Most times people would advise you to leave the past behind. But in this case when it comes to keeping family traditions alive, it is good to bring the past into present day. One thing I have learned and know, is there are many of us out there in search of those wonderful recipes and traditions that remind us of home. During my few years of blogging for Hispanic Kitchen, I am often asked for recipes our Mexican mothers and grandmothers prepared. And often, many of those times, my version of my family’s recipe ends up being almost exactly what they were looking for. Every Mexican family has their own version of tamales, rice, fijoles charros, but the basics are usually the same. And I, just like many of them, wish I would have asked more questions about certain family recipes when I had my parents with me. In many cases, I go from memory, from those times I would help my Mom in the kitchen. For todays blog post, I was inspired by the season and all it’s rich fall colors. During the fall season when pumpkins are bountiful, I begin my own little tradition of preparing relleno de calabaza for my holiday empanadas. Before the pumpkin becomes a filling for my empanadas, I take a few servings out for Calabaza en Tacha. Served with a warm pilocillo syrup with hints of cinnamon, anise and clove. In the past, I have used the canned pumpkin puree to prepare this, but the results were not quite as good. Also included in this post is my best memory on how my family prepared Conserva de Naranja or candied orange peels in syrup. I really don’t know why it’s so important for me to share these recipes. I think, in a way, by doing this the memory of my parents and my abuelita are very much alive, standing right there next to me as I prepare these recipes in my own kitchen. The traditions are passed down and will carry on for generations to come.
Before the calabaza is further cooked down for relleno de calabaza, it is traditionally served with the piloncillo syrup that is infused with flavors of cinnamon, star anise and clove. It is often served with cream or milk over the top. Calabaza en Tacha
Calabaza en Tacha
2 medium pumpkins, washed, seeds cleaned out (6 pounds all together)
* Cut the pumpkin down into 3X3 inch pieces, leaving the skins on.
2 pounds piloncillo sugar or 2 cups packed, dark brown sugar
8 cups water, plus more when needed to cover pumpkin
5 cinnamon sticks (3 inches in size)
5 star anise
6 whole cloves
Zest and juice from 2 oranges
1. In a large stock pot, add the 8 cups of water, piloncillo, cinnamon, anise and cloves, zest and juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook just until sugar dissolves. Add all of the pumpkin into the stock pot. Add just enough water to cover the pumpkin. Cover and continue cooking at a simmer for a good hour or until pumpkin is soft. Stir gently when you can, trying not to break up the pumpkin pieces.
2. If serving Calabaza en Tacha, you would serve one or two pieces in a shallow bowl. Ladle some of the syrup over the top and add cream or milk before serving. Yields 10 to 12 servings.
Relleno de Calabaza ~Pumpkin Filling
5 pounds cooked pumpkin, smashed
2 cups syrup from cooking pumpkin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Pinch of salt
1. Remove the skin/rind from cooked pumpkin. Transfer to a large, heavy pot and smash using a potato masher or process in food processor. Add 2 cups of syrup from cooking Calabaza en Tacha. Add the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and pinch of salt. Stir well to combine.
2. Cook at a low simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until most of the liquid is absorbed. It should be thick enough that your wooden spoon will stand straight up without falling or leaning. Stir often!!! Yields about 6 cups. Cool completely before using for filling. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze flat in freezer bags until ready to use.
Conserva de Naranja~ Candied Orange Peels
Of course, I had to adjust the recipe to what was available to me and sour oranges are not so I used regular navel oranges. I am pretty happy with the results. Taste pretty much the way I remember. Next time I may add a little more piloncillo to make more syrup for this one batch. Every year during the holidays, we would visit my familia in Monterrey, Mexico. And every time, my abuelita Sarita would give us that special re-purposed glass jar from the Nescafe coffee filled with homemade Conserva de Naranja. There were eight of us kids, so you know it was an extra special treat when we would get back home to California. I have the best memories….On my return trip to Monterrey in 2011, my Tia Minerva prepared a special batch of conserva after a day trip to the family ranch where there are miles of sour orange orchards. It was one of the most beautiful days I spent there. Not even the rain and cold could ruin that day. I watch my tia prepare everything, but never wrote down anything! Good thing the recipe required few ingredients and I have a pretty good memory. This is my best recollection of the recipe.
Conserva de Naranja
4 large navel oranges
1 pound piloncillo
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
1. Zest the oranges. Store zest in freezer to use for another recipe. Score the oranges into quarters. Carefully peel, trying not to tear and keep pieces intact.
2. Add the orange peels to a small baking dish with lid or a storage container. Cover with 4 cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover and let soak overnight.
3. Next day, drain and rinse the orange peels. In a 5 quart pot, add 6 cups of water, piloncillo, cinnamon and anise. Bring to a simmer and cook until sugar dissolves. Add the orange peels, pushing down into the liquid. Cook at a low simmer, covered for 3 to 4 hours or until syrup has reduced by 3/4 and has become thick and sticky. The orange peels should become darker as they absorb the piloncillo syrup. Cool on stove top and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Yields 1/2 quart.