For the Tohono O’odham, the saguaro cactus is an honored relative. The towering cactus provides for the physical and spiritual sustenance of the people.
The saguaro fruit ripens during the hot months of June and July and is hand harvested just before the torrential monsoon rains using a traditional picking stick up to fifteen feet high made of saguaro ribs.
Traditionally, the fruit is made into syrup and the tiny black seeds and saffron like pulp are sun dried. Most saguaro syrup – bahidaj sitol – is used in the annual rain ceremony. A very small amount is available to the public. Thick and mahogany colored, this is the most rare of the world’s fruit syrups. Made from hand-harvested saguaro fruit, cooked slowly over mesquite fires, its unusual, deep flavor is both sweet and smoky. Saguaro syrup can be used in a similar manner as the finest aged balsamic vinegars. It is excellent as a glaze, garnish or drizzled over fresh fruit or ice cream. The crunchy seeds are rich in healthy oils and fiber and can be used in place of poppy seeds in any recipe.
Saguaro Syrup Glazed Tohono O’odham Squash
Courtesy of Mary Paganelli
2 cups baked, mashed Tohono O’odham or butternut squash
2 tbsp melted butter
1/8 cup saguaro syrup
Place mashed squash in a buttered/oiled 8x11 pan. Combine melted butter and saguaro syrup. Brush over squash. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until squash is heated through and the glaze is bubbly.