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Making the world's rarest syrup: learning to make saguaro syrup sounded like an adventure my family would love.


It's six in the morning and already hot. In just a few hours, the thermometer will register over a hundred degrees. My family has come to Southern Arizona's Colossal Cave Mountain Park to participate in something few tourists experience--the annual saguaro-cactus harvest. For a single day each year, Colossal Cave Mountain Park hosts a Tohono O'odham saguaro harvest. Any other time of year, it's illegal to harvest saguaro fruit here.


Mature saguaros stand fifteen feet and higher, and the fruit we'll be gathering grows on top of their spine-covered arms and trunks. The obvious question: How will we reach them?

Here to answer this question--and more--are Regina (Gina) Siquieros; her sister, Angie Saraficio; and Regina's 16-year-old grandson, Gustavo Verdugo. They are Tohono O'odham. The Tohono O'odham (Desert People) were once called Papago Indians by non-natives. They make up the second largest Native American nation in the United States.

Gina begins by showing us how to make our kukuipad--harvesting sticks--from saguaro ribs. The wooden ribs are straight, unlike most plants growing in the Sonoran Desert, and light, but none of them is long enough to reach the fruit. We bind the ribs together using pliers and baling wire, positioning the thickest, heaviest rib on the bottom. We attach a small creosote branch crosswise near the top of our harvesting sticks. Creosote is very strong and won't easily break when pulled or pushed, which is how we will bring down the fruit.

Saguaro fruit is about the size and shape of a large egg and covered with a reddish-green peel. Beneath the peel, the fruit is bright red and freckled with as many as two thousand tiny black seeds. The fruit feels like a fresh fig in your mouth, but tastes more like watermelon mixed with pear.

Gina explains that the first fruit we gather is very special. We must take a small piece of it and place it over our hearts. Then we are to ask for blessings, such as good health and kindness. Gina jokes that those who arrived late might ask to become early risers! We all ask for patience, because it will take a lot of patience to make syrup from the fruit we'll gather.

As we nudge the saguaro fruit loose, I stop and listen. The falling fruit sounds almost like rain--a soft thump when the fruit lands in the dirt or a sharp patter when it's caught in the buckets.


When the first fruit is taken from each saguaro, we leave the peel red-side up at the base of the saguaro, open like a flower. Gina says this will help summon the summer rains.


We use our thumbs to scoop the fruit into our buckets, careful to avoid the spines that occasionally cling to the bottom of the peel. Soon, my hands are sticky and flecked with crunchy black seeds.

Gina and Angle add a little water to the fruit we've collected and pour it into a large pot to boil for several hours. After the fruit has boiled, Gina brings out a square cloth to strain the mixture. Then she returns the hot juice to the cleaned pot to boil a second time.

It's nearly sunrise before the saguaro syrup is ready, but everyone agrees it was worth the wait. A tiny four-ounce bottle of "the world's rarest syrup" sells for $25. Now that I have experienced the hard work that goes into making it, I understand why it is so expensive.

We leave with a small jar filled with this rare syrup and lasting memories of the opportunity to learn from the Tohono O'odham.


Story and Photos by David Edwards
COPYRIGHT 2008 Highlights for Children, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Edwards, David
Publication:Highlights for Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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