In the Tohono O’odham calendar, June is “Saguaro Fruit Month.” As I write this, waxy white blossoms are appearing on many of the saguaros in our front yard. In a month or so, these will turn into luscious red fruits (if the pollinating bees, birds, and bats do their job, and let’s hope they do.)
Saguaro harvest time is important to traditional Tohono O’odham. Whole families will move out to their customary stand of the giant cactus and camp out until all the fruits have ripened and been picked.
Picked how? With a remarkable tool with the wonderful name of guiput. A guiput consists of two saguaro ribs lashed together end to end to make a long pole. Near one end is a small length of saguaro rib, lashed at an angle. You maneuver the guiput until the cross-piece rests against the ripe fruit, you knock the fruit to the ground, and place it in a pail or some similar container.
For fruit that grows at the tips of the lower branches, we use a gardening tool called a Hula Hoe that you can buy at hardware stores. Back before we could find the ribs to assemble a guiput, we harvested what fruit we could from our saguaros with one of these.
When does the fruit get ripe? When it starts turning pink at the tip. If you wait till it gets red all over, long-beaked birds will have beaten you to it.
What do you do with the fruit? Well, right away you can cut it open, scoop the red pulp out, and eat it, seeds and all. It is wonderfully sweet.
My O’odham friends tell me that if I discard the opened fruit, it should go with the pulpy side up, so as to help bring the rain.
We’ll deal with other uses of the saguaro in the next installment, but while we’re on the subject of guiputs, don’t try to use a saguaro guiput on a pitahaya or organ pipe cactus. Its fruit, as sweet or sweeter than that of the saguaro, will shatter if it falls to the ground.
A pitahaya picking stick need not be as long as a saguaro guiput, but instead of having a cross piece, it ends in a sharp nail, an inch or so above a horizontal blade. You impale the fruit on the nail while cutting it loose with the blade, and lower it gentlyinto the pail.
Next Week: More saguaro harvesting.