PHOTO BY JESSE RIESER
At Cotton & Copper in South Tempe, Arizona, Tamara Stanger turns to the Sonoran Desert’s surprisingly abundant edible plant life for her rotating lineup of pies. (clockwise from top left)
1. Stanger’s cheesecakes haveearned cult status among areachefs. This one gets its pinkish hue from prickly pears, which have a taste between watermelon and strawberry. Dried cactus fruit discs top the finished product, but not every part is experimental. That light, flaky crust? “You have to make it like Grandma made it,” Stanger says.
2. Stanger picks barrel cactus fruit with tongs to avoid the “roughly two-inch-long, hook-shaped” thorns, and then pairs it with a citrus blend for this lemon meringue–like pie. She embeds the black seeds in the crust and tops it all with edible flowers from the palo verde (Arizona’s state tree) and sail-shaped wafers of wild sumac–flecked meringue.
3. For a brief season in June, the wavy-armed saguaro cactus sprouts a vividly red-fleshed fruit, “the truffle of the desert.” Stanger preserves the fruit, which “tastes like cranberry without the tartness,” to use year-round. She adds earthiness to this lavender-topped, panna cotta–like pie by working in powdered Bull’s Blood beets.
4. For her take on pecan pie, Stanger uses Arizona black walnuts foraged from her Phoenix neighborhood, sweetened with mesquite bean syrup, which tastes “like a mixture of maple syrup and molasses.” For the crust, she mixes wild acorns with Pima wheat sourced from the nearby Gila River Indian Community’s Ramona Farms.