With fingers etched by a lifetime of labor, two Apache women sat under an oak tree on Main Street and patiently gathered tiny bits of tribal tradition.
The two friends have traveled from the San Carlos Indian Reservation to collect acorns in Payson -- a key ingredient in a recipe passed down for generations.
"When my grandmother used to make it, she called it king's food," Verna Bond said. "In Apache, it's called Chichle."
"It's a traditional food associated with the harvest," Marie Macktima said.
"We've been doing this for many years," Bond said. "When the rains come, we know harvest time is here and we collect them."
Once collected, the acorns are cleaned and sun-dried.
"We grind them real fine," Bond said. "Then we make a paste like gravy and make a soup."
"We can add yellow corn, beef and squash," Macktima said. "Sometimes we just use it for dumplings with stew meat."
While gathering acorns was traditionally an all-women activity, men and boys from Arizona Apache tribes now join in the annual harvest.
"Where we live, we don't have many acorns. We pick them on the reservation as well as in Silver City, New Mexico and Fort Huachuca," Macktima said. "We didn't get very many last year. This year is better."
Bond said gathering the acorns is a special part of their culture, and they are grateful that the people of Payson allow them to carry on the time-honored tradition.
"The people who live here -- they are so nice. They let us clean their carports," she says with a wry smile. "But we always have fun doing this -- we're good friends."