Seasonal Foods of the American Southwest

A tamale wrapped in a corn husk

First, thank you to the anonymous person who bought me three coffees this month! I appreciate your support of the project, and especially for covering this year’s website costs. I’m now 13% of the way toward my goal.

Readers and listeners can support The Culinary Saijiki by buying a coffee at

Second, remember to send me your recordings for the August 31st bonus podcast open mic! Please review the guidelines here: The deadline is Saturday, August 28th at 11:59 p.m. CST. Record your haiku at, and please contact me if you run into issues.

This week, I got inspired to explore the connection between region and food in haiku. When I wrote primarily free verse, I loved writing about the landscapes of Texas, and I also enjoy exploring the ways in which landscape connects to food. I decided to start with the Southwest in part because that is one of two regions (the other being the Midwest) where I have lived the longest, and have detailed understanding of regional food. I’d also been rereading Lifting the Seasons: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, and had added a number of the haiku to my Culinary Saijiki database. I decided to use it as my initial source text in my exploration of Southwestern food haiku. (There are a number of other good anthologies out there, but I didn’t have access to them this week . . . but that just means I’ll have to return to this topic again!)

As it turns out, I ran into a number of challenges with this post! I thought I was going to have any easy time talking about Southwestern food in haiku, but in fact, this was the most difficult entry I’ve done so far, which is all the more reason I’ll want to return to this topic.

1. The southwest is not a clearly delineated space. Arizona and New Mexico are the only definitive Southwest states, but parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Oklahoma also get included. However, there isn’t a definitive map that delineates which portions of each state get included. For example, San Antonio is closer to Louisiana than it is to New Mexico, but the city seems more a part of the Southwest than the South. There’s a great deal of culturally and geographically liminal space that’s difficult to account for.

2. Southwestern food is not a clearly delineated category. While some foods, like nopales and tamales, are clearly Southwestern, I found myself struggling with many of the crops. For example, Texas has its own types of melon and peaches, but the places where those crops are grown appear in that liminal space. In addition, changes in farming practices over the years mean that produce I didn’t initially think belonged in the Southwest does grow there. I ended up pouring a great deal of research into produce to place poems accurately!

3. Disagreeing with some of the placements of these poems. Lifting the Seasons editors Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell worked hard to place the poems in this anthology, and I consider Scott one of my poetry mentors. So I didn’t feel great when I came upon a poem in a certain season and found myself disagreeing with its placement. I made notes in my saijiki database about why I disagreed, and tagged the poem with both seasons. I’ve also chosen to make note of my disagreements in this post, because I don’t want to mislead people who might have already read the collection and wonder why I deviated from the original placement. Ultimately, I hope these disagreements come across as respectful. There is always debate within the haiku community; not all saijiki align with each other. Disagreement is part of the process.

4. No autumn food kigo I hadn’t already used. I prefer to not use the same haiku in multiple blog posts. When going through my database, I’d already used the best examples of Southwestern autumn food elsewhere on the blog, so I don’t have any autumn entries this week.

For more information on Lifting the Seasons: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, visit the Dos Gatos Press website:


prickly pear salad
nopales skinned and shredded—
thornless spring

Katherine Durham Oldmixon, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

Nopales are the pads of a nopal, commonly referred to as a prickly pear. There are over 100 species of nopal in Mexico and the southwestern United States, and are a common cooking ingredient. However, the tiny spines must be removed first, and while experienced cooks can probably complete the process efficiently, many of us home cooks prefer to buy our nopales pre-skinned from Mexican grocery stores.While nopales can be in season for much of the year, spring is when they first peak. When other crops have just been planted, and the abundance of summer produce is a way off, nopales are a way to enjoy something fresh.

Nopal pads with five fruits on top
A nopal in Austin, Texas

across asphalt
truck tires scatter grit
and white pear blossoms

Sandra D. Lynn, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

Fruits were one of the primary challenges for me in putting together this entry. I hadn’t revisited this anthology in a number of years. I was surprised to find two haiku about pears in a book focused on the American Southwest! However, after doing some digging, I discovered that Southern California is a peach-growing region, and while the official states of the Southwest are Arizona and New Mexico, Southern California is also frequently included. I think that this haiku points to one of the challenges that practitioners and editors come across: geographical boundaries are not as well-defined as we might like. In addition, due to the ways in which humans have traveled, colonized, and globalized, a European fruit will thrive in a place not originally its home, complicating our understanding of what an appropriate kigo might be.

the pear tree’s
hesitant buds—

Sally Clark, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

Sally Clark’s haiku also presented me with a familiar challenge that I have not yet figured out how to reconcile: what it means to be a haiku practitioner writing in the age of the Gregorian calendar. Her haiku appears in the winter section of the anthology, which certainly makes sense for editors working in the United States. However, February is considered spring in the haiku calendar, and the image of actual buds on the tree further reinforces the spring image. Because of the presence of buds, rather than bare branches, I chose to place this haiku in the spring section.


what’s left of the moon—
a slice—ripe cantaloupe— set
on a chilled glass plate

Robert A. Ayers, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

This is the first haiku where I found myself disagreeing with the editors regarding placement. In Lifting the Sky, this haiku appears in the Winter section. However, cantaloupe is at its peak in summer, so for the purposes of this project, I have placed there. Various melons are popular in summer dishes, and make excellent agua frescas (refreshing fruit drinks) during the hottest months.

below the peach tree
flipping pages in a book
hummingbird flutter

Ellaraine Lockie, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

I spent a few hours mulling over Ellaraine Lockie’s haiku, and what season I felt it best represented. In Lifting the Sky, this haiku appears in the Spring section. Since we don’t know what state the peach tree is in, I understand the editors’ decision. However, depending on what saijiki you are using, hummingbirds are listed as either a spring or summer kigo. In my lived experience, hummingbirds tend to be more visible in the summer. In addition, unless a poet mentions blossoms or a bare tree, I picture it covered with fruit, which in that case, would make summer more appropriate.

hand grabbing fruit
Photo by furkanfdemir on


first frost—
icy vines
with one red tomato

Chris Ellery, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

While I debated a bit as to whether or not to keep this haiku in the winter category, as it appears in lifting the sky, a careful bit of research led me to agree that it was a winter poem. While in much of the United States, the first frost is likely to happen in autumn, in most of the Southwest, the first frost is not likely to happen until winter.

winter sunlight
our neighbors bring us
homemade tamales

Lynn Edge, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

When I lived in Texas, I knew Christmas was getting close, because people who made tamales would start taking pre-orders. Even grocery stores would do big tamale sales at Christmas! While tamales aren’t inherently a winter food (more on that below), they’re certainly a hallmark of the holiday season in the Southwest. While a Southwestern reader might not need the phrase “winter sunlight” to place the season, someone who has lived their whole life in Canada might not be aware of how tamales connect to the seasons, so I think Lynn made a good choice setting the poem explicitly in winter. Working on this project reminded me the extent to which much of haiku relies on shared cultural knowledge, and how we can’t expect every reader to have the same understanding of the world. I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. We can’t spend our whole lives limiting our writing to what we think people will understand. If haiku is the poetry of the moment, we have to write from our experience, without worrying whether or not a reader from the other side of the world will get it.

As a side note, the Mississippi Delta has its own tamales. You can learn more about those here:

Mama’s gifts
filled, wrapped, tied with care—

Christine Wenk-Harrison, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

Tamales don’t have to just be a winter food. However, the labor-intensive process means that if you’re going to make them at home, they’re a special-occasion food . . . and a dish best made as a group. The last Christmas before COVID, John and I hosted a tamale-making party, and it remains one of my happiest holiday memories. I’m still sad I never had one more opportunity to host a Christmas tamale gathering in Texas. I associate tamales with winter holidays more than any other, and they are a gift that can last for months. With the filling wrapped in corn husks, they can be frozen and easily re-steamed (or microwaved) for a delicious meal in those last days of winter and earliest days of spring, when the holidays are long gone but things feel a little bleak.

Two tamales with a side of refried beans and red rice.
The fruits of our labor, Christmas 2019

Cheshire cat grin
between bare pecan branches—
the waxing moon

Sandra Cobb, Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, ed. Scott Wiggerman and Constance Campbell. Dos Gatos Press, 2013.

Note: In Lifting the Sky, this haiku appears in the Spring section. However, I interpret bare branches as a winter kigo, and thus have placed it as such.

Although I encountered a number of challenges while working on this post, I feel inspired to keep going with the regional theme. However, I can’t possibly be an expert on all geography-specific foods, even in my own country! If you’re interested in putting together a guest post similar to what I’ve done here, please contact me. I’ll also put up a post with formal guidelines sometime in the next week or so.

2 thoughts on “Seasonal Foods of the American Southwest

  1. Thank you for another interesting post. I especially enjoyed this one, since I grew up in the Southwest and now live in that region. I have a particular interest in traditional foods from the area and can see you did quite a bit of research with this project.

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