Strange Water Mono Lake Gourmet: An Unusual
By David Carle, Park Ranger, Mono Lake Tufa State
Good morning! We have two very unusual recipes for
today's program, so grab your measuring cups and spoons
and prepare to make: 'Mock Mono Lake Soup' and 'Tufa
Porridge Extraordinaire'. Sounds yummy? As always, we
offer only the unique and highly seasoned on the Mono
Lake Recipes Show.
Ingredients! Mock Mono Lake Soup can be made with normal
items you keep around the house, but I'll list the ingredients
slowly to give you time to gather them together. Some
of these things are not generally kept in the kitchen.
Mono Lake has been busily accumulating its various ingredients
for over 700,000 years, we figure, so speed is obviously
not of the essence.
Oh, yes, you'll need some sort of closed container.
Something that will hold the ingredients in place, creating
the perfect environment for a highly seasoned soup.
No seives, you understand. The Mono Basin has no outlet;
neither should your bowl.
So, those ingredients: as you see, we have fresh clean
water, direct from the tap. And regular old table salt
(sodium chloride, to you chemistry buffs). Then some
baking soda; this is very critical to both recipes we
are preparing. Do you recall its chemical name, "sodium
bicarbonate"? Yes, it is that bitter stuff that
helps you burp and feel better when your tummy's upset.
Mono Lake is loaded with baking soda. And then, some
epsom salts (magnesium sulfate, that is), along with
a little borax. Finally, just a pinch of a phosphate-containing
Ah, your mouth starts to water, no? The key to this
recipe is mixing the various ingredients in their correct
proportions. Sure, other lakes contain similar minerals,
but Mono has its own unique mix of these ingredients.
(Perhaps sometime we'll feature a Great Salt Lake recipe,
although, personally, I find a certain subtlety lacking
in that particular saline soup).
Here is our first recipe:
Mock Mono Lake Soup
1 quart fresh water
2-1/2 Tb salt (chloride)
4-1/2 Tb baking soda (carbonate)
2 tsp epsom salts (sulfate)
pinch of borax
pinch of detergent (phosphate)
Mix well. Exactly how you bring everything together
is not important. Mono Lake uses streams, wind, and
volcanoes to stir. Eruptions every 500 years or so,
thoughout most of the lake's history, have contributed
much to the special character and bouquet of Mono Lake's
To check for 'doneness', rub a little of the soup between
your fingers. It should feel slippery. Go on, lick off
those wet fingers. Savor the essence of the three primary
'salts', the chloride, carbonate, and sulfate, mixed
in just the right proportions.
What can you do with this soup? You might try washing
your hair. Really! At one time the salts from Mono Lake
were commercially evaporated and packaged for just that
purpose. There are some who say that a soak in the water
will ease arthritis, but I'm no doctor. If you want
to try soaking, rather than mixing up a bathtub-sized
batch, you might just come to Mono Lake when it's warm
and go for a swim. You'll float like a bobbing cork;
all those chemicals dissolved in the water will hold
you up. Careful! It will sting if you get the water
in your eyes. This is the best way to appreciate the
special qualities required of trillions of critters
that live their lives in the lake the brine shrimp,
alkali flies, and birds.
One of the best ways to cap off the experience is to
take a freshwater shower after your swim. You will discover
that the soapy quality (remember the baking soda, borax
and detergent?) really works. Not lots of lather, although
waves in the lake often produce mounds of white soapsuds
along the beach, but you will get clean and your hair,
especially, will end up mysteriously conditioned
soft and easy to comb. (Not that you'd want to shampoo
daily in the lake, unless your scalp is so oily that
you produce Exxon-size slicks in the water when you
But now, on to our second featured recipe: 'Tufa Porridge
Extraordinaire'. This is built around our first concoction,
but you'll also need an ingredient that is rarer in
most households calcium chloride. To dissolve
properly it should be in a granular or powder form,
most often available from chemical supply houses. If
you have none handy, just watch closely. My hope is
that, after seeing this, you will be motivated to track
down the correct stuff. As I always say, a properly
stocked spice cabinet is a must if you are going to
cook the Mono Lake way.
So! We mix 2 teaspoons of calcium in a pint of fresh
water. That is not a highly concentrated solution, but
neither are the springs that come up under Mono Lake.
And then, the moment of truth. I now pour the calcium
mixture into the Mock Mono Lake Soup, just like a groundwater
spring rising up into the lake. Well, not just like
but, what can I say? It is not easy to mimic
the way the lake brings the two water solutions together.
So we will just pour them together, like so.
Voila! Look! See it? As soon as the two waters meet,
white solid stuff forms. Solid tufa from the mixing
of waters! Amazing! I know, I know, it does not look
very solid. That is why the recipe is called 'Tufa Porridge.'
But if you let it sit awhile, all the solid white calcium
carbonate, or tufa, will settle to the bottom of the
Should you taste it? Well, actually, this extraordinary
porridge is best enjoyed for its decorative qualities
just like the photogenic tufa towers of Mono
What's that question? Why did we not form a tufa tower?
Good, audience! It is because we stirred the waters
as we mixed them. But under Mono Lake, the little tufa
crystals can securely anchor themselves to the bottom,
where a spring emerges. And them more crystals hook
on those first ones as the spring keeps flowing. Over
time, if conditions are just right, a big tower, as
much as 50 feet tall, might grow there. The spring will
continue to flow around and up through the building
tower. Of course, once the tower reaches the top of
the lake it can grow no more. As you now know, the tufa
tower must have both Mono Lake, with its carbonates,
and fresh springwater, with calcium, to make the reaction
And that is our program for today. Thank you for joining
me for more unique recipes from that incredible place,
Mono Lake. Be with us next time, when we will prepare
'Brine Shrimp Louie' and 'Alkali Fly Pupa Popcorn'.
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