Learn how to make Mexican candied pumpkin (calabaza en tacha), a traditional and seasonal treat with colonial origins.
Soft, sweet, and with an amazing aroma, this Mexican treat is perfect to serve as a dessert, breakfast, or merienda any day of the week.
Calabaza en tacha, alongside with Pan de Muerto, is one of the most representative treats for the Day of the Death celebration.
What is Candied Pumpkin?
Mexican candied pumpkin is a traditional Mexican treat known as calabaza en tacha. The simple recipe consists of pumpkin cooked slowly with piloncillo and cinnamon until a thick syrup forms.
The origin of this Mexican treat dates back to colonial times when in the sugar mills, the pumpkin will be placed into a cylindrical basket known as tompeate.
This particular basket was made with palm leaves and then placed in the cauldrons where sugar was produced.
The concentration of the sugarcane -known as guarapo juice- was obtained by combining two cauldrons placed on a large oven called mancuerna (dumbbell).
One of the cauldrons was known as a mancuerna and the other as a tacha. After placing the Mexican pumpkin on those, it was cooked until candied.
Besides from calabaza en tacha, candied pumpkin is also known as calabaza en dulce, dulce de calabaza, and calabaza enmielada, to name a few.
The recipe has evolved and is made differently in modern days, but still is delicious and widely consumed across the country to celebrate Día de Muertos.
During the Day of The Dead celebration, the Mexican calabaza is not only eaten but also placed in the altars alongside with other foods and drinks for honoring and remembering the loved ones that are non longer with us.
The Ingredients Needed
- PUMPKIN: The traditional Mexican candied pumpkin recipe calls for calabaza de Castilla, a type of pumpkin from southern Mexico and Central America.
- PILONCILLO: You will also need piloncillo, the rawest form of cane sugar. It comes in various shapes and shades and you can find it easily in Mexican stores.
- CINNAMON: For aroma and flavor, if you can, use Mexican Canela.
You can find calabaza de castilla in other countries as pipián rayado, pipián cordobés, silver-seed gourd, Japanese pie pumpkin, or cushaw pumpkin.
Of course, if finding Mexican pumpkins where you live is not possible, just use another type of winter squash and adjust the cooking times accordingly.
You can also replace piloncillo cones with packed brown sugar and molasses for that smoky and bold taste.
How To Make Mexican Candied Pumpkin
- Wash the pumpkin thoroughly under running cold water, then cut it into chunks or slices.
- Discard the pumpkin seeds, but do not remove the skin.
- Place the piloncillo and pumpkin in layers in a large stock pot, and add the cinnamon sticks.
- Cover all ingredients with water and bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour. *Pumpkin should be fork tender (including the skin) and have a dark-ish color.
- Remove the pumpkin and place it on a serving plate.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and boil the syrup until nicely thickened, it will take about 4 to 5 minutes, pay attention as it can overcook and burn easily, you need a light syrup, not a caramel.
- Once done, allow to cool down and serve the pumpkin slices drizzled with the syrup.
Across Mexico, there are various versions to make candied pumpkin, some easy recipes may include orange zest or peel, or other spices like whole cloves and anise star.
In some states, it might include other fruits like figs, guavas, or chunks of sugar cane.
The calabaza can be cut into chunks or even whole, and it might include or not the seeds.
Also, the traditional recipe calls for soaking the pumpkin in water and cal (lime, also known as calcium hydroxide), as this help the vegetable not to fall apart after cooking for a long period of time.
How To Serve
Mexican pumpkin rind is edible and after cooking will be very soft and easy to eat.
But it is up to you (and the type of pumpkin used) if you want to eat it or not. Also, there are some traditional ways to eat calabaza en tacha in Mexico.
- As breakfast with a glass of cold milk. My grandpa (and myself) loved placing the candied pumpkin inside the glass, as in the photo below.
- As a late-afternoon snack (merienda), with or without milk, just drizzle with the piloncillo syrup and enjoy!
- As a dessert with condensed milk or cajeta drizzled over, and pine nuts or chopped pecans on top.
How To Store
Homemade candied pumpkin can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days thanks to the sugar that acts as a preservative.
Also, the dish can be left if the pot for up to one day at room temperature. It will give the time to cool down slowly, and to be stored later.
Make sure you use a glass container to store it, as glass preserves better the flavors and aromas. If you don’t have a glass container with a tight lid, you can cover it with cling film.
Freezing calabaza dulce is not recommended.
- Camotes enmielados. Mexican sweet potatoes simmered with piloncillo and spices. Easy to make!
- Pumpkin empanadas. Warm, comforting Mexican empanadas stuffed with calabaza mixture.
- Torrejas. The version of French toast but with a Mexican spin.
- Capirotada. A classic Mexican baked dessert with toasted bread drizzled with piloncillo syrup.
Mexican Candied Pumpkin (calabaza en tacha)
- 3 lbs Mexican pumpkin chunks (rind on, seeded.)
- 2 whole Mexican cinnamon sticks
- 9 oz piloncillo
- water (as needed)
- Place piloncillo and pumpkin chunks in layers in a large stock pot, and add the cinnamon sticks.
- Slightly cover all ingredients with water and bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour or until the pumpkin, including the skin, is fork tender.
- Remove the pumpkin chunks and place them on a serving plate.
- Turn the heat to high and allow the syrup to boil until it thickens a bit (about 4 minutes).
- Serve the Mexican pumpkin warm and drizzled with the syrup.
- At the end of cooking, the pumpkin should be fork tender (including the skin) and have a dark-ish color.
- Please pay attention when you boil the syrup as it can overcook and burn quickly, you need a light syrup, not a caramel.
- You can also replace piloncillo with the same amount of packed brown sugar.
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