It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert. But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain. Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures! So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus. The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food. The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain! A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us. Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!
He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”
So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….
Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided! Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket. Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness. Here are some vivid photographic hints.
The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year. If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.
At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season. Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source. Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.
With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year. Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp. Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.
You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue. There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.
Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.
When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”! It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors. Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest. The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit. Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits. National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!
My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven. I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!