An Invitation to the Classic Brew

Twelve thousand years ago, at the dawn of civilization, the men and women of Mesopotamia emerged from their fire-blackened caves to forage emmer wheat and barley out on the golden plains.

They picked these grains in the wild and boiled them to make a thin and nutritious gruel. The gruel sweetened as it cooked, as the starch in the grains converted to maltose sugar.

These primitive hunter/gatherers discovered that if they let the sweetened gruel sit for a few days, something magical would happen: the yeast in the air would cause the sugars to ferment into alcohol. The gruel, by an act of nature, transformed itself into beer, and suddenly evenings spent by the fire became a little more pleasant.

Beer was the beverage that helped mankind stumble out of the caves and into civilization. Small bands of foragers began to settle down and cultivate wild barley and wheat in permanent domestic gardens. Those first-ever gardens would eventually evolve into vast and magnificent empires.

But in those early days, cooking vessels and cups were rare. To enjoy their beer, folks would sit in a circle around a common brew pot and lean in with long reed straws to drink their fill. Egyptian cave paintings from thousands of years ago depict drinkers with their straws sitting around a brew pot.  Drinking from a common pot became an important religious and social custom.

Later, when cups became more available, each person would dip his own cup into the beer pot and then everyone would lift and bring their cups together. This touching of cups brought the beer back in common as a symbol of unity, of brotherhood, to show that all would share in the fruit of the harvest. We honor this ancient tradition every time we touch glasses for a toast.

This Thursday evening, we will celebrate the fermentation of grain at the KEDT Classic Brew. We gather at the Classic Brew to share our good fortune, as did our ancestors when they leaned in, shoulder to shoulder, around huge pots of beer.

We lift our glasses and touch them together as a symbol of friendship, to honor all that we hold in common, to celebrate our community with the oldest crop in the world.

Classic Brew Pic 2 2014

A Beautiful Farm Video

We recently held a photo shoot at our farm for The Bend Magazine.  The photos were for a recipe, and we took the occasion of the picture-taking to have a wonderful dinner with friends and family.

Our friend Michael Diamante, a photographer based in Corpus Christi, made a beautiful video of the night.

Do you know how sometimes a wonderful evening can take on a dream-like effect in your memory? This video seems a little that way, and it is just how I remember the night.

To see the full recipe and Rachel Durrent’s amazing photography from the evening, click on The Bend Magazine and turn to page 64.

Picking Tunas for Dinner Tonight

Kayla Picking Tunas near Port Aransas

Kayla Picking Tunas near Port Aransas

Tonight, we will celebrate the fruit of the prickly pear cactus at a dinner at the Chartroom in Rockport.

Here, Kayla and I are picking ripe red tunas in the wild to deliver to Chef Mike.  This site is just off the windswept bay near Port Aransas.  Thank you Dave Ilfrey of for helping us find this excellent tuna stand!

At the dinner tonight, Chef Mike will feature roast pork, bacon, tomatoes, eggs, and freshly-picked basil from our farm. Chef Mike went shopping at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Corpus Christi and will also include new potatoes, cushaw squash, and okra from our friend Casey Williams, who has a farm up near Riveria.

Dinner begins tonight at 6:30pm. Call Chartroom at 361-790-2450 for reservations.

Good Tuna Ground with Beautiful Wildflowers

Good Tuna Ground with Beautiful Wildflowers

It helps to have a good reach to get the tunas in the center of the cactus stand

It helps to have a good reach to get the tunas in the center of the cactus stand

Emma helped by being a sweet and good girl, as always

Emma helped by being a sweet and good girl, as always

Come to Dinner at Chartroom on Wed, September 3rd!

The View from Chartroom

The View from Chartroom

Friends, Kayla and I invite you to a very special dinner at the Chartroom in Rockport on Wednesday, September 3rd.  Dinner will begin at 6:30 pm.

We are excited to partner with Mike Lynch, executive chef of the Chartroom, to bring you a unique and completely original meal. We will feature the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which is called ‘tuna’. Kayla and I will go out and harvest these fruit in the wild and deliver them freshly-picked for the dinner.

Prickly pear cactus fruit is sweet, dark, and delicious.  Chef Mike will prepare the tunas in interesting and creative ways throughout the dinner.  You may even find prickly pear cactus fruit in your desert and in your cocktails!

At this dinner, Chartroom will also feature pork roast, bacon, tomatoes, and other products from our farm, as well as fresh Gulf shrimp and pasta prepared from scratch. Not only that, Chef Mike will go shopping at the Downtown Farmer’s Market in Corpus Christi to add to the dinner with wonderful products from other local farms.

This three-course dinner of wild harvested fruit and farm fresh food is only $45, please make your reservations soon!

For reservations, call 361-790-2450. Chartroom is located at 39 Mazatlan Drive in Rockport, in the Key Allegro Marina.

(Kayla Juicing Tunas through Cheesecloth.  Photo by our friend Rachel Durrent)

(Kayla Juicing Tunas through Cheesecloth. Photo by our friend Rachel Durrent)

The Fruit of the Desert

(Ripe, Red Tunas:  Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit)

(Ripe, Red Tunas: Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit)

In the heat of high summer, when our gardens suffer the most in the scorching sun, all of South Texas itself becomes a glittering garden of sweet and purple fruit.

This fruit is called tuna, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, and there is a limitless supply now ripe for picking.

(Prickly Pear Cactus:  A Good Tuna Stand)

(Prickly Pear Cactus: A Good Tuna Stand)

The Annual (and ancient) Tuna Festival of South Texas

Prickly pear cactus fruit was a staple food of the Indians of South Texas. Each year at this time, the tribes of our region called a general truce and gathered in the vicinity of modern-day Alice, TX, for the annual tuna harvest.

Many tribes converged on the tuna grounds: the Mariames, the Ygauses, the Anagados, Charrucos, Avavares, and a tribe the Spaniards called the Fig People because of their reliance on the fig-like tuna.

The tuna festival lasted two solid months. The Indians held fairs where they could trade their goods, barter for brides, and play games. It was the best time of the year.

Each tribe would pick its way into the center of an elaborate prickly pear stand to camp, safe from all enemies behind a wall of thorns. They sat lazily around their fires, dancing and singing songs, and eating their continual fill of the sweet scarlet tunas.

They would keep smoky fires burning night and day to prevent mosquitoes. The miserable work of keeping the fires going was left to women or slaves. One of these slaves was the famed Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, who spent two summers in captivity in the tuna grounds. He later wrote in detail about this experience to offer a glimpse into Indian life in South Texas.

Tuna close up

The Thorns of the Tuna

Prickly pear fruit are covered with barbed, hair-like thorns, called glochids, which are difficult to see but are painful to the touch.

When Robert LaSalle was shipwrecked on the coast in 1685, near present-day Port Lavaca, one of his soldiers ate several whole tunas without first removing the glochids. The irritation of the thorns caused his throat to swell shut, and he suffocated to death while his comrades looked on in horror.

But tuna thorns are very easy to remove. Indians used sticks to detach the tuna from the cactus, and then singed the fruit in a fire to remove the thorns.

(Singeing Tunas in Fire.  Photo by Rachel Durrent)

(Singeing Tunas in Fire. Photo by Rachel Durrent)

Indians peeled the purple fruit and ate the pulp raw or baked it in earthen ovens. There was no drinkable water in the tuna grounds, so the Indians dug long trenches and filled them with the juice of the tunas, so they could sip the sticky liquid at their leisure. And they dried tunas in the sun to preserve the fruit for travel back to their winter camps.

The tuna harvest was critical to the nutritional needs, even to the very survival, of South Texas Indians. Tunas are rich in vitamins A and C and they are loaded with anti-oxidants. This fruit provided a sweet and healthy sustenance to the dwellers of a barren land, in the heat of summer, when nothing else would grow.

Gathering Your Own Tuna Harvest

Tuna Picking

(Use Tongs to Pluck Tuna from Cactus)

(Use Tongs to Pluck Tuna from Cactus)

(A Good Container for the Harvest)

(A Good Container for the Harvest)

Tuna Hunters are tough and brave with a taste for adventure!

Tuna Hunters are tough and brave with a taste for adventure!

To save yourself from the heat, harvest your tunas in the red of the morning sun, as the desert clings to the coolness of night. Begin your hunt soon, because tunas are only ripe through the end of September.

Use tongs to pluck the tunas from the prickly pear pads, and choose firm, darkly-colored fruit. This picking goes quickly once you find your rhythm.

Watch for cactus spines as you reach among the prickly pears, and watch also for rattlesnakes. They hide at the feet of the cactus, and they don’t always rattle before they strike.

Once you have your tunas at home, you don’t need to singe the thorns.  Simply hold the tunas on a cutting board with tongs and cut off the very top and bottom of the fruit, then make a slit in the skin down the side.

Peel the skin away with a knife to reveal the scarlet pulp. Tuna is sweet, dark, and delicious. The flavor of the fruit subtly changes as you travel west out of Corpus Christi, to match the changing flavor of the landscape.

(Kayla Juicing Tunas through Cheesecloth.  Photo by our friend Rachel Durrent)

(Kayla Juicing Tunas through Cheesecloth. Photo by our friend Rachel Durrent)

You can eat tuna pulp raw, or juice your tunas to sweeten tea and other beverages, or, best of all, boil down your tunas with sugar to make a one-of-a-kind crimson jelly. We also use tunas to make a sweet and tangy reduction for our pork chops, steaks, and fish.

It is true that tunas are difficult to harvest in a desert of snakes and thorns. But that is all part of the adventure that makes this wild harvest so rare, and so completely original.

Yes, there are thorns in the desert, but there is also fruit, endless amounts of sweet scarlet fruit, and it is just beyond your doorstep, and ripe for the picking.

(Photo by Rachel Durrent)

(Photo by Rachel Durrent)


Drip Irrigation

Kayla with Irrigation Lines

Kayla with Irrigation Lines

The cities of Rockport and Corpus Christi have activated Stage II of the Drought Contingency Plan. In Stage II, homeowners can use sprinklers to water their landscapes only one day per week, and on that day only in the early morning or evening. The fine for using a sprinkler outside of the designated time is $500 per citation.

But there are no restrictions to watering your landscape with drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is not the same as soaker hoses, which are shoddy and unreliable. Drip irrigation applies water in a slow controlled flow through evenly spaced holes along each line. The water saturates the soil at the base of the plants with minimal loss to evaporation.

Drip irrigation is the ideal method for watering your landscape. Plants prefer drip irrigation to everything except a good old-fashioned rain.  It only takes about an hour for drip lines to deeply water the roots of plants–vegetables, flowers, and trees–and you can even water turf grass with durable drip lines buried discreetly beneath the soil.

Drip irrigation is inexpensive and easy to install. The lines last for years, and you can tailor your system to your own unique landscape to maximize the efficiency of your water use.  We use Irrigation Mart for our irrigation materials, and they are excellent at helping assess your needs and fit the right product to your situation, but there are many good companies who supply this material.

Drip irrigation was pioneered on the kibbutz farms of Israel in the late 20th Century. Israel, a tiny state in the desert, possessed limited land and water resources for agriculture, and Israel was surrounded by enemies and locked in a life-or-death struggle for national survival.

Israeli farmers were forced to innovate–to get the most from every drop of water. Drip lines helped transform the barren landscape of Israel into a food oasis, and Israel became agriculturally self-sufficient.

Israeli Farmer Laying Drip Irrigation (courtesy

Israeli Farmer Laying Drip Irrigation (courtesy

In South Texas, we must also make the most of every drop of water. Stage II drought restrictions are meant to cut water use by ten percent. On our farm, we have reduced our own water needs by 50 to 80 percent through drip irrigation, native mulching, and improved soil health. The potential for water conservation through these methods is enormous.

If the drought continues, as it most surely will, sprinkler watering will soon be even further restricted. Drought has become the new normal in South Texas, and drip irrigation is the likely future of our lawns and gardens.

Drip Tape with Connection

Drip Tape with Connection

Join Me for a Live Radio Broadcast today at 12:15pm!

Friends, join me on the radio today at 12:15pm for a live radio broadcast with host Liz Laubach.  Liz and I will be talking about drought, the new water restrictions, and techniques for conserving water in your landscape.

The program airs on 90.3 FM in Corpus Christi and 90.7 FM in the Victoria area.

Thank you for tuning in!


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