What to do with the saguaro fruit once it’s picked? As I wrote earlier, you can just eat the pulp — it’s wonderfully sweet. My wife likes to scrape it out and put it on a drying rack, for eating later on.
Or you can add some water and boil it — and strain it, and boil it some more — to make saguaro syrup. By the time you’ve finished the picking and boiling and straining process, you will understand why saguaro syrup is so very expensive.
For some traditional O’odham, there is a third step: the syrup is stored in large jars in a special house and fermented into a mild wine, which is used in a ceremony to bring the rain.
There’s a rub here for most of us: it’s illegal to harvest fruit on most kinds of public land, and the reservations are out of bounds for that activity for all save O’odham. You even need to ask permission to harvest on private land. (The same rules apply to pitahaya as to saguaros.)
But there are two ways out. If you have a friend who has one or two saguaros in the yard, get permission to pick and try the fruit. The other options are more organized and expensive, but well worth the price.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a saguaro-harvesting workshop on from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 15. Participants visit an O’odham saguaro camp that has been in place for three generations, then move on to a privately-owned grove to pick. Call 883-3025 for details. There are fees for this workshop and you may register online.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park also has a public Saguaro Harvest Celebration, the Ha:san Bac. It will take place this year on Saturday, July 6. The workshop, in which you will learn from Tohono O’odham teachers, starts at 5:30 a.m., while a fiesta follows 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Call 647-7121 for details. Park admission is $5 per car.
And while you are dealing with saguaros, remember that for the Tohono O’odham they are people, descended from a boy who got lost and was turned into a saguaro. Treat them with respect.
Highly readable descriptions of a saguaro harvest and related ceremonies may be found in "The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O’odham Country," by Gary Paul Nabhan (University of Arizona Press, 1992.)