This Day of the Dead specialty dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when it was sweetened with either maguey sap or honey. It is found ready-made in Mexican mercados toward the end of October, as people begin preparations for their Muertos altars. However, it is much more fun to make it at home. We make it every year, with my husband’s power drill coming into play to perforate the pumpkin shell. (You can use a fine-bladed knife, but he likes using the drill.)
- 2 small pumpkins or 2 large winter squash
- ¼ cup slaked lime (cal or builder’s lime, available where building materials are sold)
- 7 cups water
- 10 cups dark brown sugar or piloncillo
- 3 cups white sugar
- 6 cinnamon sticks, 2 ½”- 3″ long
- ¾ tablespoon anise seeds
- ½ teaspoon whole cloves
- 2 cups heavy cream for whipping (optional but delicious)
Perforate the pumpkin or squash with holes about the diameter of a drinking straw, making 8-10 wholes for a small pumpkin. The holes should go all the way through the shells.
Place the pumpkins in a large stockpot with the slaked lime and water to cover and soak for 3 hours. Remove pumpkins from lime solution, drain and rinse thoroughly.
Put the pumpkins back in the stockpot with the 7 cups water and remaining ingredients (except the whipping cream) which will form a syrup. Cook over medium heat for 2 hours or until the pumpkins are tender, basting with the syrup from time to time.
Allow the pumpkins to cool in the syrup. Cut into pieces and serve pieces topped with syrup and whipped cream. Pumpkins may be prepared ahead and stored up to 4 days in the refrigerator, with the syrup stored in a separate container in the refrigerator. If using whipped cream, whip just before serving.
Each pumpkin serves 8.