Monthly Archives: January 2012

Barrel Cactus Is Winter Treat

The mesquite pods are gone and the spring greens are still a few weeks away. In mid-winter there isn’t too much to gather in the desert, but barrel cactus fruits are ripe and ready for gathering.  They are easy to collect,  just a twist will remove them from the plant. Watch out for the spines.  The scientific name Ferocactus, from the word “fierce” is certainly appropriate.  The fruit tastes light and lemony and the shiny black seeds are easily dislodged.   My book Cooking the Wild Southwest includes a number of recipes for the fruit from cake to salsa to marmalade.  But it was very exciting to me when before a recent presentation at Native Seeds/SEARCH a woman came up and presented me with a pint of homemade barrel cactus salsa of her devise (photo below).  I was thrilled because she had really gotten my message:  read my book to learn about the plants and how to prepare them, look at my recipes, and then invent something of your own!   We all have favorite family recipes and using these healthful (and free) desert plants can be as simple as substituting one of them for something similar.

The seeds of the barrel cactus are great to use for snacks.  Grind them with other spices (I suggest mustard and cumin seed and black pepper) and sprinkle them on pita bread or regular bread. Great to accompany a salad for lunch.

Get ready for the spring gathering season. Cooking the Wild Southwest can be purchased at your local independent bookstore or ordered online.

Barrel Cactus Salsa and seeds


Southwest Foods: Wild Desert Party


Sampling delicious foods at the Native Seeds/SEARCH demonstration this week.

If you are shopping for tepary  beans, mesquite flour, prickly pear syrup, quinoa — or even something as exotic as dried cholla buds, the Native Seeds/SEARCH shop is the place to head.  Now settled in a beautiful new store at 3061 N. Campbell, with plentiful parking, Native Seeds/SEARCH has all those  foods and more.  They’ll also sell you the books that will tell you how to prepare what you buy including my books Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants and The Prickly Pear Cookbook.  And of course, true to their original calling, they offer a wide selection of seeds, mostly for food, that have been adapted over the centuries to do well in the harsh growing conditions in the Southwest. They also produce a terrific catalog so folks who can’t visit the store can shop

On January 16, Janet Taylor, author of The Healthy Southwest Cookbook, and I shared the stage at the monthly Native Seeds/ SEARCH salon, demonstrating how to cook some of the healthy bounty sold in the store.  I made a yummy prickly pear salad dressing with walnut oil, raspberry vinegar and prickly pear syrup. Perfect over a salad of greens, winter pears, red grapes and walnuts.  I also demonstrated a snack I call Aztec Delight, after reading in a book called Chia how the Aztecs combined ground amaranth and chia seeds and moistened the mixture with black maguey syrup. I figured that modern agave syrup would do, and it is indeed delicious.  Not leaving well enough alone, I rolled the balls in melted semisweet chocolate (that’s Aztec, too!)  Janet cooked teparies and blue cornbread and spoke about their health properties. After the talks, we treated our guests to a real feast. 

Aztec Delight: amaranth, chia, agave syrup and chocolate

Prickly Pear Cactus Treats from Cheri’s Desert Harvest

Cheri Romanoski making prickly pear cactus candy in her Tucson factory

Cheri Romanoski – petite, always charming, and incredibly inventive – is the reigning queen of prickly pear in Southern Arizona.  Back in the early 1980s, she began preserving fruit such as prickly pear and the citrus that grew near her Tucson home. By 1985, she had rented a small facility and began her business, Cheri’s Desert Harvest. Cheri makes a range of delicious jams, candies and jellies, but what she is most known for is her prickly pear jelly, syrup and candy.

            Every fall, Cheri’s staff harvests 70,000 pounds of the deep magenta Englemann prickly pears. Of course she can’t process all that right away, so the harvest is frozen and cooked throughout the year. Then it is shipped throughout the country to gift shops, grocery stores and top-end restaurants. Famous chef Bobby Flay uses Cheri’s prickly pear syrup in margaritas at this Burger Palace and Mesa Grill.  Customers who can’t buy her products locally can order off of her Cheris Desert  Harvest website.

            Cheri generously shared her recipe for her Arizona Sunrise Muffins with me for use in The Prickly Pear Cookbook

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 – 8 ounce jar Cheri’s Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly

Preheat oven to 400 (375 for convection oven). Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Mix oil, egg and milk and add to dry ingredients. Stir until moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Fill greased muffin tins half full. Place 1 teaspoon of jelly in the exact center of each muffin, with jelly not touching edges. Add remaining batter, covering jelly, so the tins are two-thirds full. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Do you have a favorite use for prickly pear syrup or jelly?  Do share in the comments section.