By Thomas Wiewandt / June, 2021

When saguaro cactus fruit ripen shortly before summer monsoon storms arrive in the Sonoran Desert, wildlife have a feast. Some Native Americans, most notably the Tohono O’odham, have traditionally joined this feast.

I love collecting the sticky seed masses that have fallen, get stuck on a tree or shrub, and begin to dry in the summer heat. It’s like eating candy! So last summer (2021), when we had a bumper crop in Tucson, Arizona, I decided to harvest some fruit to make my own cactus candy.

The tools you need for harvesting are: a harvest pole, bucket, and an old sheet or tarp. A friend suggested that I buy a telescoping pole used by house painters and a screw-on 4” roller attachment. Remove the roller, and you’ve got a perfect hook for pulling saguaro fruit off the plant. Spread an old sheet or tarp on the ground to keep the fruit clean. Harvesting 40 fruits makes approximately 1 pint of puree.

Here’s the recipe that I came up with:

  1. Remove the loose, juicy mass of seeds and pulp from fruit, don’t scrape the inside of the fruit—it’s bitter.
  2. Mash & mix in a bowl. Yellow or pink fruits that haven’t split open can be cut open––their seeds/pulp mass will be red but not sweet. I had several of them in my mixture, so I added 3 tablespoons of maple syrup to sweeten it a bit.
  3. Spread this gooey mixture on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet or tray (you might want to rub a little oil on the parchment paper first).
  4. Bake at 170 degrees in the oven for 7 hours. Leave in oven with the door closed overnight.
  5. Refrigerate for a few hours. Remove from the refrigerator and loosen the seed mixture from the paper – it should be somewhat sticky and chewy, not crispy.
  6. You can roll it up and store it in the refrigerator or freezer in a plastic bag. If frozen, thaw before before serving.

Other uses for this recipe: You should be able to make fruit roll-ups with other kinds of fresh fruit—raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries, for example. Drying times might differ. Download SAGUARO CACTUS CANDY RECIPE here.