Tag Archives: I’itoi onions

Dried Corn Dishes Smell Like Fall

I recently was privileged to participate in the pilot run of a Borderlands Heritage Food Tour organized by Dr. Rafael de Grenade. It will eventually be part of a broader tourism attraction initiative.  One of the first stops was the San Xavier Coop Farm where we saw their fields and also watched the preparation of the traditional cracked roasted corn product called ga’ivsa.  I had purchased some ga’ivsa from Ramona Farms on the Gila River Indian Reservation  a few months before, but stuck it in the pantry and waited to learn more about preparation.

Some women were processing the corn  into ga’ivsa during our visit and we got a close-up look at their work. First the corn had to be shucked of all the outer leaves, then it is put on a charcoal fire to roast.

Shucking the corn at San Xavier Coop Farm

Tohono O’odham women work at shucking the fresh corn at San Xavier Coop Farm.

Corn roasting over mesquite coals gets a delicious smoky flavor.

Corn roasting over mesquite coals gets a delicious smoky flavor that adds to any dishes you prepare.

It was still very hot on that day, so we all moved into the shade of a barn where Verna Miguel, a Tohono O’odham woman from the San Xavier section of the reservation, explained to us that traditionally  the corn was crushed manually.  But now they have a machine that cuts processing time dramatically.  You can see the machine behind Verna in the photo below.  They can feed in the whole cobs that have been roasted and dried and get cracked corn ready for packaging.

Verna Miguel discusses the products available from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. Cracked corn processing machine in the background.

Verna Miguel discusses the products available from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. Cracked corn processing machine in the background.

Preparing the ga’ivsa begins with simmering it in water to soften it.  Put it in a heavy bottom pot, cover with water and cook for about 30 minutes.  Watch closely and add water as needed.  The kernels will soften and swell.  Soon it will begin smelling smoky, sort of like ham. A traditional preparation is corn soup.  To add to the deliciousness, add some green chile and cheese and perhaps some chicken or vegetable base or bouillion.

Ga'ivsa soup with green chile and cheese.

Ga’ivsa soup with green chile and cheese.

With some cooked ga’ivsa left after the soup, I decided it would be great as a stuffing for a green chile.  I roasted a poblano chile I had in my refrigerator, peeled it and cleaned out the seeds inside. If you are new to roasting chiles, don’t be afraid to get the skin well charred so it will peel easily.

Roasted poblano chile before peeling.

Roasted poblano chile before peeling.

I then sauteed some I’itoi onions (you could used green onions),  and added those and some herbs to the cooked corn and stuffed it in the chile.  I topped it with a little fresh cheese and heated it up. Some ground chicken or leftover meat of any kind could also work well.  That became dinner.  I should have taken a picture of my husband tucking in.  He loved it.

Chile stuffed with cracked corn mixture.

Chile stuffed with cracked corn mixture.

Note: This is the 61st and last issue of Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen. Starting in October, I will be joining a new blog with three other women, all of them experts in several aspects of Southwest food.  I have known each of them for years, and every time I’m with them I learn something new and exciting.  I’m thrilled to be sharing their expertise with all of you.  We will each post once a month on a Friday in a regular rotation.  When we begin again in early October, I will introduce you to each of them — I’m sure you will recognize some of them.  I am trying to learn how to migrate subscribers to the new blog which will be titled Savoring the Southwest.)


‘Want more recipes for traditional foods and  edible wild desert plants?  You’ll find lots of great ideas in The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  You’ll learn how professional chefs incorporate traditional Southwest ingredients into their menus in The New Southwest Cookbook. Ask your local bookstore to order for you or follow the links to order on-line.


Putting My Garden to Bed

The last pepper in my garden

This column is usually about edible wild plants and special southwestern spices, but I’m also a conventional gardener.  As you desert dwellers know, Mother Nature has organized our seasons upside-down from most of the rest of the United States.  While we are harvesting the last of our crops, gardeners in New Jersey are setting out tender little starts or planting seeds.

Today I put my vegetable garden to bed for the summer with a heavy heart. I love harvesting my home grown vegetables as much as I get a kick out of picking food from the wild. The last thing I pulled out was several clusters of I’itoi bunching onions. My two small-ish raised beds fed me and my husband Ford and our guests 90 percent of our vegetables and salad since around November. Every day when it was time to fix lunch, I took a colander and picked a selection of lettuces. When all the broccoli decided to flower at the same time, we ate broccoli every other day.  I did plant twice as much mustard greens as we needed, so I managed to fix it in creative ways and gave some away. My tomato plants were full of unripe fruit during the November cold snap, but I saved them with Christmas lights and several layers of blankets and we ate tomatoes through February.

I’itoi onions ready for an onion quiche.

I felt prayerful and grateful and sad as I pulled up the last sun-crisped plants, coiled up the drip line and worked in the compost, readying the beds for early fall planting.  For the first time, I deeply understood harvest festivals. For us, it is usually a fun weekend when we buy a pumpkin or some Indian corn. In more traditional times, people celebrated a real accomplishment – enough food to get them and their kids through the winter. I rely on a drip irrigation system to supplement our winter rains. But if I were gardening a hundred years ago, it would be a different story. Rains that were spotty or too plentiful could mean disaster.   And that is still the way it is in much of the world – a bad harvest can mean starvation. A bountiful harvest was cause for jubilation.

Empty garden ready for fall planting.

In a week, I’ll pick up some chicken manure from my friend Linda and work that into my garden and hope the monsoons turn it into a nice nutritious goop.  Meanwhile I think I’ll order some new seeds and get ready for September when the thermometer goes back below 100 degrees.

Vegetables and wild greens from my backyard – you can’t get more locally sourced than that!

Please share your experiences with your own garden.  I’d love to learn from you!