Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Blue Corn Cake and Juniper Ash.

There I was, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, attempting to find posts of interest.  Share a positive quote or two, the heart toughing moment of an animal being rescued, and that post that gives you laughter right from the belly.  Of course I enjoy reading the foodie posts, recipes that I would not touch with a fork, literally, and desserts that make my sugar soar just looking at the photos.

One popped up from the admin, Pauline Haines, from a favorite page, Navajo and Pueblo Cooking; blue corn cakes which included juniper ash.  Ash, in a cake?  Oh, I had to know more about this.  She, and several others, explained how the branches from junipers (trees or shrubs dependent on the altitude) are burned, shifted and the ash collected.  The ash adds calcium, magnesium and Vitamin A to the diet; mainly used for baking, it intensifies the coloring of blue corn meal.

The book Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners, by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney, have a section on the juniper.  Found among the pinion pines of the Colorado Plateau is the juniper which happens to be of the Cypress family.  An evergreen whose needles (leaves), branches and berries have various uses – medicinal, culinary, household and ceremonial.  Traditional sweathouses were constructed with juniper wood, and the bark was floor covering.  Now I have used sage myself for indigestion, but the Hopi added juniper.  This mixture dates back to Ancestral Puebloan times, proven with residue found in coprolites (that is poop in layman’s terms).  For creating dye, the Navajo boiled together leaves, twigs and berries to produce a yellow, orange or tan coloring.  Juniper leaf ash was used to fix (mordant) other colors, so they would not run or fade.  Oh, I could go on and on about the uses for juniper, but I have a better idea, buy the book!

I just happened to have all the ingredients for the cake, except for the juniper ash.  Looking online, I found Shima ( and here is their mission statement: “We are artists, farmers, protectors of our precious and sacred way of life on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners of the Southwest and the land of our ancestors. The land of our shimas. We are growing sovereignty and self-reliance with each bar of soap, every bag of stone-ground cornmeal, every spoon of juniper ash and every jar of honey. Help us protect the precious. Share in the sacred with us.”  Part of Good Shepherd Mission, and the Episcopal Church, Shima is associated locally with San Juan County – St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff.

Receiving my order very quickly, happily off to the kitchen I went to play.  The recipe can give you two – 8” x 8” cakes, or one – 9” x 13”; I chose the latter, and frosted half of it with cream cheese frosting.  One of the Facebook members suggested adding cinnamon to the mix; the smell, while baking, was intoxicating!  After cooling came the tasting; slightly moist, yet tender, very akin to red velvet cake, but blue in color.  The half with frosting was very good also, but I suggest just a smear of frosting, or the cake itself gets drowned out.  “Seriously”, you’re asking, “how can a cake made with blue corn meal be as good as red velvet?”  Let me put it this way, “Hunny, put down the fork.  Hunny, hunny, stop eating the cake.  Hunny, you’re going to get sick.  Yes, I know it’s good, but stop!”  That was me talking with my husband, and he’s not a huge fan of cake.

Recipe time!

Blue Corn Cake
(Recipe by Pauline Haines – Navajo and Pueblo Cooking Facebook Admin)

1 and ½ cups flour (Blue Bird, of course)
1 cup roasted blue corn meal
1 and ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. juniper ash
1 cup sugar (Truvia Baking Blend works too)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup milk

Option: Add 1 and ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (thanks for the suggestion Lisa Bellison)


Preheat oven to 400F. (I used a non-stick baking pan, or spray with nonstick baking spray)

Mix together all ingredients until smooth, pour into baking pan.  Bake for 20 minutes. (Did the toothpick test and it is perfectly timed)

(Personal Note here:  I shifted all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Otherwise my cakes come out with floury lumps, so it has become a habit to shift all the dry first. Then whisked the oil, eggs and milk in a small bowl, before adding to the dry ingredients.) 

Fully Baked After 20 Minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting (this is a basic recipe)


8 oz. heavy whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar


In a cold, metal bowl, whip the cream until firm.  Add cream cheese and whip until smooth.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar, whip until thoroughly incorporated.

Makes enough frosting for 2 – 8” x 8” cakes, or 1 – 9” x 13” cake.

Going to a social gathering, potluck, or any event that you want to bring a dessert to?  Make this cake, but do not tell anyone what it is until it is all gone.  It will be all gone, and everyone will be pleasantly surprised at what your creation was.  Be prepared to give out the recipe.  Enjoy!

Pile of dried juniper berries found at Mule Canyon's Cave Towers.
Mary Cokenour 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Edible Leather.

Food dehydration has been a part of culinary history as far back as 12, 000 BCE.  The Egyptians used desert heat and blazing sun to suck the liquids out of fish and poultry.  The Middle Ages saw the development of “stillhouses”.  Fruits, vegetables, herbs, even meats were strung up along the ceiling, fires lit, so that the heat would dry them out.  Sounds like the invention of smoking foods can be attributed to that practice as well.  World War 2 necessitated lightweight foods that could be carried in a soldier’s pack; dehydration was the answer.  However, when the soldiers, who luckily survived “The Great One”, came home, families were not having anything to do with that “stuff”.

By the 1960s and 70s though, outdoor lifestyles surged forth; sex, drugs and rock n’ roll were the rage for young folks.  However, they had to eat too, and dehydration made a comeback with jerky, trail mix and healthy, organic, dried fruits.  Hiking and camping went hand in hand with this new lifestyle as well, so back to lightweight foods in backpacks.

While many food items can be air dried by hanging on strings (herbs, mushrooms, small peppers), you definitely would not try this with liquid rich foods.  Slicing up steak, to make jerky, would only encourage bacteria and insects when hung up to dry.   The invention of the electric dehydrator was a boon to this new type of homemade product making.  The use of low heat temperatures, dry air movement and time guaranteed a tasty food that, if stored properly, would last and last.  Now we have solar dehydrators which, like the Egyptians, use the power of the sun to heat and air dry.  No worries over air borne bacteria or insects as the solar units are enclosed, using mirrors to reflect onto the food.

This year, due to all the winter and spring moisture, the fruit trees are packed with a rich abundance of fruits.  There is canning and freezing to store, but then dad mentioned dehydration; how he loved to snack on dried apricots.  We picked several from his over laden trees; put into a water bath to easily remove the skins.  Then I pulled out the old dehydrator; mine is a Waring from 1990 with no temperature setting (standard 140 F).  It still works well for what I need it to do, so I will buy a fancier, temperature control model once it gives out.  Just because something is old, does not mean it cannot be useful anymore.

There are drawbacks to dehydration; along with the moisture, some nutrients are lost in the process.  The natural sugar content is dense and compressed, so if watching those carbs, this snack could be a no-no.  The end products can be extremely chewy and/or tough; and not always re-hydratable.  Depending on the fruit, vegetable or meat, the time to dry it out can be long hours leading to days.  For example, with my dehydrator, dried apricots can take up to 36 hours to completely dry out; that is a lot of electricity being used up!

What could I make that would take less time, yet be still be a good snacking item; fruit leather, also known as fruit roll-ups or fruit strips, can be done between 6 to 12 hours.  The time difference is dependent on how many trays being used, and how thin or thick the pureed fruit is.

Here is what I did: 80 apricots split and pits removed, put into a hot water bath to make skin removable easier (some folks leave the skin, it is a matter of taste and texture).  To keep the apricots from turning brown, I added two cups of fresh pineapple (yes, lemon juice (1/4 cup) could have been used instead).  For added sweetness, four tablespoons of raw honey; then pureed all (immersion blender, blender or food processor will work) until smooth.

Each tray of the dehydrator was lined with plastic and the puree was smoothed on thinly, but not leaving any non-opaque sections.  A half inch of empty space was left from the center opening to the puree, and the outer tray edge as well.  Plugging in the dehydrator, it immediately began to work; the scent of apricots filled the air.  Every two hours I turned off the dehydrator to check the texture.  Hour 10 was at an almost point, so checking at hour 11 I found the fruit leather to be completely done.  It peeled easily off the plastic, fit into a plastic bag which was sealed (squeeze the air out) and then sealed inside a plastic container.  The puree I had made was in a 3-quart container, and I was able to make 2 batches of fruit leather, using the 5 trays each time.

After 6 hours, too soft

After 9 hours, not yet

After 11 hours - dry, flexible, peelable and delicious fruit leather.
When sealed and stored properly, this all natural, only three ingredient fruit leather can last up to one year; except in the Cokenour household.  Looks like I will be making more in the near future.

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market is Back in Action.

Canning and jamming, baking and mixing, crafting and cooking; the Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market was back in action on Saturday, August 3rd.  What better way for home based entrepreneurs, or new businesses, to show off their wares than at the market?  What better way for consumers to get freshly made food products, or handmade crafts, than at the market?

While only three vendors were at Veterans Memorial Park, it is not unusual for a slow start.  Once word gets around though, and photos are shared on Facebook, that is when folks begin coming round.  More stands begin opening, and at only $10 a spot, that is a bargain right there.  August and September are the months the market is open, every Saturday, from 8am to 12pm.  As the weeks progress, the abundance of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, hand crafted items and more offer up numerous selections to locals and visitors.

Let’s meet the first wave of vendors.  First there is Backyard Gold, a three generation, home based business managed by Pam Hanson, her daughter Emily Clarke, and granddaughter Adeline.  While Pam is the breakfast burrito and baked bread maker, it is Adeline who is the product inspector.  She will make sure to pick out the perfect selection for the buyer.  Emily is the spice mixologist and rose water creator.  All three ladies will be expanding their offerings soon with keto and gluten free, spice mixes, honey and a variety of canned products and baked goods. 

 Pam Hanson is also in charge of the market, so if interested in becoming a vendor yourself, call her at: (435) 459-9789; or message her on the Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market on Facebook at:

Next to buy from is Thea Langston, who will tell you proudly about her homemade, no preservatives ever, jams, jellies, breads, rolls, cinnamon buns and pickles.  Her wild raspberry jam has a perfect consistency that smoothly slathers; that’s right, I like to slather it on, no smears for me!  Oh sorry, went on a side rail there; back to slathering onto that lovely baked bread from Backyard Gold.   Next time I plan on trying Thea’s bread as I am an equal opportunity carb consumer.  I did purchase one of Thea’s banana breads with streusel topping; each slice a comforting, hug-me moment.

Third, and certainly never the least, is Montezuma Canyon Ranch and Vineyards, owned by Dixie Brunson and Jude Huber, and Chris and Shelia Honecker.  Met these two when taking a short class on the “Cottage Industry” given by USU; nice people!  Their offerings for the market are, again, homemade jams, jellies, pie filling, baked goods, pickled eggs and veggies.  Previously they had sold their cherries, or cherry baked goods, at Anasazi Realty, and I missed out; not this time.  A jar of cherry jam was my score!  Hand knitted items of pot holders, dish towels, and scarves are available too; lovely to look at, so buy some to hold.

Alright all you home vegetable gardeners, get those extra crops picked and be at the market on Saturdays.  This home cook is looking for plump tomatoes and huge onions; how else am I going to make pasta sauce!?!  But seriously folks, do not let the abundance of gardens and orchards go to waste, sell them to those who want to buy; same for all those craft artisans.

Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market; every Saturday in August and September; Veterans Memorial Park, 8am to 12pm…be there!

Mary Cokenour