it meshes nicely with adjusting to climate change, providing a healthy diet, and supporting the planet. For new gardeners I advise starting with something fast. Plant things now that grow in cooler weather, when there are few bug problems and it's easier to keep the seed bed damp (like leafy greens, beets, turnips and radishes). These easy-to-grow crops will be harvested and out of the ground before the scorching-hot, dehydrating days of June.”
“Be really patient and don't expect to do everything right. Farming takes a lot of trial and error. When we started we overdid it and realized that we didn't have the ability to take care of everything. Ask for advice from people you know. We thought other farmers were secretive, then we realized that they have a community mindset and are happy to give advice.”
“Grow things you like and grow lots of herbs. Having a garden you can tour with tastes and smells is a true delight. A pinch of cilantro, a whiff of tulsi, the year-round warrior that is rosemary, are all ways to pack a huge flavor punch in your food in a small footprint. You'll also visit the garden more often, making it more likely that you'll be on top of the weeds and fertilization needs. When that kale plant you've lovingly tended into a tiny tree is getting attacked by aphids, you'll notice. If you don't like beans or okra, you'll never pick them before they're woody and you'll feel like a bad gardener. You're not. You're human.
“The biggest lesson I've learned from growing food? There are so many, ranging from a profound appreciation for a perfectly grown carrot to the delicate balance between life and death, to the lessons of true wealth inspired by saving one's own seed. I look at the grocery store differently, see potential in piles of leaves, and say real prayers of gratitude before I eat. Having an inkling of what it takes to get the food to my plate, whether it comes from my own garden, farmer's market, or grocery store, has inspired deep humility and gratitude — and a hefty dose of worry for our planet and its inhabitants. Summing it up in a single lesson seems the antithesis of what gardening can be. I suppose, though, that it could be simple: we are all connected in this tangled web of life.”
Yavapai County Master Gardener's Help Desk - firstname.lastname@example.org
Groundhog Garden Chat via Zoom, sponsored by Slow Food Prescott, every 2nd and 4th Tuesday at 6:30 pm. Contact: prescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org
Sourdough is a yeast and bacteria colony growing in a flour and water matrix. The magic that makes it more than a flour-and-water paste are the microorganisms that hang out in the flour and in the air, waiting for the moment they can grow. The organisms are microscopic, of course, but their presence is abundantly obvious when activated by water. The flour provides food sources — complex carbohydrates and proteins — that break down to produce sugars, acetic acid, lactic acid, carbon dioxide and alcohol. Here's Wikipedia's simple explanation:
“Sourdough is a stable culture of lactic-acid bacteria and yeast in a mixture of flour and water. Broadly speaking, the yeast produces gas (carbon dioxide), which leavens the dough, and the lactic-acid bacteria produce lactic acid, which contributes flavor in the form of sourness. The lactic-acid bacteria metabolize sugars that the yeast cannot, while the yeast metabolizes the byproducts of lactic-acid fermentation. During sourdough fermentation, many cereal enzymes, particularly phytases, proteases and pentosanases, are activated through acidification and contribute to biochemical changes during sourdough fermentation.”
It's much, much more complicated than that, so check out the Wikipedia entry if you're interested in digging deeper.
Sourdough is nothing new. It's ancient. Wild fermentation of grains, what we call sourdough, started over 10,000 years ago with the origin of agriculture.
For thousands of years sourdoughs were the only leavening, and they were treasured and protected. Modern bread, made with consistent and uniform baker's yeast, dates from the 1870s. Dried granulated yeast, the kind that went so missing after the pandemic flurry of panic baking, was introduced after World War II. But we can do better without it. Wild yeasts and bacteria that you can capture yourself are everywhere, and they are much, much more flavorful, delicious and delightful.
Making your own sourdough starter is easy. It's just flour and water. But there are some important nuances.
You want a clean, glass one-quart jar with a non-metal lid. Starters need plenty of room because they expand, sometimes tripling in size. You need a lid that can be left loose so extra carbon dioxide can escape. A good wrap of plastic, secured with a rubber band, will do the trick.
1 cup water: If you are on city water, it's probably treated with mild anti-bacterials (like chlorine). In this case we want the bacteria to live, so use bottled or filtered water.
1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour (see note on rye flour, below):Standard commercial flour is bleached and bromated, and both processes kill naturally occurring microorganisms, so use the natural, organic stuff. I like to replace a couple of tablespoons with rye flour, it's a big booster. Look for it in natural food stores.
Mix the water and flour together in the glass jar. Cover lightly. Within hours the microscopic community starts working, and you'll start seeing bubbles. Stir twice daily. To build strength, feed it daily for three days by adding 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cups of flour, then stir. If the jar gets too full, make some flatbread (recipe follows). After three days the mixture will start bubbling with life! It will be foaming out of the jar. (Make some more flatbread or cookies. Check out the recipes for sourdough discard.)
Keep the jar covered loosely so gases can escape. Careful! A tight lid will result in pressure buildup and a big mess when you finally let it all out, so watch out! At this stage someone doing the dishes might try to clean up your starter. Label it with warnings: “Live Active Starter, do not destroy!”
With daily feedings you'll have a good, going starter ready to use. By feeding daily you select for very active microbes that prefer a less acid environment. Now your starter can be used and “refreshed” regularly with a flour-to-water ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Sourdough starter is designed to be a source of leavening for continuous use. That's how it works best. It can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks. It will separate and turn brown, but you can revive it by pouring out most and refreshing every day until it revives. Really, if you were an ancient Jew in Egypt or a sourdough gold miner in Alaska, you would want to use it every single day. It's a commitment.
When you have too much starter to fit in the jar, you can use the “discard” for many things. For example:
1 heavy skillet (preferably cast iron)
1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup sourdough starter mixed with a pinch each of salt and baking soda
Optional: A sprinkle of powdered garlic, herbs, spices or chili powder Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add the oil. When a drop of water sizzles in the pan, pour your sourdough starter in like a pancake. Sprinkle with seasonings if used. Cook until bubbles form on the top side. Turn over and cook until browned. Eat!
I've got my starter, now what?
It’s time to use that active, bubbly, tangy anti-depressant starter for sourdough breads and anything else you bake — pancakes, biscuits, cookies, even sourdough chocolate cake. I'm feeling better, happier and younger already!
Northwest Sourdough, Teresa Greenway, is the gold standard for learning more: northwestsourdough.com
Sourdough Pancakes or Waffles by King Arthur Baking Company
Sourdough Chocolate Cake by King Arthur Baking Company
Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies by I AM Baker
I can see the old Klondike prospectors making biscuits this way, but they probably used bear grease instead of butter. Modern baking powder is an option if you don't want to wait for the biscuits to rise. A cast-iron skillet is a necessity for best results. (See “Molly's Method of Curing and Caring for Cast Iron.”) Makes 8
9-inch cast-iron skillet
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1 cup organic white wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (optional)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups active sourdough starter (freshly fed 12 hours in advance)
Additional melted butter as needed
In a large bowl, mix flours, salt, sugar and baking powder (if using). Add butter and mix in. Form a hollow in the flour mixture and pour in 2 cups sourdough starter. Using a fork, slowly mix starter around until it has picked up all the flour. You should have a soft, sticky dough. Add a couple teaspoons of water if needed. Pinch off balls about the size of an egg (2 1/2 ounces each), flour them and pat into rounds 1/2 inch thick. Butter the skillet and fill with the rounds with edges touching. Brush with melted butter.
Baking powder is an optional convenience in this recipe, but it's been around since the 1840s. If you add the baking powder you can bake the biscuits right away. For authentic sourdough biscuits, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 2-1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter. Let them cool a few minutes and then enjoy your hand-made, wildly fermented biscuits. Pass the butter and the peach preserves, please!
Whether a new pan or a rusty pan, the curing method is the same. If your pan is crusty from years of service, you can clean it by “burning” it in a fire or in the self-cleaning cycle of your oven. Then you have to cure it again like new.
1. Wash and dry pan completely, removing any rust.
2. Spray pan all over, front and back, with vegetable oil.
3. Using a paper towel, rub the oil into the pan, rubbing off any excess.
4. Place the pan in the oven or on the stovetop (the stovetop method will smoke some, so turn on the fan), or on the gas grill outside. Set the oven, stovetop or grill to high and let the pan get very hot. When you see it start smoking, turn off the fire and let it cool.
5. Repeat the oil treatment and heating treatment twice more.
Now your pan has a good initial cure. Whenever you wash it, and you can wash it with soap and scrubber, dry it over heat. If the pan gets rusty, wash off the rust, spray with oil, and heat-treat again.
Here's my list of the easiest-to-grow food plants for the Prescott area.
#1: Sunflowers – You can grow sunflowers from raw in-the-shell seeds that you buy to eat at the natural food store. They come up fast, easy and strong. If you don't plant anything else, plant a sunflower, because they will cheer you up and spitting sunflower-seed shells revives our childhood joy.
#2: Beans – Beans themselves are big seeds and come up quickly once frost has passed. There are bush and pole varieties. Pole beans need support and will gladly climb up the sunflower you are going to plant. Beans are a three-in-one package. They can be harvested as green pods (aka green beans), as green shell beans (when pods are stringy but the beans are fat, green and luscious), or as dry beans to be shelled and cooked or stored for next year's garden.
#3: Radishes and Salad Turnips – Radishes and their not-so-spicy cousin, the salad turnip, will give the impatient gardener the quickest reward. The seeds are small but they come up fast, like gangbusters, and then form nice crunchy roots in less than 30 days. Go for it!
#4: Summer Squash – Summer squashes include many varieties of zucchini — yellow, patty pan, crookneck, and green. They have big seeds and spring up with big leaves, powering into a hearty bush. Yellow varieties are easier to see; green squash hide among the foliage and, if you miss picking them, turn into squash monsters. Pick the summer squash when they are young and tender. These plants will continue bearing from July until frost.
#5:Winter Squash – Winter squash (including pumpkins) have hard shells that protect flavorful, nutty meat. Large seeds are easy to plant, sprout quickly, and grow vigorously. They are creepy crawlers and will spill out of your garden beds onto the paths, or climb up a trellis. By fall the squash look like gourds, but inside they are rich in nutrients, orange, and sweet. In October they are fit for pies or storage for winter eating. My all-time favorite choice for reliability, taste, and best storage is the standard heritage variety, Waltham Butternut.
#6: Swiss Chard and Kale – Get those greens on! Swiss chard and kale are in different families, but have the same cut-and-come-again habit. Get them going and they just keep giving, even after a light frost in late October or November. You'll never want to buy chard or kale again when you see how easy they are to grow.
#7: Potatoes – Nothing is more delightful than growing potatoes. Instead of seed you plant chunks with eyes that sprout with vigor. It’s important to start with "certified seed potatoes" because potatoes may carry big, nasty diseases like scab, dry rot, or black scurf. Look for them in seed catalogs, online or in garden stores. A couple of months after planting you’ll be able to explore under the roots to harvest "new" potatoes, the best ever.
#8&9: Tomatoes and Peppers –What would a garden be without tomatoes and peppers? For beginners, start with plants, which are available just about everywhere in the spring. Cherry tomatoes and small sweet or hot chilies are the easiest and fastest to grow. Put them in pots on your porch and you'll be enjoying tomato or pepper gems all summer.
#10: Garlic – Anyone who knows me knows that garlic is my middle name. At one time Gary and I harvested 12,000 pounds for wholesale markets. That was long before the Prescott Farmer's Market existed. Now we harvest only 100 pounds a year. Chino Valley Silverskin is a true Prescott-heritage variety.
We have grown it for over 40 years, and we got our start from a gentleman whose father grew it here for 35 years before us. Chino Valley Silverskin has huge, fat cloves and keeps for up to a year, perfect for garlic-crazy cuisine. You can buy this locally adapted variety from Whipstone Farm. Thanks to Cory and Shanti Rabe for making it available to the public.
Garlic is planted in the fall after the rest of the garden has retired. Early October is good. Break up the heads into individual cloves, each clove makes a plant. Your garlic garden will sprout in the fall, hibernate through the winter, and start growing again as soon as spring warms the ground. By late June it will be bulbed up and ready for harvest. Don't miss your chance to grow this easy crop while you commune with the garlic fairy.
As a beginning gardener, here's what you should avoid and why:
• Carrots take up to 21 days to emerge and then they come up the size and delicacy of an eyelash.
• Corn requires a block of at least 20 plants to properly pollinate. If you have a 10x10’ bed dedicated for corn, go for it.
• Lettuce hates heat and dryness and needs special protection to grow here without getting bitter and tough.
• Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower also hate our hot and dry climate. If you want to plant these crops, research hoop houses to shade the plants.
• Basil seed is so, so, so very tiny and so are their emerging leaves and they are so very delicate and so very sensitive. Beginners: buy a plant.
• Melons are tough. Look for a variety that will produce sweet fruits in our climate. I have grown a lot of beautiful yet flavorless melons, but I keep trying.
Are you excited or scared? Gardens are not simple and a host of problems wait to crash your dream — soil, sun, disease, insects, gophers, javelina and hail. But Prescott is gearing up this year to help.
Join the Grow Food In Your Backyard program. Slow Food Prescott and Yavapai Extension Office Master Gardeners are partnering to help beginning gardeners with one-on-one, virus-safe mentoring for real garden success. Get advice, support and monitoring. Applications are taken in February or March. Send an inquiry to prescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.
Get free seeds at the Prescott Farmer's Market Seed Exchange on Saturday, February 20, 10am-1pm at the Farmer's Market location on the hospital annex lot at 900 Iron Springs Road. Find the best varieties for the Prescott area, meet the growers and get growing advice.
Coming in March 2021 is the Seed Library at Prescott Public Library (co-sponsored by the Prescott Farmer's Market). You'll be able to check out seeds and growing information from the card catalog and website, just like books. Call the Prescott Public Library main line for more information: 928-771-1526. Watch for free online beginner classes from The Prescott Gardener, Janet Wilson. (More information at janetwilsongardens.com.)
For weekday help the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Help Desk offers free gardening advice, M-F 9am-noon and 1-4pm. 928-445-6590 x222
UofA Cooperative Extension Agent Jeff Schalau, online:
When this season is over, you’ll be eating food right out of your home garden, maybe just a radish, maybe a whole dinner. Most important is to get out there and put the seed in the soil. Start with the seed to build your pandemic-pantry connection.
I love seed catalogs and seed-company websites. You can dream over the pictures and enticing descriptions. The best parts are the detailed growing instructions, blogs and videos.
Johnny's Selected Seeds: johnnyseeds.com
Fedco Coop Seeds: fedcoseeds.com
Native Seed/Search: Tucson-based heritage seed conservation organization; nativeseeds.org
Terroir Seeds: local seeds and gardening advice from Chino Valley; underwoodgardens.com
Two years ago, when I was in a native village in the Ecuadorian Andes, I noticed pigweed planted in gardens. What? No, it was quinoa! Pigweed and quinoa are cousins, both members of the chenopodium (goosefoot) family.
Envision the Andean altiplano, the cold, 12,000-foot-high plains around Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia. It’s home to the highest concentration of natural chenopodium variants, and the birthplace of quinoa. Thousands of years ago the Quecha people selected, domesticated, and cultivated these weeds, creating quinoa in hundreds of specialty cultivars, including chullpi for soups, coytos for flour, reales for grains, and dozens more.
Quinoa and potatoes were the nutritional base of the powerful Andean and Incan civilizations.
The nutritional value of quinoa is astounding. The leaves are edible and delicious, like spinach (also in the chenopodium family). But quinoa is mainly grown for seed. Quinoa seed is the only natural vegetable source of all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) necessary to support human nutrition. Quinoa is an excellent substitute for meat or dairy products and a rich source of minerals (calcium, iron, and potassium), vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. It is low in fats and naturally gluten-free. For more information check out "Quinoa 101, Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits" at healthline.com.
In all their variants these tall plants with colorful, six-foot-high plumes were the sacred Mother Grain, the chisaya mama, of the great Andean civilizations. Before the European conquest, quinoa and potatoes were the nutritional base of the powerful Andean and Incan civilizations. After the wave of plagues and conquests brought by the Europeans in the 16th century, European crops pushed out quinoa. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro destroyed quinoa fields as a tactic to crush indigenous power.
The Quecha protected the sacred quinoa by growing it in small plots. Five hundred years later quinoa has made a comeback. In the 1990s the UN Food and Agriculture Organization surveyed neglected crops of the Americas and identified quinoa as a potential food for development.
The United Nations General Assembly designated 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, “… in recognition of ancestral practices of the Andean people, who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature,” and encouraged worldwide dispersal and development.
Now quinoa is growing in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. You can buy it practically everywhere — Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway, Target. The internet is afloat with a gazillion recipes in publications ranging from Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart to The New York Times and Vegan Heaven.
Quinoa is exceptionally easy to use. It comes in a variety of colors — white, red, black, mixed. The darker colors are a bit firmer and nuttier, but they all work the same. Quinoa cooks up in 15 minutes and holds well refrigerated or frozen.
In its simplest incarnation quinoa is embarrassingly easy to prepare. Basically rinse (see the note on saponin below), simmer, then steam like rice. Use two parts water to one part quinoa; yields three cups cooked for every one cup dry.
Quinoa is universally adaptable and neutral-flavored, a seamless substitute for rice or other grains, easy to add to stuffed mushrooms, work into soups, salads, breakfast cereal or cookies. It can be toasted, ground into flour or flaked. New quinoa products are steadily coming on the market — cereals, chocolate and energy bars, chips, pasta, even whiskeys!