Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bacanora – our local spirit

Agave plant in the plantation.

Agave plant in the plantation.

This last weekend an importer of bacanora was giving tastes at a Tucson festival. Bacanora is to Sonora as tequila is to Jalisco and mezcal is to Oaxaca.  Bacanora is the third, less-known sister of the triumvirate. Our sample was delicious and smokey with just enough fire to let you know you were drinking.  This is how bacanora is described in Tequila: a natural and cultural history by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan:

“Bacanora: A bootleg mescal made from the northernmost populations of Agave angustifolia var. Pacifica in sonora and adjacent Chihuahua, sometimes mixed…with A. palmeri. Named for the small rancheria of Bacanora near the pueblo of Sahuaripa, Sonora, this mescal was recently legalized and commercialized, but the clandestine cottage industry product by this name remains the pride of Sonorans.”

Last summer, I visted a mezcal-making exhibit — the process is the same.  These days most manufacturing is done in fancy factories with steel vats and antiseptic conditions.  These pictures show how it is done in the small rancherias.

This is the same method used by Apaches over hundreds of years to prepare agave for food.

Harvested and trimmed agave hearts ready for the earth oven.

Harvested and trimmed agave hearts ready for the earth oven.

First a large quantity of wood is burned in the rock-lined earth oven. The agave hearts are then added, the whole pit is closed up and the agave is baked from one and one-half to three days.

Baked agave head

Baked agave head.

Baked agave head being disassembled.

Baked agave head being disassembled.

Once the agave heads are nicely baked and carmelized, they are cooled, unloaded and the leaves are separated.

The mill,or molino, that crushes the baked agave leaves.

The mill,or molino, that crushes the baked agave leaves. Usually powered by a mule or burro.

The leaves are loaded into the mill, usually of volcanic rock,  and a draft animal goes round and round crushing the baked leaves to a pulp. Next the crushed pulp is loaded into a vat for fermentation. It stays there 6 to 12 days depending on the temperature.

Fermentation vats for the agave pulp and juices.

Fermentation vats for the agave pulp and juices.

Close-up of the fermenting agave.

Close-up of the fermenting agave.

The next step is to distill the fermented liquid.  In our home process this is done in a simple oven-like still.

The oven turns the fermented juice into vapor.

The oven turns the fermented juice into vapor.

The copper tube collects the vapor where it cools and condenses into liquid again.

The copper tube collects the vapor where it cools and condenses into liquid.

The mezcal or bacanora drips into the jug.

The mezcal or bacanora drips into the jug.

One of the commerial bacanoras.

One of the commercial bacanoras.

Bacanora has now been legally sold since 1992. Old-timers still have nostalgia for the unmarked bottles obtained with a little stealth from a Mexican rancher friend.

Interested in more recipes for wild desert foods?  Check out my book Cooking the Wild Southwest for delicious mesquite recipes as well as recipes for 22 other easily recognized and gathered southwest plants.  For a short video on some of the interesting plants you can gather, click here.

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Mesquite Log Cake for a Birthday

Mesquite Log Cake

Mesquite Log Cake

While we wait for spring and little green things to pop up on the desert, we can turn, like our foremothers, to our stored foods.  For me, that is me that is the mesquite meal that I had ground by the Desert Harvesters big hammermills last fall. When a friend was going to celebrate her birthday dinner at my home, a mesquite log cake seemed like the perfect thing.  It is one of the recipes that I repeated in Cooking the Wild Southwest from the earlier out-of-print Tumbleweed Gourmet because it is just so darned delicious.  It’s easy to make, but the first time you read the directions, you might think “this can’t be right.”  So I made a series of photos to demonstrate.

First, line an 11-by-17-inch jellyroll pan with foil. In a small saucepan or bowl in the microwave, melt 1/4 cup butter and spread evenly over the foil. Spread one can sweentend condense milk on top. Like this:

Butter and sweetened  condensed mil.

Butter and sweetened condensed milk.

Next, evenly sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of flaked or shredded coconut and 1 cup chopped nuts on top.

Layered butter, milk, coconut and nuts.

Layered butter, milk, coconut and nuts.

In a blender beat 3 eggs at high speed.  When frothy, add 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup mesquite meal, 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking sodea, 1/3 cup water,  and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Blend and pour on top of the coconut mixture.

Pour batter on topping and spread evenly.

Pour batter on topping and spread evenly.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully so the corners don’t get overbaked.

IMG_0449While the cake is baking, spread a clean, nonterrycloth dish towel on a flat surface and sprinkle with 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon cocoa or carob as at left.

 

 

 

 

 

Tip cake onto the tea towel so cake is on bottom.

Tip cake onto the tea towel so cake is on bottom and the coconut is on top.

When the cake is done, invert it onto the tea towel, and using the towel, begin to roll it. Do this right away before it cools.

 

 

 

 

Roll into a cylinder

Roll into a cylinder

Cut into two on a slant

Cut into two on a slant

 

Happy birthday!

Frost with chocolate frosting swirling it to look like mesquite bark.  Decorate with mesquite leaves. If it is a birthday, add candles and singing.  Interested in more mesquite recipes?  Check out my book Cooking the Wild Southwest for delicious mesquite recipes as well as recipes for 22 other easily recognized and gathered southwest plants.  For a short video on some of the interesting plants you can gather, click here.