Mesquite was perhaps the most meaningful thing I ate in AZ, but there were plenty of other terroir-laden delicacies. Like the tepary beans and chiles that my friends Jordan and Autumn grew in their garden.
I left the teparies (above) soaking and am curious to hear how they turned out. I rehydrated a few kinds of their chiles (below), which ended up in a salsa. The liquid they'd plumped in made for some piquant agua fresca.
Much as I love heirloom New England produce, it just doesn't thrill me to the core like the stuff you can grow in places like Tucson. Of course this is probably just the allure of the exotic, and if I lived in the Southwest I'd be pining for native sweet corn or fresh Duxbury oysters. Hmm, now that I write that, I'm already pining.
That's how Jim Verrier of the awesome Desert Survivors plant nursery feels (read that sign if you can). Surrounded by a sea of Sonoran-style Mexican cuisine, he sounded like he'd sell his soul for some New England tomatoes grown in our region's acidic soil. I didn't even know that we had acidic soil. When comparing New England to Arizona, I guess the grass is always more acidic, or less existent, depending on whether you're looking east or west.
In two drip-irrigated raised beds in the backyard, Jordan and Autumn also grow chard, tomatillos and native tobacco. Amaranth pops up on its own volition in the rest of the yard, and the house came with an old, established pomegranate tree and another volunteer just starting to poke up.
Though they live in a neighborhood notorious for its lawns, they ripped up the insatiable grass, mounded the earth to replicate the desert terrain, and reintroduced native plants like ocotillo and wolfberry. The ocotillo was particularly hard to squeeze into the car on the way back to from the nursery.
While sitting in the yard one morning of my recent visit, Autumn presented me with a glowing-green smoothie. I recall that it had almond milk, mango, banana, spinach and mint, and it couldn't have been a more stark yet complimentary contrast to the hot, dry, dusty surroundings. One sip and my temperature plummeted, partly from the frozen fruit, partly from the menthol.
I had entered the garden entranced by the tough, scrubby, desert crops. The beans and hot peppers. But to be perfectly honest, is was the cool, fruity smoothie that really hit the spot. I wonder if, as chili peppers are to Chengdu, the smoothie is to Tucson: a stranger from a faraway land that has found its spiritual home?