Calabaza en Tacha or Pumpkin in Piloncillo for Day of the Dead

Calabaza en tacha

Calabaza en tacha or pumpkin cooked in a piloncillo syrup is a traditional sweet dish that’s been associated with Day of the Dead since Mexico’s pre-Hispanic era.

It’s also one of the first recipes Vivi Abeja decided was a must-make as an ofrenda to celebrate her much-missed grandmother this first emotional Day of the Dead without her.

Watch Vivi make her family recipe for calabaza en tacha or sweetened pumpkin in piloncillo syrup.

Vivi and Elisa Abeja, who died at age 92 earlier this year, were as close as a granddaughter and grandmother could be. Vivi links her decision to make cooking her life’s calling to childhood days spent watching her grandmother and aunts in their Little Village, Chicago kitchen. Vivi loves how her Abuelita’s greatest joy was cooking traditional dishes from her hometown in Michoacan for her large family of eight children and dozens of grandchildren. She specialized in simple Mexican dishes with just a few essential, perfect ingredients, a style of cooking her grandmother called comida de pobre — poor-people food.

To this day, “I truly love meals that require the simplest ingredients,” Vivi says. “It reminds me to stay grounded and appreciate the beauty in the simplest things. Expensive ingredients don’t make a great meal. It’s the effort put behind preparing every ingredient.”

calabaza en tacha
The piloncillo syrup-drenched calabaza is served in a bowl, with a little milk and extra syrup.

Take this pumpkin recipe, a beautiful example of comida de pobre. Calabaza en tacha is a celebration of humble ingredients — pumpkin or calabaza, an ingredient native to Mesoamerica, going back thousands of years; sugar; water; cinnamon; cloves; and milk. This recipe could not be more simple or accessible.

The History of Calabaza en Tacha

Sweetened pumpkin is a dish that’s been made in Mexico for more than a thousand years. The Aztecs and Maya both used calabaza as a key ingredient in their meals, often adding the honey-like sap from the agave plant, from which we get another legendary gift from Mexico: tequila.

When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, they shipped in sugar aboard their vessels. Their love of azucar soon influenced the preparation of this traditional dish. Their cooks learned to boil the pumpkin in water with piloncillo, unrefined sugar made by pouring boiled and evaporated sugar cane juice into square- or cone-shaped molds. The sugared pumpkins were cooked in huge pots called tachas, from which this dish gets its name: calabaza en tacha.

Vivi’s Inspiration to Make Calabaza This Day of the Dead

What inspired Vivi to make this pumpkin recipe as an ofrenda to her grandmother’s life and memory this Day of the Dead? ”My grandmother taught me how to make this recipe last year when she was showing me how to set up a día de los muertos altar,” says Vivi. ”It was the first time I did it with her — and ever.”

Is this pumpkin dessert a forever favorite of Vivi’s family? ”This recipe means a lot to our family and culture. It’s a statement dish during this time and something everyone in the family can enjoy because it’s such a sweet treat.”

How is her family recipe for calabaza en tacha different than other versions of this dish that has been made in Mexico for centuries?

”I like to make extra syrup on the side if there’s not enough syrup because it’s soooo good,” says Vivi. ”I also just started using oat milk or almond milk to substitute the extra sweetness from the syrup for a guilt-free treat.”

After Day of the Dead, November 1 to 2 this and every year, will she make this recipe again soon? ”I have only made this for Día de los Muertos and may make it again for the holidays. It’s definitely a fall-winter treat,” says Vivi.

Watch Vivi make this calabaza en taza as an ofrenda to her grandmother, along with sugar-cinnamon sprinkled buñuelos and champurrado, a hot atole drink made with chocolate and masa harina, as she builds her first altar for Day of the Dead here.

Curious to try more of Vivi’s and her Abuelita’s comida de pobre family recipes? Find more of their simply perfect Mexican dishes here.

Ready to Make Calabaza en Tacha for Your Family Feast?

Calabaza en Tacha or Pumpkin in Piloncillo for Day of the Dead

5.0 from 1 vote
Recipe by Vivi Abeja Cuisine: Mexican


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 1 medium pumpkin

  • 1 large piloncillo cone

  • 2 sticks cinnamon

  • 2 cloves

  • 2 1/2 cups water

  • 1/2 cup whole milk, divided


  • In a large pot, add the piloncillo, cinnamon sticks, cloves and water and bring to a simmer, until the piloncillo dissolves.
  • While you are waiting for the piloncillo to dissolve, slice the pumpkin into small wedges. Stem the pumpkin and discard the seeds.
  • With a fork, poke holes in the pumpkin flesh so it can easily absorb the sugar-syrup mixture.
  • When the piloncillo is thoroughly dissolved in the liquid, add the pumpkin wedges to the pot. Cover with the lid and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Using a spoon, stir and move the pumpkin wedges around so that each piece is nicely coated with the sugary syrup.
  • Simmer for another 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is fully cooked and has good color: deep golden-brown.
  • Place 2 or 3 small pumpkin pieces in each bowl. Pour a little of the milk into each bowl. Drizzle extra syrup on top of each pumpkin wedge and serve hot.


  • If you love pumpkin seeds, save the seeds, roast them in a 350° oven with a little of the piloncillo-water syrup until they turn golden brown, and sprinkle on the pumpkin pieces in each bowl when serving.

Like This

More Delicioso Family Recipes & Articles We Think You’ll Like!

Got a question or suggestion?

Please rate this recipe and leave any tips, substitutions, or Qs you have!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *