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Pumpkin Squash in Syrup (Calabaza en Dulce)
(Adapted from Susana Trilling, Seasons of My Heart)

This traditional Oaxaca dessert is made on El Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), when Mexican families honor their departed loved ones by creating altars adorned with flowers, photos and food.  Seasonal fruits and vegetables are simmered in a sweet syrup of piloncillo (raw brown sugar) to preserve them, then given to family members after church services have ended. 

Although calabaza en dulce is traditionally made with the native tamala squash, Susana says that pumpkin can be used as well.  We made ours with a Seminole winter squash, a buff-colored heirloom variety with sweet orange flesh.  When done, the squash is very soft and nearly translucent, with an appealing fruity taste underscored by Ceylon cinnamon.  Be sure to use true cinnamon, or canela as it is known in Mexico; cassia is too strong for this delicate dish. 

The squash is delicious drizzled with the piloncillo syrup, but you can also dress it up by layering it with rum-flavored whipped cream in individual glass compotes. 

To serve 6 to 12, depending on the size of the dish or compote 

Ingredients for the squash: 

1 pound piloncillo, or 2/12 cups dark brown sugar (see note)
3 pounds pumpkin, or other sweet squash, cut into 12 two-inch wedges, seeded and peeled (see note)
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon, 3 inches long 


1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 teaspoon dark rum 

Method for the squash:

1. Place the piloncillo or brown sugar in 3 cups of water in a 2-quart saucepan or clay pot with a lid and bring to a boil.  Cook over high heat for 10 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Add the pumpkin wedges and cinnamon stick, cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 50 minutes.  Remove the cover and simmer for another 30 minutes to reduce the liquid to a syrup.  Let cool to room temperature.
3. If desired, whip cream to soft peaks.  Add sugar and whip to incorporate, then add rum and whip again.  To serve, spoon a layer of squash into the bottom of a glass compote and top with one to two tablespoons of whipped cream.  Continue layering until the compote is full and top with whipped cream.


1. Piloncillo is unrefined brown sugar sold in hard cones.  It can be found at Hispanic markets and often in the international foods section of large supermarkets.  Or order it from www.mexgrocer.com.  Ordinary dark brown sugar is an acceptable substitute.
2. Heirloom pumpkins and squash can be found at farmers markets during the fall and at Whole Foods stores.  Look for Seminole, or any sweet-fleshed variety suitable for cooking.

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