Saturday, January 09, 2010

Bounty in a Desert

Outside my door is a frozen wasteland and below zero temperatures. It's enough to keep you inside all day looking for a reason to turn on the oven. It also makes me dream of warmer days such as our holiday trip to the Arizona desert.

The irony is, of course, that many folks think the desert is an empty wasteland. I found it the opposite. Rugged, beautiful, with vast wide open space that let my soul breathe. We also found a lot of unique foods that can't be found anywhere else. On a Christmas day walk — yes, it was warm — we stopped by neighboring yards and did a little "ultra-local" free harvest of citrus. My mother-in-law loaded my backpack with four cups worth of calamondin limes for preserved limes.

Calamondin limes look like tiny oranges. They are a cross between mandarin oranges and a kumquat. Think tangy orange with very thin peels that can be eaten.

Once we got home, the first step was to give the limes a good wash. After that, slice them very thin, peels left on, removing the four large seeds in each. Then, boil the limes in a sugar syrup for 45 minutes. If you are going to preserve them, you'll need to have sterile canning jars, lids, rings and a canning pot to boil the filled jars. Here are some instructions on canning.

Preserved Calamondin Limes
4 cups calamondin limes, washed, seeded, peels on, sliced thin
3 cups water
2 and a half cups sugar

Bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the limes and boil for 45 minutes. Can the preserves if desired. These are delicious on toast or a topping for gingerbread cake. The recipe that kicked around in my head while sampling them would be a nice dark chocolate crepe with the preserved limes for topping. We brought back a few jars so I can try it. Perhaps while looking out at the snow.

We found a lot of unique ingredients that come from the desert during our stay. An extra suitcase let me bring home some of these items:
  • Mesquite flour, made from the ground pods and beans of the mesquite tree
  • Prickly Pear Cactus, we found syrup and marmalade made from prickly pear fruits called tunas. The pads of the cactus are also edible, known as nopalitos.
  • Mesquite Honey, made by the bees who feeds on the nectar of the mesquite tree flowers
I also was lucky enough to stumble into a used book store and locate an out of print cookbook, Fruits of the Desert, that describes all the ingredients native to the Sonoran desert and how to cook them. It will be great reading on these cold days. There are a lot of other edible cactus and desert foods that are covered in the book, plus the locally grown citrus and pomegranates.

1 comment:

Keesha aka Prissycook said...

I haven't spotted any of those orange limes in Phoenix, but I'm planning a trip up North for President's Day Weekend. Thanks for the post, I now have a mission to find some of those little guys.