barrel fruit, steps and olives



olives in the oven

Last night I did some research about the barrel cactus fruit that I harvested in the afternoon and found out some interesting things…

In the spring and summer the cactus develops flowers, which after fertilization turn into the fruit.  The O’Odham indians, who inhabited the Sonoran dessert, ground the seeds and used them to make bread and tortillas.  However they rarely ate the fruit.  This is because the fruit has a sour taste to it, and native people avoided foods that were sour because it indicated that they could be poisonous.  The sour taste of the fruit is caused by oxalic acid, which is naturally occurring in many plants.  It is also synthetically made and used in cleaners.  Oxalic acid is what gives rhubarb its sour taste and its high concentration in the leaves are what make them poisonous.  You would have to eat about 11lbs of leaves to die, but only a fraction of that to get very sick.

barrel cactus flower

processing the fruit

We were going to cob the tub today but got distracted chatting so we only managed to build step for the tub.  We used volcanic rock that we found around the yard.

We will cover the rocks with cob and leave some surface exposed on the top of the steps.

Barbara has been curing olives she picked from trees growing around Tucson.  Although they are not native to the region, there are olive trees all over Arizona.  It has an ideal climate (hot summers, slight winter chill, and plenty of sun) and ideal soil (well drained and alkaline) for olives.  Most of the olives on these trees do not get picked most likely because people either don’t know that they are there are do not know how or want to bother to cure them.  Uncured olives are not edible, they are extremely bitter due to the glucoside in them.  I made the mistake of eating one that fell out of the oven on the ground.

Barbara has developed a method to cure olives that is far less wasteful than the conventional way using her solar oven and salt.  Conventional olives soak in a salt water brine for 5 to 6 weeks.  The brine must be changed at least once a week, which wastes gallons and gallons of water that can not be used for irrigation because the salt will kill the plants.  Instead Barbara slits her olives, soaks them for three to four days in water, which must be changed regularly but can be used to water her plants.  She then lets them dry in her solar oven for about a week and then coats them in salt which makes them weep the rest of their moisture.  After a couple of days in salt they are ready to eat.

Today we processed some olives that had been drying in the solar oven.

the solar oven

The solar oven was made by Bill Cunninghan


adding salt to dried olives

the olives on the right have cured for a few days


2 responses to “barrel fruit, steps and olives

  1. Woo hoo! All of these projects are awesome! Your blog site looks great Thalia, it is so great to see what you are up to down there. And I bet those olives are delicious =) mhmmmm

  2. Looks great hun! you’re amazing 🙂

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