Have you seen it yet?–the rare red-headed white-wing dove of the desert? “Red-headed Ok’ko-koi” is only around for a short while during the bahidaj. He is the herald of saguaro fruit harvesting season.
These longest days of the year (and the hottest!!) are the Sonoran Desert New Year of the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People. It is the beginning of “action time” in the desert, tho’ it may look blistered and dead from inside an air-conditioned space. Lots is happening. Listen to sounds of quail and dove at dawn; watch scurrying lizards at noon; sense bats at night. Desert life out there is pollinating flowers and dispersing seed in prep for monsoon moisture.
Tia Marta here to share ideas about the giant saguaro’s gifts of good food to its fellow desert helpers. With San Juan’s Day celebrated June 24, I pause to also acknowledge the birthday of my dear friend and mentor, Juanita Ahil, who first led me into the desert on an early June morning to introduce me to some amazing desert treats, discussed in this post.
Juanita would scoop out the nutritious pulp from thick fruit rinds–with thanks and blessings. We’d take several juicy bites before filling buckets of bahidaj to make syrup.
Over her open fire, she would stir a pot full of fruit and water until the water turned red, then strain the mass through a basket-sieve, saving the seed for other purposes. (See blog-sister Carolyn Niethammer’s post on “Black Beauty Wafers” of saguaro seed.) After sieving, it was the long process of boiling down the sweet water to a dark syrup–like making maple syrup. Don’t be surprised if you see Bahidaj Sitol selling for what looks like exorbitant prices; consider the time it takes to make! Juanita would contribute a share of her hard-produced syrup to her Tohono O’odham Community for fermenting into wine for the rain-ceremony, with prayers for the desert’s rebirth. Surplus syrup was so concentrated, it could be kept unrefrigerated, carrying summer’s sweetness into the winter.
Here are some delectable ideas for cool, super-simple desserts with saguaro syrup:
Directions for Muff’s SONORAN MELBA WITH PINE NUTS AND CHIA
Over a serving of vanilla or vanilla-bean ice cream, pour 1-3 tsp pure saguaro syrup (bahidaj sitol). It doesn’t take much, as it is so rich! Sprinkle top with 1/2 tsp chia seed and 1 Tbsp of pine nuts (shelled). Taste and go nuts in ecstasy!
Recipe for Rod’s SAGUARO SPLIT:
Divide a half banana in half longitudinally. Serve a big scoop of ice cream in between–any flavor– like chocolate chip or French vanilla. Top with saguaro syrup, seeds and nuts of choice. [Here the “lily is guilded” for sure. Who needs a cherry on top when you have the rare treat of saguaro syrup?!]
I also love to make chuñ–the dried bahidaj fruit which you can sometimes find hanging on the branches of a palo verde, the nurse tree next to the saguaro where fruit has fallen. Scoop out the pulp from its rind, place blobs on wax paper, dry them outside under a screen or in your solar oven. Eat and enjoy chuñ as a totally healthy snack; it is high in complex, slowly-digested sugars, vegetable protein and healthy oils in the seeds. Or, get creative with chuñ–as in the following recipe:
Recipe for Tia Marta’s “JUNE CHUÑ“ healthy fruit salad:
1/2-3/4 cup diced apple (approx 1 small apple diced)
1/2 cup organic red grapes cut in half
3 Tbsp dried cherries, cranberries, or chopped dried apricots
1/2-2/3 cup organic plain lowfat yogurt
1-2 tsp agave nectar (optional, to taste)
1/4 cup chopped dried bahidaj chuñ
Mix all ingredients except chuñ ahead and chill. Sprinkle some little chuñ chunks on each serving as topping. Serves 2 or 3. This is fancy and sweet enough to be used as a dessert. Enjoy the natural complex carbs, sweet nutrition, and delightful crunch!
So, Happy Desert New Year! And happy harvesting in the coolth of early summer mornings, rejoicing in the gifts saguaro gives to its fellow desert-dwellers–from the white-wing doves and ants to us two-leggeds!
[If you are beyond the Sonoran Desert and want to try some of these desert delicacies, you can contact http://www.tocaonline.org (website of Tohono O’odham Community Action, Sells, AZ) or http://www.nativeseeds.org (NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ; or 520-622-5561) to order them. Many other traditional desert foods are available at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.]
Braving the heat, inviting the monsoons and prepping for summer planting, NativeSeeds/SEARCH will be celebrating San Juan’s Day at the NSS Conservation Farm in Patagonia, AZ, this Saturday, June 24, 2017, 11am-3pm. Bring a dish for the pot luck and a spray-bottle of water for blessings. For info call 520-622-0830.