Thanks to Father Kino, the Southwest was part of the great Columbian Exchange. Foods like fennel and strawberries were not native to the region but once introduced became highly popular.
The Columbian Exchange
We all know that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And we know he was looking for spices. On the first trip he filled his ships with seeds and cuttings of plants he found and sailed home (he came back a few times too). The Exchange was the start of the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, diseases, and ideas between the Americas, West Africa, and the Old World, mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries, but continuing into Father Kino’s time.
This new contact among the global population circulated a wide variety of crops and livestock, which ultimately supported large increases in population in both hemispheres. Sadly, diseases initially caused precipitous declines in the numbers of indigenous peoples of the Americas. Traders returned to Europe with maize, potatoes, and tomatoes, which became very important crops in Europe.
Foods Brought to the Southwest
It is estimated that over 100 species of food plants were brought into the Southwest during the Exchange. Roughly 60 species were transferred from this region to Europe and Africa. Plants were also taken to the Orient, but that is a tale for another day.
In this season, strawberries were ripening in the gardens of the Kino missions. Fennel grows in the cool winter months, and was generally harvested in April. Since fennel has about 2 months storage, it was time to use it up. Plenty of strawberries and the last of the fennel – let’s make a blend! To add some protein and help round out the flavors, a handful of toasted squash seeds (pepitas) and some I’itoi onions (or shallots) are ideal.
The kind folks at the non-profit All-America Selections (AAS) shared this recipe, and I share it with you as something that might be something savored back in the day. I have take the liberty of editing it slightly and because some readers like to know “why?!” I have included some whys.
Fennel and Strawberry Salad
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped fine
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup pepitas (hulless pumpkin seeds) toasted
1 shallot, minced (this could be an I’itoi onion!)
1 teaspoon honey to balance the flavors
1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard (this helps emulsify the oil into a creamy dressing)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar (dark balsamic in a pinch)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
pinch of salt
Make dressing first to allow the flavors time to meld together.
Combine all the ingredients except the oil. Whisk together.
While whisking, drizzle vegetable oil into vinegar blend.
Whisk well to form a creamy emulsion.
In a separate bowl, combine sliced fennel, fennel fronds, and strawberries.
Leave the toasted pepitas out until serving or they lose their crispness.
Drizzle on the dressing and toss gently (you don’t want to squish the strawberries!)
Top with the toasted pepitas just before serving.
Served alone as a tasty salad, or serve it on a pile of greens like baby spinach or butter lettuce.
This recipe is provided as an education/inspirational service of All-America Selections (AAS). We thank them for sharing! We invite you to view the video of chef Jonathan Bardzik creating this salad for AAS – here.
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If you like this, consider the book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon. If you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.
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