Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chile Heaven

Dena Rupp in her shop

Whether you are cooking a wild food like nopalitos or putting together a Three Sisters soup of corn, beans and squash, the extra indispensable ingredient is chile — the red of a ripe Anaheim, the deep green of a thick-walled poblano, or a brownish crackling dry guajillo.  And the place to find chile sauces all ready for your creations is Dena Rupp’s shop, Wild West Hot Sauce,  in Traildust Town on the east side of Tucson.  Dena is beginning her fourth year in this location. 

 It is a tiny shop, but Dena carries around a hundred different products and the variety is incredible — I circled several times and found something new to catch my eye each time I passed and re-passed a shelf.  Among the amusing offerings are Habanero Potato Chips, Hot Flash roasted green chile paste,  and super-hot jelly beans.  Ass Kickin’ Peanuts come in chipotle-honey, jalapeno-cheddar and honey with habanero. And of course there are all the delicious products from Cheri’s Desert Harvest.  For me, the most unusual product was Frostbite, a completely clear hot sauce made for adding to drinks without changing their color or giving them a foggy look. 

Dena buys locally made products when she can. Among those are the Poblano brand of hot sauces that have been made in Tucson since 1924 and Pecan Barbecue Sauce from Sahuarita.  

Dena has tucked a few surprises around the chile products — some antiques and collectables, a little art, some sculpture.
Because Traildust Town comes alive at night with its restaurants, mini-train and mock gunfights, Dena opens at 5 p.m. and welcomes customers until about 9 or 10 p.m.

Pick your favorite chile for these peanuts.



Spring Greens: Cheese Weed

Cheese Weed

The many delicious varieties of wild greens arrive with warmer weather and longer days.  They are popping up in the desert now. Those of you living at higher elevations will see them as the temperatures warm up in your areas.  The cheese weed (Malva parviflor, M. neglecta) is a European import that shows up uninvited in gardens and other disturbed places.  The leaves, shaped like geranium leaves but smaller, are a little hairy and slightly coarse, but they have a mild flavor and hold up in stir-frys and soups.  The seed pods are round and look a bit like wheels of cheese, thus the common name.  The seed pods make good additions to salads as a substitute for capers if they are soaked overnight in a strong salt solution then pickled with any ordinary pickling solution. Let them cure for three months before using.

 The leaves can also be used as a substitute for the greens in the Egyptian national dish called molokhia. This is a green stew, usually made with chicken, onions and spices that is served over rice.  You can find lots of recipes for it on the Internet.  I’ve also read that the leaves can be substituted for grape leaves in stuffed vine leaves but the ones in my garden are too small. 
All the wild greens are chock full of vitamin A, and are probably organic if grown in your own yard. What a waste to consider them just a weed to be thrown in the compost or trash when they can be a nutritious complement to lunch or dinner.

See "cheeses" at lower left

Carolyn Niethammer is the author of Cooking the Wild Southwest  which contains recipes for 23 easily recognized desert plants, including about a dozen for wild greens.  Buy it from B&N here.

Bees: Important for SW Ecosystem

Linda McKittrick inspects a comb being made by her bees.

Today’s post is by a guest blogger, Linda McKittrick who is an urban farmer. On her large lot in one of Tucson’s historic districts, she raises chickens, bees and grows vegetables.  You can watch a short video of Linda with her bees “My Girls: the buzz on urban hives.”  Then read what she has to say:

For almost 15 years now I have been “kept” by bees.  Most people who call themselves “beekeepers” practice the art and craft of keeping honeybees, Apis Mellifera , in wooden or clay structures,  and of course there is truth to that claim.  Yet, feeling as smitten with the winged creatures as I do, it is probably more accurate to say that they keep me.  After years of relationship with them, I am still surprised how much they teach me on a daily basis. When you live with bees, you find your senses sharpen, you learn to listen to how a hive sounds as you open it; how it smells, what plants are at their “ honey flow” at what time of the year.  One’s awareness of the natural world sharpens.

 Bees embody just how intimately we are interconnected with other kingdoms.  It is inspiring to be reminded that the relationship between plants and their pollinators began evolving over 100 MILLION years ago, (!) when flowering plants, emerged as a life form on earth. Richard Brusca, of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, writes,  “the relationship between flowering plants and their pollinators is so intimate that should pollinator populations decline (or worse yet, go extinct), the impact on their plant associates would be immediate and profound. Because pollinators are species upon which the lives of so many other species depend, they are regarded as ‘keystone species’ Pollinators are thus essential to the stability of the global ecosystem itself.” 

 We can, in our very own yards, and on the grounds of our offices and schools, encourage habitat for bees. It is as simple as planting bee-friendly plants, reduce use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, provide clean water, and allow some bare ground to remain for solitary bees to nest in.  These simple acts create a healthy habitat for both native bees and honeybees.

 For those people who are interested in keeping just one or two hives, please do! It is satisfying to see bees create a hive as they make fresh white wax from their own bodies, tend their young, store honey, and forage — and all the while contributing to biodiversity.  It is my personal feeling that if several thousand people kept just one or two hives, (a common practice in this country just a few generations ago), rather than a few individuals keeping thousands of hives, both bees and our food supply would be healthier for it.

Dan Rather has reported extensively on various reasons for colony collapse disease that has killed many bees.  You can watch a shortened version of one of his stories here.

A bee goes to work