Fany Gerson’s Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Pumpkin)

published Oct 28, 2021
Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Pumpkin) Recipe

This sweet pumpkin recipe is almost totally hands off since the pumpkin candies slowly in the oven.

Serves8

Prep20 minutes

Cook2 hours 15 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
candied pumpkins on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

It is said that when the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they took a pumpkin back to Spain to show to Queen Isabella I of Castile and she liked it so much that she named it after herself. That pumpkin, calabaza de Castilla, isn’t like the traditional orange pumpkin that you commonly find in the U.S. It’s a winter squash with a hard greenish or brownish exterior and flesh that’s similar to a butternut squash. And it’s the key ingredient for calabaza en tacha, the traditional candied pumpkin dessert from Mexico.

The dish itself is traditionally made by cutting the pumpkin into pieces; layering it in a large pot; and adding a mixture of piloncillo, an unrefined sugar with a slight molasses-y taste, a little water, and Mexican cinnamon. As the dish simmers for a few hours on the stove, the piloncillo mixture reduces down to a thick, syrupy liquid. It’s so good! In some parts of Mexico, they also add fruit, such as orange and/or guava, to the dish.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The dessert is commonly prepared around the día de los Muertos celebrations because it is an important part of many offerings (ofrendas), the altars that are set up to honor the memory of ancestors. It’s traditionally cooked in clay casseroles, with the seeds and strands attached, but you can also clean and dry the seeds and snack on them later.

When the pumpkin is done cooking, let it cool in the pot, then serve the sweet, tender pieces at room temperature or chilled. As the pumpkin cools, the syrup will thicken more. When you serve the pumpkin, make sure and drizzle each portion with plenty of the spiced syrup.

Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Pumpkin) Recipe

This sweet pumpkin recipe is almost totally hands off since the pumpkin candies slowly in the oven.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 2 hours 15 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    medium navel oranges

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    chopped piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), or 1 1/2 packed cups dark brown sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons molasses

  • 3

    (5-inch) sticks canela (cinnamon)

  • 6

    whole cloves

  • 4 cups

    water

  • 1

    (4 to 5-pound) sugar or baking pumpkin

Instructions

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest of 2 medium oranges into wide strips, avoiding the white pith, into a large saucepan. Juice the oranges into the pan (1/2 cup).

  2. Add 1 1/2 pounds chopped piloncillo (or 1 1/2 packed cups dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses), 5 (5-inch) cinnamon sticks, 6 whole cloves, and 4 cups water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 5 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, cut the stem from 1 (4 to 5-pound) pumpkin. Cut in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and strings if you want to use them for something else or simply don’t want them in the dish. Cut each piece in half lengthwise again, and then cut each piece in half widthwise so you have wedges that are 2 to 3 inches wide.

  4. Place a layer of pumpkin, flesh side down, in a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven. Add the next layer of pumpkin, arranging flesh side up. Repeat layering until all the pumpkin is in the pot.

  5. Pour the syrup over the pumpkin and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Continue to simmer until the pumpkin is tender and the syrup is thickened, dark brown, and looks like a glaze, about 2 hours. Let the pumpkin cool in the pot, the syrup will thicken more as it cools. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson, copyright © 2010. Photographs by Ed Anderson. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.