With the coming of fall, thoughts turn to preserving the fruits of the fields, trees and vines. Northern New Mexico has a long history of food preservation through drying, canning and …
With the coming of fall, thoughts turn to preserving the fruits of the fields, trees and vines. Northern New Mexico has a long history of food preservation through drying, canning and other methods that continue to be practiced today.
Taos Pueblo traditions continue
People of Taos Pueblo and other pueblo villages have braided corn together and hung it up to dry to preserve the kernels for seeds for a very long time, said Tiana Suazo, the garden program coordinator for the Taos County Economic Development Center. Suazo oversaw an internship program for four Native youth this summer that culminated in food preservation lessons. The participants, ages 15 to18, grew corn, beans, squash, melons, chard and more at two plots at the TCEDC, along with tomatoes, cucumber and basil in a greenhouse.
Now, the youth are learning about ways to dry corn, make chokecherry and plum jam, white pear butter and watermelon jelly. All summer long, the youth grew crops and sold them at the Red Willow Market at Taos Pueblo. Preserved and fresh foods will be available at the upcoming Red Willow Market on Wednesdays.
It was the first time farming for the youth, Suazo said. Each one picked five crops to grow and sell at Red Willow. In the process, they also learned entrepreneurial skills and gained other hands-on expertise, such as repairing a greenhouse, stretching the new plastic covering into place. Each participant will preserve seeds from their crops so that they can be planted next year in their own gardens and fields.
As for canning advice, Suazo suggested first buying a good canning book. "Most of them cover all kinds of food preservation from canning to pickling, making jams, freezing and fermentation," Suazo said. "The books can be on the expensive side, but it is a good investment. I also suggest talking to others who have experience."
Suazo has learned a lot from her grandmother and elders. She says her grandmother taught her how to use butter in making jams to prevent it from bubbling over while it cooks. She also heard about methods, such as hanging the chokecherries in bags overnight in a cool dark room to allow all the liquid to drip out to be used for jelly. One elder showed Suazo how to dry the leftover chokecherry pulp to make a powder to be used as a dry rub on meat.
Taos Real Food
Margaret Garcia grew up in a big family whose roots go back many generations in Chamisal. She learned about farming and food preserving from her father, who was also a Spanish colonial woodcarver. She learned to bake in the horno and to can and dry apples, pears, corn and meat. Her family taught her how to grow and use herbs.
Although sauerkraut, or chow chow as it was known in Northern New Mexico, was a part of Garcia's growing up, she didn't become really interested in it until she read the book "The Body Ecology Diet." She had been suffering with fatigue and other symptoms and began to eat fermented food with every meal. "Within three days, I started to feel better," she said.
The products that were available commercially didn't smell or taste good. Her sister suggested that they make their own, so Garcia's obsession with making fermented foods began. They flavored their sauerkraut with red chile and garlic. "It tasted great and everyone in the family started eating it and feeling better," she said.
She experimented with different flavors for four years and then took the weeklong class at TCEDC to learn about food regulations and safety. Now she sells her creative sauerkraut varieties at the Taos Farmers Market, including surprising flavor combinations, such as ginger and chile. She hopes to find local outlets for her products soon. "My loyal customers want to feel good all winter long," she explained.
When asked about the different uses for sauerkraut, she has suggestions for every meal: with eggs at breakfast, in taco, and on salads. To maintain the probiotic effects, the sauerkraut should not be cooked, but can be added to the top of stir-fries and other dishes after cooking. "Our gut is the center of our universe, and we need to take care of our biome," she said.
To make sure that her sauerkraut is the best it can be, she ferments it in earthenware crocks in small artisanal batches. She employs local teenagers and family members who enjoy working together.
For Garcia, her fermented food is a way to bring health to the community. "Food is the kind of healing that feels good and is joyful for me. It is my medicine to share. It is like making a gift. I love to make it, eat it, sell it and share it," she said.
Preservation at the Taos Farmers Market
A Saturday morning visit to Taos Farmers Market offers many opportunities to learn about and buy preserved foods. Eremita Campos from Embudo has been offering her jams, jellies and syrups at the Farmers Market for 30 years. Now her grandson Joaquin is learning farming and food preserving from her and is gradually taking over operations, with the assistance of his friend Atle Olson. At their Comida de Campos booth, they offer pickled beets, plum jam, chokecherry jelly and syrup, and apricot jam.
"I was on the farm when I was a little boy," said Joaquin. "I went away for a year to study finance. I thought I would make money as a stockbroker and then come home to the farm. But I decided instead to stay at the farm, make money and re-invest it here."
Sadie and Carlos Lopez of High Road Gardens in Trampas have crisp sour dill pickles on their table, along with apple butter, pesto, teas, lemonade and breads. "Every bit of the ingredients is from Trampas," said Sadie Lopez. Mint from their garden is dried and forms the basis of the mint tea and other products. The apple butter is made with cloves, cinnamon, apple cider and apples from the 120-year-old tree in their front yard. A bread is made with zucchini from their garden and pears and figs from a neighbor's yard.
The couple came back to Northern New Mexico nine years ago after living out of state to take over operations of the farm that has been in the family since at least 1803. They are reviving the land and caring for it again. "Old trees can deteriorate if they are not cared for; the apples will get smaller and smaller. But an apple tree will come back if it is tended. Trees know if someone is there caring for them," explained Carlos Lopez.
Homemade wine and mead-making
Food can also be preserved as something delicious for drinking. Curt Chesney made his first batch of mead 12 years ago in Pennsylvania, but his passion really took off when he came to Taos. Chesney worked on the Just Kiddin' farm with Robert Felt and Martha Fielding. After Fielding's passing, Chesney took over work on the farm where he grows, tomatoes, raspberries, apples and makes pesto, all of which he sells at the Farmers Market.
While working the farm, Chesney is also dreaming of creating a meadery in Taos. Only a few meadmakers operate in New Mexico, and Chesney sees a rising demand. "It is very sustainable," he says. "Mead uses the most local sugar source in that it is made from the honey of the bees in our community, and it takes the least amount of water to make."
To share the fun and joy of making mead and wine, Chesney offered a class in September at Earthgoods and is planning another workshop Oct. 21. He covers the process of making wine and mead, including the equipment required. Part of the class involves tasting different varieties of local honey. He also shares his philosophy: "I focus on putting good intentions in the mead. I really enjoy the process of making it, and there is a lot of gratification and joy that comes from sharing a good quality bottle of mead with friends."
Chesney plans to spend the winter months that are quiet on the farm sketching up ideas and creating a model for the future meadery. "I would like to tie in a sustainable agriculture model and create a place where workshops can take place that benefit local people and bring in people through ecotourism," says Chesney. "I'm a winemaker; I have patience," he says. "But I'm dreaming about making mead and selling it before too long as a way to support local beekeepers and continue to build our local agricultural economy."
Preserving the joys, tastes, and smells of the summer is a way to make the season linger. Making food, wine and mead from your garden or from Taos Farmers Market produce ensures you will have healthy food into the fall and can share the bounty with friends and family during holiday celebrations.
For more information
The Taos Farmers Market is held each Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on historic Taos Plaza through at least the end of October, with the possibility of an extension into November. Visit the market to learn more about food preservation techniques.
To register for the October wine- and mead-making class, find Just Kiddin'/Abundant Generations LLC on the south side of the plaza or look for the event on Facebook.
The Southwest Intertribal Food Summit will be held October 26-27 at TCEDC, Red Willow and Taos Pueblo. It is hosted by the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance and is open primarily to Native people. Panels will discuss farming during drought times, selecting seeds, saving food in root cellars, as well as indigenous games and discussions of the Pueblo Revolt and the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.
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