Fall in the Valley is filled with so many food festivals and special dinners that you might have a hard time choosing which to attend. Pressed to narrow down the list to a small handful, we'd certainly include this Saturday’s Moonlight Over the Mound. At $90, it’s pricier than your average festival. But what you get looks to be well worth the expense: a taste of the past and one thrilling future of eating in Arizona.
Moonlight at the Mound is a Saturday, October 19, gala marking the Pueblo Grande Museum Auxiliary’s 90th anniversary. Pueblo Grande is a site of Hohokam ruins, a dusty, lasting suggestion of the canals and homes once sprawling along the Salt and Gila rivers — forming the greatest farming system in the pre-Columbian world.
The gala benefits Pueblo Grande. It also channels the deep past of Arizona agriculture while highlighting present growers and culinarians who peer into this past, but also ahead. Select local farms will be giving chefs ingredients to spin into plates, some in the high-flying New Arizona style we've covered in the column Sonoran Arcana.
Nina Sajovec of the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture will be bringing posh’ol (brown teparies with wheat berries or corn) and ga’ivsa up from Ajo, all raised using dry farming. Ramona Farms of the Gila River Indian Reservation will provide three varieties of tepary beans — brown, white, and black — plus wheats like White Sonora and Pima, many colors of corn, and more.
Velvet Button of Ramona Farms, one of the event’s primary organizers, promises “tons of flavors of the desert.”
Native-run Spirit Mountain Roasting Co. will provide coffee served with mesquite syrup and garnished with Ramona Farms pinole, a parched, stone-ground ancient wheat provision.
Button will be preparing an O’odham trail mix from ingredients like cactus seeds, roasted squash seeds, and wolfberries. She’ll be demonstrating how to make toasted sails of c’emet, the broad, fragrant tortilla relative eaten in the Sonoran Desert for centuries.
On top of these traditional preparations and displays, the dishes prepared by attending chefs will be carrying traditional ingredients into imaginative places.
From greater Phoenix, chefs include Micah Wyzlic of Phoenix City Grille, Brett Vibber of Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine, and Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper. There will also be talent from Tucson’s Casino del Sol, including the Pascua Yaqui chefs Odillia Riviera and Mario Carmelo.
Each restaurant will serve three items. If you’re a curious eater with an interest in the history and possibilities of Arizona’s natural flavors, a look at the menu might make your pulse drumroll. Pinole horchata. Shrimp with pink-and-blue corn grits and pickled yucca blossoms. Arizona quail and pheasant confit. Rabbit and edible parts of the ironwood tree. Squash empanadas lacquered with chiltepin-piloncillo glaze. And this is just a small cross-section, one that leaves out plenty of intensely local fine points and filigrees.
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Saturday night’s gala-feast is one event in a weekend that will also highlight a new exhibit and the unveiling of new ironwork along a canal on Sunday, October 20. To go with the food on Saturday, there will be music in the same spirit, including traditional flute by Tony Duncan.
“We’re hoping to do this every year for the next 10 years,” Button says, “to raise money for the cultural and educational programs at Pueblo Grande.” Each year, she plans to build on the previous year, adding more traditional foods from up and down the state.
It will be, she says, a celebration of “Arizona foods past to present.”
Moonlight Over the Mound Gala will be held at the Pueblo Grande Museum from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 19. Tickets are $80 to $90. Visit the Moonlight Over the Mound website for more information.