Native Arizona Foods
Since my teens in Germany, I have been fascinated with wild food foraging. Teaching members of my family about safe, wild edible mushrooms and berries in the mountains. A fascinating hobby that now allows us in Arizona to experience, to a degree, how human ancestors lived off the land. The Arizona growing season chugs along all year long. Mild winters allow for the harvest of cool weather crops and hot summers help make citrus sweet, chilies spicy, olives and dates ripen.
Tasty Plants or Weeds?
Many of the tastes we recognize and enjoy such as sourness, pungency, saltiness and bitterness are adaptations that plants have developed for discouraging herbivores. Many renewable wild herbs, greens, fruits, berries, nuts and seeds thrive in our backyards, fields and trails. Although we could easily incorporate these healthful and tasty resources into meals the way our ancestors did, many people either disregard them or try to destroy them as “weeds.” Until World War II, people ate weeds regularly. Dandelions and lambs-quarters and other wild plants were part of their diet. Bias against wild edibles came only after World War II, in part because of pesticide companies advertising. They convinced consumers to value uniformly green lawns, and the way to get that lawn green was by killing weeds.
Regional Variations in Native Arizona Foods
Exactly what is in season in Tuscon or Phoenix and Scottsdale or Flagstaff can differ greatly at any given time, but this will give you a sense of what to expect. The cooler areas provide summer harvests to the warmer areas, while the warmer areas send food north in the winter. The heat of the desert allows such delights as fresh dates to grow in the Copper State. Water and irrigation are issues in some areas and will affect harvest times some seasons.
Native Food in the Desert
There is only now developing a more pan-Indian sense of what “native food” is. This is a cuisine of a people whose cuisine has been whatever they could find. Native desert foods include, for example, seeds, which are a rich store of energy, some having high protein levels, vitamins and minerals. Living as basically wild animals for the last million years or so, man ate every seed that was worth collecting, including those of the legumes. Lambs-quarter, mesquite beans, stinging nettle, piñon nuts, saguaro fruit, cholla buds and tepary beans, which grow on the Tohono O’odham Reservation southwest of Tucson, are among my favorite wild foods.
Northern Arizona and Mormon Lake
At an elevation of approximately 7,000 feet, the area around Mormon Lake Lodge is a great habitat for many eatable native plants. Wild mustard, for example, grows annually throughout many forested areas in Arizona. High elevation combines with regular rains to create the perfect environment for morels and other edible fungi according to the Arizona Mushroom Forum. Especially in the wet summer monsoon months of July, August, and September. In late April and early May after a wet winter, there may also be some worthwhile morel hunting in the mountains.
Beware: One should always have a guide handy when foraging for wild plants. Toxic plants can easily be mistaken for safe ones, especially when it comes to berries and mushrooms.
Visiting the Prescott area
You have many good lodging options; but when staying with us at Watson Lake Inn, you set up your ideal base camp foraging and hiking the area, fueled by an incredible breakfast which takes you on a voyage of culinary discovery, and keeps you going all day.
Watson Lake Inn – “Where culinary pleasures and experiences become lifetime memories.”