Monthly Archives: December 2011

Prickly Pear Holiday Cocktails

Prickly pear syrup combined with fresh juices makes delicious holiday cocktails.

 Prickly pear syrup, either something you’ve made yourself or one of the wonderful commercial products, adds a special Southwestern touch to your holiday cocktails. And cocktails are big this year!  My husband Ford and I attended a cocktail class at Tucson Botanical Gardens last summer and we’ve had great fun concocting our special blends. The class was taught by the bartender from Scott & Co., a popular downtown Tucson drinking spot. We learned that the most important key to a delicious cocktail is fresh juices.  We’re lucky that we have orange, tangelo and lime trees in our yard, but citrus is widely available in the supermarket or farmer’s markets.  You also need something to give the juices a little edge, such as bitters or ginger syrup.  To make ginger syrup, I grate a 5-inch piece of fresh ginger and simmer for 30 minutes in a cup of water.  Strain out ginger and reduce liquid to a half cup.  Add a half cup sugar or agave syrup and cook a few minutes to dissolve sugar.

Now the fun starts. Tasting as you go, blend some fresh  juices, add some bottled cranberry juice at this time of year, add a little prickly pear syrup and a dollop of ginger syrup.  Tequila, vodka or run all work well for the alcohol. I go light on alcohol since these drinks are so good people tend to slurp them down.  Your cocktail may look something like the one in the martini glass in the photo.

To make a classic Tequila Sunset, like the drink on the right in the photo, mix orange juice and tequila. Add prickly pear syrup and it will settle on the bottom making a beautiful sunset in a glass.  The recipe for this and  other delicious prickly pear drinks can be found in The Prickly Pear Cookbook.  Cooking the Wild Southwest, delicious recipes for desert plants includes a great recipe for Prickly Pear Sangria.  Both books are available from your local independent bookstore or by mail from Tucson Botanical Garden’s on-line store or  Cheri’s Desert Harvest 

There are lots of places to get prickly pear syrup if you haven’t laid in a supply of your own. Cheri’s Desert Harvest syrup is available throughout the Southwest.    Jeau Allen sells prickly pear syrup on-line and at farmer’s markets throughout the Tucson Valley.



Mesquite Ginger Cookies – Yum!

Everybody has their old family favorite Christmas cookies, but it is fun to add something new from time to time.  Mesquite Ginger Cookies are delicious, easy to make, and relative healthy (for a cookie!).  When I began to update my previous book Tumbleweed Gourmet, I eliminated many of the recipes as too out-of-date, but Mesquite Ginger Cookies survived, as great now as they were when I wrote the recipe 24 years ago.  Below is the recipe as it appears in my new book Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.  If you don’t have your own mesquite meal, you can always purchase some from the Native Seeds Search store on Campbell Ave. in Tucson or  from Jeau Allen at her stalls at Tucson farmers’ markets (they both do mail order as well.)  Phoenix farmers’ markets carry mesquite meal too.  The recipe doesn’t call for frosting, but I couldn’t help fiddling, so I frosted some with orange butter cream and some with chocolate frosting.  Yum!

Mesquite Ginger Cookies

2-inch piece of fresh ginger root

1 cup unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg

¾ cup honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup mesquite meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

            Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. and lightly grease cookie sheets.

            Grate ginger root. Beat together shortening, sugar, and egg until light and fluffy.  Add honey and ginger and beat until combined. Add flours, mesquite meal, salt and baking powder and beat well.

            Drop by teaspoons on greased cookie sheet. Dampen the end of a clean tea towel and wrap it around the end of a juice glass.  Use it to flatten each dab of cookie dough.

            Bake about 12 minutes until lightly browned. The cookies are soft and fragile when they come out of the oven but they firm up as they cool.

Tepary Beans – a Desert Gift

Muffin Burgess discusses beans with customers at the St. Phillips Farmers' Market

When I give demonstations involving tepary beans, people always want to know where to buy them.  One place is at the stand Muffin Burgess runs at the St. Phillips Farmer’s Market on Sundays in Tucson. You can also get them from Native Seeds SEARCH, both the store and on-line.  They are grown by San Xavier Cooperative Farm and the Tohono O’odham Community Action Farm, Ramona Farms in Sacaton, south of Phoenix, and Rancho Gordo in Stockton, California.

Teparies originally grew wild, but many generations ago the Tohono O’odham people domesticated them and grew them with the monsoon rains. They had many natural color variations, but when irrigation made possible the growing of pinto beans, farmers switch to the new crop and many of these varieties were lost. Working with native farmers, Native Seeds SEARCH has recovered some of the lost colors. 

Why are teparies important in the bean world? They rank slightly higher in protein and niacin and quite a lot higher in calcium. They also have a low glycemic index, which protects people eating them from a dangerously rapid rise in blood glucose levels. People who suffer from diabetes can reduce their need for insulin shots by eating plenty of teparies and other desert foods such as prickly pear pads and chia that have the gums and fibers useful in controlling blood sugar.

Tepary beans that have been stored for a while take a long time to cook — sometimes up to 14 hours in a crockpot.  Chef Doug Levy of the Tucson restaurant Feast! shortens the cooking time by soaking dried teparies for two days in cold water in the refrigerator.  And remember, never salt your beans until the end of the cooking time.

You can buy teparies by contacting Muffin at  You can find many delicious recipes for teparies in my latest book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.