October is here and with it all the temptations of the season! It’s time to pull out the sweaters and get ready to make some traditional Mexican delicacies. Calabaza en tacha is a popular dessert made with Castilla pumpkin and piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar molded into a cone shape), which not only accompanies the offerings on Day of the Dead altars, but delights the belly throughout the season.
For the curious, it may seem strange that an ingredient as native to the Americas as pumpkin has such a Spanish name. What we also know as fairytale pumpkin is called calabaza de Castilla in Mexico. During the Spanish Conquest, the conquistadors came across a myriad of products from land and sea that were as yet unknown back in Spain, so they set about returning with them to the old world, presenting them to royalty and congratulating themselves on their successful mission. One such item was the pumpkin, which was named “de Castilla” in honor of the region ruled by Queen Isabella, as she found it quite exquisite.
The name of the dessert goes back to the old sugar mills, as it was cooked down in large pots called tachos, in which piloncillo syrup was made. The pumpkins were cooked in the residue of this sticky molasses, and later, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and even anise were added. Other seasonal fruits, such as guava and tejocote (Mexican hawthorn), were also added.
Make your own calabaza en tacha
First of all, it is essential not to mix up your pumpkin types. All the Halloween marketing may have led you to believe that any autumn pumpkin works for pies or jack-o-lanterns, but that is just not so. In this case, calabaza de Castilla is characterized by its smaller size and colors that can range from blackish green to burnt orange.
Once we have selected the right pumpkin, we need a pot (it’s not essential that it comes from a sugar mill but great if you can find one!). Boil two cups of water, one cinnamon stick, a pinch of nutmeg, and 170g of piloncillo in the pot until it is dissolved. Turn down the heat, then add 800g of pumpkin in large chunks and cook until the pumpkin has a soft texture.
Finally, remove the chunks of pumpkin and reduce the liquid to a thick syrupy consistency with a caramel color. Place the pumpkin pieces on a plate and pour the syrup over them. You can serve it with cold milk.
Tis the season for treats!