Calabaza en Tacha is one of those traditional candies on the Day of the Dead Celebration, “Dia de Muertos”. Every region in my country has its own special way to make it, but usually the pumpkin is cooked in a Piloncillo syrup with cinnamon sticks for a richer flavor. You will find it cooked also with other spices, like cloves or anise star; or with other fruits like Guavas, sugar cane chunks, oranges and even fig leaves. Cooked whole, poked with a few holes to let the syrup get inside the pumpkin or cut in large pieces with or without the pumpkin seeds. Sometimes it is served loaded with syrup or just plain dry. My mom tells me that, in the farm, people used to submerge the pumpkin pieces first in a large pot with water and lime (Calcium Hydroxide), this makes the pumpkin a little more firm, since the pumpkin tends to gets soft while cooking. Some people still eat pumpkin candied for breakfast with milk, the same way as we eat the candied sweet potatoes. But why is is called Calabaza en Tacha? Well, there are stories that say that the pumpkin used to be cooked this way in large pots called “Tachos”, large copper cauldrons where the Piloncillo used to be made, The pumpkins were cooked in the molasses residues from those recipients and hence the name “Calabaza en tacha”
I had adapted the way I cook Calabaza en Tacha here in the States, because you don’t find the traditional Calabazas de Castilla (curcubita moschata) everywhere, most pumpkins here have a softer skin and cook faster that the Traditional Calabaza de Castilla we use in Mexico, which has a harder skin, a thick flesh-pulp and lots of seeds.
Mexico is a country where people love sweets. I guess we have a special sweet treat for every occasion. Christmas celebrations have a Piñata filled with candies, oranges, apples and sugar cane pieces, the crispy Buñuelos and warm atoles. Easter time is a time for our Capirotada, a type of bread pudding dessert layered with raisins and peanuts. The Three Kings Celebration (Epiphany) with the sweet bread shaped in an oval with colorful decorations and served along with a warm cup of Mexican chocolate. Mexican candies come in all shapes and forms, but most of them are made using natural wholesome ingredients like fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds.
- 1 Medium pumpkin (About 4-5 pounds)
- 2 small piloncillo* cones ( about 16 ounces)
- 3 Mexican cinnamon sticks, whole or cut in half
- 1 orange, sliced (optional)
- 4 cups of water
Piloncillo also known as panela (brown solid sugar), is sold in Latin markets, or large grocery stores in the Latin Food Section. You can also find it online in our Amazon Store.
Other spices, like clove and anise, could be added.
1. Cut the pumpkin in 3″ sections, serving size. Remove seeds and strings if you prefer to use the seeds separately, or you can cook them too with the syrup. Place Piloncillo cones, cinnamon sticks and orange slices in a large and heavy pot.
2. Add four cups of water and turn heat to medium-high until it starts boiling. The piloncillo cones will start to dissolve, stir occasionally. Once the piloncillo has dissolved, place some pumpkin pieces with the skin side down and then the rest of the pumpkin with the skin side up. If you see that the pieces aren’t covered with the liquid from the piloncillo, don’t worry, the pumpkin will release some of their own juices, and steam will also help with the cooking.
3. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, it will be ready when pumpkin is tender, and it have soaked some of the syrup.
4. Once the pumpkin is cooked, removed from the pot using a large slotted spoon and transfer to a tray, cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while the syrup keeps cooking and reduces.
5. Return syrup to boil, turning heat to medium high. Keep cooking stirring occasionally until it becomes thick. Return pumpkin pieces to pot and spoon syrup all over the pumpkin pieces.
6. Serve pumpkin warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of syrup or in a warm bowl of milk. The pumpkin flavors will be better the next day, so save some for later.