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Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Desserts

Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Desserts

Activities / Teacher Resources

Saguaro Cactus and Its Fruit

  • A mature saguaro cactus is at least 50 feet tall or even taller, and can weigh between 6 to 7 tons when filled with water.
  • Saguaros can live to be 200 years old. Most begin to develop arms when they are 50 years old.
  • The saguaro has a tough, waxy skin that holds in water and covers its structural ribs. Skin folds or what resembles pleats allow it to expand when water is abundant and to shrink when it is not.
  • It has spines to protect it from animals and to give it some shade.
  • Its shallow and spread-out root system allows it to collect and then store as much rainwater as possible.
  • The saguaro cactus begins to bloom when they are between

8 – 10 feet tall during the months of May or in early June; the fruit matures in July and August at which time it can be harvested.

  • The waxy, cream-white flowers are three inches in diameter; they emerge at night and then stay open only until the following afternoon.
  • Bats, birds or insects must pollinate the flowers within less than a 24-hour period in order for it to bear fruit.
  • The fruit is about the size and shape of an egg.
  • The color of the fruit is green and tinged with red when fully ripe. The fruit consists of an outer coat or skin filled with a red pulp, containing over a thousand small, black, smooth seeds.
  • The fruit, when mature, bursts at the top and exposes the pulp. After a few days’ exposure to the sun, the fruit dries to about one third its original size, and then the whole mass drops out of the skin.
  • At this point, the fruit has the consistency of a dried fig and has a sweet taste.

Saguaro Cactus Fruit Jam Recipe

6 cups saguaro cactus pulp Water

Gather saguaro cactus fruit. Put 6 cups of the pulp in a pot and add water until half of the pulp is covered. Soak the pulp for 1 1/2 hours. Stir every now and then. Put the pot over low heat and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.

Separate the pulp from the liquid, saving the pulp. Boil the liquid very slowly, stirring constantly, until it turns into syrup. Then mash the pulp and put through a strainer to remove the seeds. Combine the remaining pulp with the syrup until the mixture is the consistency of jam. When it looks like jam, it is jam.


In Chapter Thirteen of Esperanza Means Hope, Esperanza and Carlos collected a basket full of the saguaro fruit using a long cross-topped pole to detach the fruit and burlap bags to catch the fruit; jam is one of Carlos’ favorite treats and Esperanza’s mother planned to make some for him and the rest of the family.


Hard Candies and Sweet Treats

A typical “penny” candy display in the old days

In Chapter Three, when Pinto found an American silver dollar in Gallego’s corral, he excitedly declared, “I’m going to buy a heap of candy at Lord and Williams store today. I’m going to make it last all year and I’m not sharing with any of my brothers, either…”

Candy History:

The candy or confectioner’s industry developed rapidly in the beginning of the 19th century and by the mid-1800s there was a “penny” candy craze going on in the country. There were 380 candy manufacturers in the nation making all sorts of hard candies and experimenting with flavors and new innovations in size, colors and even shapes. The “chocolate” candy rage had not yet taken over.

Homemade hard candies, such as lemon drops and peppermint sticks, became easily accessible. General stores began to sell hard candies by weight from an array of colorful glass jars. They would then package the selected candies in small paper bags to take home. These were known as “penny” candies.

The ingredients for hard candy are basically: sugar, corn syrup, water, food coloring and flavorings. The sugar mixture is brought to a boil…and yummy, sweet candy is the result.

The Science of Cooking Candy:

Temperatures matter in making candy. Candies are categorized by their hardness, and hardness is dependent on the temperature to which the sugar is heated. Sugar cooked at a low temperature results in chewy candy; medium heating results in a soft candy; and sugar cooked at a high temperature becomes hard candy.


Butterscotch Hard Candy Recipe


  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Pour sugar, corn syrup, water and salt into a saucepan.
  2. Stir constantly over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Increase heat and cook until the thermometer registers 250° which is the firm ball stage of candy making.
  4. Add butter.
  5. Continue to cook with occasional stirring until the thermometer reaches 300° which is the brittle stage.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
  7. Pour candy into a buttered shallow pan, such as a cake pan.
  8. While warm, use a table knife to score the candy into squares, so that the candy can more easily break into pieces when it has cooled.
  9. When cooled, break into pieces and enjoy with friends!