The flavors in this dish are similar to those in candied “yams” or sweet potatoes, but, unlike that iconic American Thanksgiving dish, candied pumpkin is not generally served as a side dish. Calabaza en tacha is enjoyed in Mexico as a dessert, a snack, or even as breakfast. It is also one of the most common foods placed on family altars for Day of the Dead holiday on November 1 and 2.
In Mexico, candied pumpkin is usually made with , a rustic, lighter-colored pumpkin-like squash with a tough rind, or with a similarly large, very dark green—nearly black—squash. Sometimes holes are drilled in the squash (to allow the steam out and the syrup in) and it is candied whole; at other times, the vegetable is cut into wedges or strips—rind still on—and prepared in large pieces. Feel free to use the bright orange Halloween pumpkin to make this, though, and to cut it into smaller pieces, if that seems more manageable.
Regardless of the type of squash you use, don´t forget to keep the seeds of it to toast and make Pepitas.
- 1 pumpkin (or similar winter squash) of about 5 pounds / 2.25 kilos
- 1 orange, zest and juice
- 2 pounds / 900 grams of piloncillo or brown sugar
- 4 cups / 1 liter of water
- 4 sticks of cinnamon
Cut the stem off of the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds and stringy parts, saving seeds to make pepitas, if you like. Leaving the rind on, cut each piece in half lengthwise again and again until you have 8-10 long strips of pumpkin. Leave pumpkin in strips or cut it into smaller pieces.
In a large saucepan, bring orange zest and juice, piloncillo or brown sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Carefully add in the pumpkin pieces and reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for an hour or two, until pumpkin is fork tender and the rest of the ingredients have reduced to a thick glaze.
Remove from heat and let cool. Allow a long strip or two—or several smaller pieces—per portion. Serve at room temperature, spooning a little of the glaze over the pumpkin pieces. Eat with a spoon, leaving the inedible outer pumpkin rind (and any cinnamon sticks) in the dish.
Store left over candied pumpkin tightly covered at room temperature for a day, or for several days in the refrigerator.
Candied pumpkin is wonderful on its own, but if you’d like to vary it a bit, consider one or more of the following:
Pour a little liquid crema or evaporated milk over each portion. Alternatively, add a dollop of whipped cream.
Sprinkle a few shelled, toasted, and salted pepitas over the pumpkin.
Top with a few raisins, dried cranberries, or chopped prunes, pecans, or walnuts.