Learn how to make Mexican candied pumpkin, a traditional seasonal treat with ancient origins. Soft, sweet and with an amazing aroma, this calabaza en tacha is perfect to serve as a dessert, breakfast, or merienda with a glass of cold milk
Calabaza en tacha, alongside with Pan de Muerto, is one of the most representative treats for the Day of the Death celebration.
What is Mexican candied pumpkin?
Mexican candied pumpkin is a traditional Mexican treat know as calabaza en tacha. The simple recipe consist in pumpkin cooked slowly with piloncillo and cinnamon until a thick syrup forms.
The origin of the Mexican candied pumpkin dates back to colonial times when in the sugar mills, the pumpkin will be placed into a cylindrical basket known as tompeate, that was made with palm leaves, and then placed in the cauldrons where sugar was produced.
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 when 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.
What means tacha?
The concentration of the sugarcane -know 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, this Mexican candied pumpkin is also know as calabaza en dulce, dulce de calabaza, calabaza enmielada, to name a few.
Across the country, there are various versions to make candied pumpkin, some recipes may include orange 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 Mexican candied pumpkin can be cooked 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 know as calcium hydroxide), as this help the vegetable to not fall apart after cooking for a long period.
What type of pumpkin to use
The traditional recipe for Mexican candied pumpkin calls for calabaza de Castilla, a type of pumpkin from south Mexico and Central America. You can find it also in other countries as pipián rayado, pipián cordobés, silver-seed gourd, Japanese pie pumpkin, or cushaw pumpkin.
Of course, if finding Mexican pumpkin where you live is not possible, just use other type of winter squash and adjust the coking times accordingly.
How To Make Mexican Candied Pumpkin
- Wash the pumpkin throughly under running cold water, then cut it into chunks or slices. Discard the seeds, but do not remove the skin.
- Place the piloncillo and pumpkin in layers in a large stock pot, add the cinnamon sticks. Cover 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 (included the skin) and have a dark-ish color.
- Remove the pumpkin and place it in a serving plate. Turn the heat to high and allow the syrup to thicken, 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.
How To Eat
Mexican pumpkin rind is edible and after the cooking will be very soft and easy to eat. But is up to you (and the type of pumpkin used) if you want to eat it or not. Also, here are the ways that calabaza en tacha is eaten 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.
- As a dessert with condensed milk or cajeta drizzled over, and pine nuts or chopped pecans on top.
Candied pumpkin can be placed in an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 10 days thanks to the sugar that acts as preservative. I don’t recommend freezing it.
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, add the cinnamon sticks. Cover 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 and place it in 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.
Did you enjoy this recipe for Calabaza en Tacha? Please, don’t forget to rate it and leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you! Also, remember that you can share it using the buttons below. If you’d like, you can follow this blog on PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK and YOUTUBE!