Recently, staff members from the Huhugam Ki Museum and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Cultural Preservation Program spent a morning cutting, cleaning and drying O’odham ha:l (also called O’odham squash and Pima pumpkin). The squash were harvested from the Community Garden to preserve for future cultural events.
Gathered in the Huhugam Ki Museum kitchen to prepare the ha:l, they first cut the thick rind off with a knife and then cleaned out the seeds and strings inside, similar to the way you hollow out and carve a pumpkin for Halloween. The seeds were placed in a pitcher of water to soak.
“The bad seeds float to the top,” said Cultural Resources Specialist Jacob Butler. “The good seeds will be dried and saved for the next year’s crop. You can also bake the seeds and eat them like pumpkin seeds.”
After the ha:l was peeled and cleaned out, the staff cut the squash into spirals to be hung on a line outside to dry in the sun.
“You can store [the squash spirals] in a cool, dry place and it will last for about a year,” said Butler. Traditionally, the ha:l was cut into spirals that were dried and stored to use as a food source in winter.
As the group worked, cutting and cleaning the ha:l, Huhugam Ki Museum Cook Sharilyn Belone reminisced about how her mother, Sarah (Antone) James, used to prepare and cook the vegetable.
“She would get a knife and chip the skin off, and it took forever,” said Belone. “She would scrape out the seeds and insides, then she would cut it into pieces. She put sugar on it and baked it; it was good.”
Baked O’odham Ha:l
O’odham ha:l (squash), peeled and cut into pieces
2 Tbsp. Mexican cane sugar, brown sugar, and/or saguaro syrup
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
Ha:l can be eaten boiled, steamed or fried. Baking is also an excellent way to prepare ha:ll. Prepare the squash as described in the article, removing the outer rind, cleaning out the seeds and strings, and cutting into pieces.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet ingredients (either or both sugars, and saguaro syrup, if desired) with the butter and mix well to form a spread. (You may need to make more of the butter/sugar mixture, depending on how many pieces of ha’al you are baking and how large they are.) Place the squash pieces on a baking or cookie sheet, cut side up. Spread the butter and sugar mixture over the squash, and bake for 10-15 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
Remove baking sheet from the oven and let squash cool. Serve as pieces, or mash it all together and place it in a serving bowl.
Recipe tips from TOCA, Tohono O’odham Community Action, www.tocaonline.org.