Tohono O'odham Ha:l Squash

Botanical name:

Cucurbita argyrosperma

Local Tohono O’odham name:

Ha:l

Collection site:

Little Tucson, Tohono O’odham Reservation, Arizona

Collection date:

1980

Historical origins:

Squash is one of the most important crops in the Americas, along with corn and beans. Cushaw squashes (Cucurbita argryrosperma) are believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica from Cucurbita sororia around 7000 years ago. Cushaw squashes are unique because they are generally cultivated for their seeds above all else. Their flesh of some varieties is also edible and they can be used as a summer or a winter squash.

Culinary uses:

All parts of the Ha:l are eaten by Tohono O’odham peoples at different times in its life cycle. The flowers are eaten fresh, steamed, boiled or fried with onions, mashed and mixed into wheat flour to make a porridge. Ha:l ma:mad, or baby squash, is picked when it reaches the size of a hand, and are fried or boiled in a traditional pot called an olla. The young fruits resemble a zucchini but are denser in texture. The mature fruit is eaten boiled, mashed, fried with onions or made into a soup known as ‘atol that features kai or saguaro cactus seeds. They grow quite large and can reach 20-30 pounds each, sometimes larger. The seeds of Ha:l are mostly saved for next year’s plantings, but can be dried and roasted in a piece of broken olla, then salted. These are eaten as a snack, but have traditionally been consumed while telling stories at night. Large, fully ripe squashes are processed for winter storage. This involves cutting off the outer skin, slicing the Ha:l into long continuous spirals and dried in the sun. They will store for up to a year and are boiled to reconstitute.

Nutritional benefits:

Ha:l is rich in vitamins A and C, and low in sodium, with no fat.

Socio-cultural importance:

Ha:l squash has been grown for generations by the Tohono O’odham, and today is still deeply rooted in their culture. It is traditionally planted with the monsoons in June or July, with much ceremony. Planting songs like the one below are sung for the squash:

Squash growing, squash growing,
spreading over the earth,
I like it spreading in different directions.

    (TOCA, Paganelli Votto and Manuel 2010: 20)

Ha:l squash can be found at the San Xavier Food Coop farmstand and the Mission Garden stand at the San Augustine Farmers Market in the late summer and fall.

Cultivation techniques:

Ha:l is traditionally planted in a mound, with 3-4 seeds place in a hole about an inch down in the soil. It is said that the squash will grow better if you sing to it. Tohono O’odham have historically used dry farming to grow crops, with irrigation from monsoon rains diverted to their fields. The plants will produce very long vines, reaching up to 15 feet, so they need plenty of room.

References:

Tohono O’odham Community Action with Mary Paganelli Votto and Frances Manuel. (2010). From I’itoi’s Garden; Tohono O’odham Food Traditions. Retrieved from http://www.tocaonline.org.

Ha:: O'odham Squash. Retrieved from http://www.tocaonline.org/hal.html

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