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A CULTURALLY LAYERED CUISINE

For many thousands of years, the Tohono O’odham people and other Native American cultures indigenous to the region have harvested wild plant edibles, including pods of mesquite trees; wild greens; cactus fruits, buds, and pads, including those of the giant saguaro; the spinach-like greens of desert amaranths; and non-bitter acorns. Maize, beans, and squash are tropical Mesoamerican crops known collectively as “the three sisters.” The first maize arrived in the Santa Cruz Valley (where Tucson is located) from Mexico by 4,100 years ago. Historically, native peoples in the region surrounding Tucson cultivated and selected for a vast genetic diversity of these crops.

Maize, beans, and squash are tropical Mesoamerican crops known collectively as "the three sisters."

The first maize arrived in the Santa Cruz Valley (where Tucson is located) from Mexico by 4,100 years ago. Historically, native peoples in the region surrounding Tucson cultivated and selected for a vast genetic diversity of these crops.

Beginning around 1700, other desert-adapted crops from arid regions in the Old World were introduced by missionaries and colonists from Europe and what is now Mexico during the Spanish Colonial period. The first missionary to this region, a Jesuit from northern Italy, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, introduced White Sonoran wheat, fruit trees, grapes, and cattle. Colonists brought a variety of other field crops and herbs, and additional fruit tree stocks of figs, pomegranates, quinces, apricots, citrus, and olives. Cattle production continues in the rural Santa Cruz Valley. While most western U.S. ranches raise cattle to ship to feedlots in other states, many local ranches raise cattle on natural forage and sell beef locally.

Food traditions of a diversity of later-arriving cultural groups, and unique cross cultural blendings of recipes, can be tasted at the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival that attracts more than 100,000 people and features foods from more than 40 different ethnic groups. Tucson’s thriving contemporary culinary scene features award-winning chefs and independently owned restaurants creating both traditional and contemporary dishes using local and heritage foods 

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