- One 7- to 8-pound pumpkin
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup cal (slaked lime)
- 4 or 5 short chunks (3 to 4 inches) fresh sugarcane, optional
- 3 1/2 pounds Mexican brown loaf sugar (panela or piloncillo) or 3 1/2 pounds (about 8 cups) dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons allspice berries, bruised
- 1 6-inch piece canela
Cal is sold as “slaked lime” at pharmacies and building-supply stores in the U.S. One ounce equals about 1/4 cup.
At herb and spice stores, ask for “soft-stick cinnamon” or “Ceylon cinnamon.” This is our canela.
Cut the pumpkin into 6 equal wedges. Remove and discard the seeds and stringy pulp, then cut each wedge in half crosswise. Prick the rind all over with the tines of a fork to help the slaked lime solution and sugar penetrate.
Pour 5 quarts cold water into a stainless-steel or heavy-duty plastic bucket. Add 1/2 cup of the slaked lime and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve thoroughly. Taste the solution; it should have a noticeably astringent “bite.” If not, stir in more lime a tablespoon at a time. Add the pumpkin wedges and loosely cover the bucket. Let stand overnight (about 10 hours) in a cool dark place.
The next day, remove the pumpkin and rinse well under cold running water. The texture should now be firm.
Prepare a large heatproof earthenware vessel or non-reactive stockpot. You have to make a sort of prop in the center to lean the pieces of pumpkin against. For flavor as well as support, use the optional chunks of sugarcane placed together in a bunch. Or simply place one of the curved pieces of pumpkin in the center. In either case, rest the wedges of pumpkin, skin side out, against the supporting “platform,” arranging them like petals coming out from the center.
Using a hammer, break up the loaf sugar into small pieces (no larger than 1/2 inch) and scatter over the pumpkin. Add the allspice and canela. Add enough water to cover the pumpkin by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover the pot loosely and simmer over very low heat for 5 hours. Remove from the heat and let stand overnight, uncovered or just loosely covered.
The next day, return the pumpkin to a simmer over low heat and cook for 5 hours. Let stand again overnight. On the third day, return to a simmer; this time any remaining syrup should be absorbed after 2 to 3 hours. Watch very closely as the syrup disappears, since the dish tends to scorch easily at this point. Let cool completely before serving; it will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.