Historic Harvest - Oro Valley Homes for Sale
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The monsoon season marks the start of the new year for the Tohono O'odham people of southern Arizona. At the same time, they collect the fruit of the saguaro cactus for food, drink, and ceremony.
For thousands of years, the Tohono O’odham people have lived in the desert that is now southern Arizona. Their traditions are largely intertwined with the landscape and the life that inhabits it. For example, they use most parts of the saguaro cactus, including flowers, fruits, seeds, thorns, boots, and ribs. Each part has value as food, manufacturing material, or for ceremonial purposes. One of the most important traditions amid the summer heat is the annual saguaro fruit harvest, which marks the beginning of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s new year.
The first saguaro harvest was documented in 1540 when explorer Pedro de Castañeda witnessed the Tohono O’odham people collect the fruit of the desert giants and make their traditional wine. A few hundred years later Saguaro National Monument was established under President John F. Kennedy. When the people came to harvest the saguaro fruit the following summer, staff at the national monument tried to prevent them from practicing their tradition. The Tohono O’odham people wrote to Secretary of the Interior and Arizonan Stewart Udall, who soon implemented laws protecting the yearly harvest. Today, Saguaro National Park and the Tohono O’odham Nation organize the permits to harvest the saguaro fruit among native people and visitors to the area.
Spending a hot day harvesting saguaro fruit is difficult work, but the reward of the deliciously sweet syrup is worth it. The harvesting techniques have been passed down through generations. 15-to-30-foot long poles made from dead saguaro ribs are used to hook the fruit off the top of the towering cacti. The red fruits are then collected off the ground and taken back to camp. In two or three hours, an experienced harvester can gather between 12 and 20 pounds of fruit (not including the fruits eaten along the way). 20 to 30 pounds of fruit yields a single gallon of syrup. To make the syrup, the fruit is boiled for 45 minutes and the debris, pulp, and seeds are removed. The juice cooks for another couple of hours until it thickens into a syrup. The syrup can be enjoyed as is or made into delicious jam and barbeque sauce. Adding water to the syrup ferments it and creates the Tohono O’odham ceremonial wine.
Saguaro fruit harvesting has been practiced for hundreds of years, and visitors to Saguaro National Park can learn how to collect the flavorful fruits from an expert harvester. As they have for centuries, the Tohono O’odham will continue to conserve and protect the saguaro while maintaining their traditional harvest.