Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action


    O'odham Squash

Ha:l – O’odham squash – has been grown by the Tohono O’odham for generations. It is planted with great ceremony, songs and blessings in the Spring before the summer rains, and harvested from early summer to late fall. The flowers, seeds, immature and mature fruit are all edible and are important and delicious foods in both summer and winter months. The light green, sometimes striped, baby summer squash is called ha:l ma:mad-- literally squash children. These immature squash are much like a zucchini but with a denser texture, firmer exterior and many fewer seeds. Ha:l ma:ma∂ is eaten boiled, steamed or fried. When the squash is left to mature on the vine, it grows as large as forty pounds or more, develops a hard outer shell and is referred to as ha:l. These large squash have a starchy texture and mild flavor and, once harvested, are eaten boiled or steamed. Ha:l is also peeled, sliced and sun dried for storage. The sun dried squash spirals and pieces are stored and boiled during winter months when fresh food is scarce.



Steamed ha:l, the most traditional preparation, has a starchy texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. To prepare, cut the squash from the neck into thick rounds and then into chunks, about the same size. Clean the seeds and any strings out of the squash body. Cut into similar sized chunks. Do not peel. In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, place squash chunks on a steamer or rack and stack them up until they reach about 2 inches from the top.  Add about 2 inches of water. Cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil vigorously and steam escapes from the top, remove cover and fit a piece of tin foil tightly over the top of the pan. Cover again. If the water starts to dry out, add more just a little bit at a time.  Cook until squash is soft but not mushy or watery (approximately one hour), it should peel right off the rind. Remove from heat and take the squash out of the pot immediately so it won't keep cooking. Line cooked squash pieces on a platter or plate, skin side down, to cool. Remove and discard rind.



This is a very easy way to prepare squash. Baking gives it extra sweetness and, if you don’t eat it all, it freezes beautifully. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. The skin is very tough so you may need to use a hatchet or heavy knife. Scoop out seeds. Place squash, cut side down, on a baking or cookie sheet, pan or broiler pan. Do not add water. Bake at 375 degrees until soft, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 25 minutes. Cool and scoop the cooked squash out of the skin.  Discard the skin. Mash and eat plain, or with butter. A big squash will yield about 10 cups.


Saguaro Syrup Glazed Tohono O’odham Squash

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.


Yield – 2 cups