Recently we made another visit to the Mission Garden nestled under "A" Mountain in Tucson. This is where the original gardens of one of the first settlers of Tucson tended an elaborate garden complete with an irrigation system. Having last been to the Mission Garden some years ago when it was in its infancy, it has grown considerably, into a wonderful historical re-creation of the original gardens as best we can know. Volunteers have recently rebuilt the acequia, Irrigation canal, where the original one was found. This is truly a labor of love and an important historical restoration.
The occasion was the Membrillo (Quince) Festival which is held each October. Quince is one of the fruits that was introduced during the era of Father Kino, along with winter wheat, which was instrumental in sustaining the native population year-round. Other fruits, we learned, that were brought over by the Spanish are pomegranate, fig, grape, peaches, and pears. Until that time, the Indians were subsistence farmers, growing corn, beans, and cotton. Thus the pejorative, Papago, or bean eater. These native people now call themselves the Tohono O'Odham. Quince was used for jams, pastes, and jellies and was revered for its pectin.
So, on this beautiful day in mid-October, we set off in search of quince, to partake in the celebration of all its uses. It is fortuitous that the Mission Garden has a new kitchen where they were serving dishes made of quince, mostly on cheese and bread, as well as a salsa made from this enigmatic fruit.
There were plenty of vendors, informational and sales-oriented, mostly having something to do with native gardening in general. There was a talk being given about the origin and history of quince and gardening. We walked around the gardens, which had grown considerably since the last time we were there.
The time being fall, most fruits and veggies have been harvested. The corn crop had been harvested as well. They are currently growing winter wheat, I am told by Ms. Rosemary, who volunteers there. I do not recall seeing the wheat field. Perhaps they have not planted it? I still have a lot to learn.
The heritage wine tasting that we serve on our Tucson History and Libation Tours comes from the Mission Garden, one grape, one pomegranate. You can tell us which you prefer. I definitely have a favorite.
There was a wonderfully tart red flower called Jamaica (Ha-MY-Ka) that a volunteer docent introduced us to. It is a kind of hibiscus and is used to make a great tea among other things and of course, is of medicinal value, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
All in all, it was a pleasant couple of hours. We walked away with a block of quince jelly we purchased for $5.
The Mission Garden is a wonderful asset to Tucson and the preservation of its history and heritage. It is now open, Wednesday - Saturday, Sundays, and Tuesdays by appointment. There is a new kitchen for events and making heritage produce. The docents do give tours. Visit their website for more information.
Friends of Tucson's Birthplace
946 W. Mission Lane
8am - noon: April - October
8am - 2pm: October - March.