Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mesquite Ginger Folk

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No one would ever confuse me with Martha Stewart, nor can I produce those crafty little items you see on Pinterest, but I think these Mesquite Ginger Folk are pretty cute and they taste wonderful.  I used good quality margarine rather than butter or Crisco because I like the eventual texture and the flavor is good. This recipe makes a spicy cookie. If you want more of the mesquite flavor to come through, cut down on the spices. The dough must be well chilled before you roll it out, so this is a two-step recipe: mixing first, then later rolling and baking.

Mesquite Ginger Folk (makes about 3 1/2 dozen rolled cookies)

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour,  1/2 cup mesquite meal, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.  Stir and fluff with a fork and then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat 1 1/2 sticks margarine  with 1/2 cup packed brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in 2/3 cup molasses and one large egg. Then gradually add the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. You may need to give up the mixer for a wooden spoon.  Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled, about three hours.

When you are ready to bake, take one disk from the refrigerator .   You’ll want the dough just warm enough to roll without cracking.  While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350 F. and put out brown paper or wire racks to receive the baked cookies. You’ll also need lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking when rolled.  So get a small bowl of flour, take part of the disk, and roll it in the flour before you roll out with the rolling pin.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll out the dough about 1/8-inch thick on flour-dusted surface. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and roll out again.  When you fill one cookie sheet, bake it for about 10 – 12 minutes while you prepare another sheet.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

If you wish, you can use raisins and dried cranberries to make eyes, a mouth and buttons.  Chop the dried fruit into tiny pieces.

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Sometimes it is difficult to position those tiny pieces on the cookies. But remember those tweezers you keep in the kitchen to deal with cactus stickers?  Perfect for placing the eyes and buttons.

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To further decorate the cookies, perhaps make some shoes or pants, mix up some white frosting using powered sugar, a little butter and a few drops of milk.  If you have a decorator bag, use it to pipe out some decorations or just draw the decorations with a flat-end toothpick.  Either way, you’ll love your Mesquite Ginger Folk and you’ll love sharing them.

For more great mesquite recipes, check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.  You’ll learn how to make Mesquite Apple Coffeecake, a fabulous rolled cake with mesquite and coconut, and a dozen other delicous recipes.

Kids Help Kids Learn About Native Plants

Nate Whitthorne demonstrates mesquite grinding on metate to elementary students

Nate Whitthorne demonstrates mesquite grinding on metate to Ventana Vista elementary students.

I was in junior high when I first picked prickly pears with my parents and in my mid-twenties when I joined in the hippie-era enthusiam for learning about wild plants and trying to live off the land.  All of us from that time are getting a bit gray now, so it was with great excitement that I learned that Nate Whitthorne and his younger brother Sam were not only learning about native uses for wild plants, but also teaching what they know to younger children.

Nate and Sam live with their parents Elizabeth and Perry on a beautiful piece of Sonoran Desert on Tucson’s far east side. Right outside their back door are mesquite and palo verde trees, barrel, cholla and saguaro cactus, and even a wolfberry bush.  Their mom and dad originally learned about native plants from a class at the Desert Museum. They also bought my book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest on native uses of desert plants  and tried some of the old-time recipes they found there.

Sam and Nate Whitthorne in their desert backyard.

Sam and Nate Whitthorne in their desert backyard.

In October, Nate and Sam took their knowledge on the road as they represented Tucson Botanical Gardens at the Ventana Vista Elementary School Plant Science Family Night.  Inspired by the Botanical Gardens Native Plants-Native Peoples curriculum, they showed the younger children how to grind mesquite pods on a metate, how to make fiber from agave leaves, and how to dye cloth with crushed cochineal beetles from prickly pear cactus.

Pounding agave to make fiber.

Pounding agave to make fiber.

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No one expect folks living in the 21st century to exist on wild foods — there are too many of us and it’s not the way we eat today.  And yet Nate and Sam understand that helping younger students learn  what fruits and pods are edible and the other uses of desert plants helps them appreciate the history of the people who lived here before us. Understanding the hidden wealth of the desert  helps all of us feel more connected to our environment.  By seeing not just thorns and stickers when we look at desert plants, but also delicious food and fiber and dye, we look at the desert landscape as something precious to be protected rather than bladed to make way for another shopping center or housing development.  How exciting that that the next generation is getting as much pleasure from learning about desert plants as we did when we were young.

Want more ideas for using desert plants in delicious foods?  Check out my books The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.