If you’re the lucky owner of an apartment at La Manga Club, surely you’ve already tried some of the area’s exquisite traditional desserts. There are options to satisfy any taste, and most demonstrate the clear influence of Arabic culture and the bounty of fresh ingredients so readily available in the Region of Murcia. Today we’re going to introduce you to a dessert, arrope con calabazate, that’s been around for centuries and that makes its way onto local tables on special holidays like All Saints’ Day and Christmas. Though unfamiliar to many who don’t hail from the region, this dish, like so many others in Murcia, has been passed down from generation to generation.
There’s an advertisement from 1865 in the newspaper La Paz de Murcia announcing the sale of arrope de Beniganí in an establishment on the current Plaza de las Flores de Murcia, and to this day, on November 1 of each year, the unique aroma of the dessert invades the stalls of the market at the doors of the Church of San Pedro.
According to gastronomic history, arrope was the first sweetener created in ancient times. Before sugar cane reached Europe, only honey was available to sweeten dishes, but this natural product was scarce, particularly during the winter months, and was a luxury within the reach of a very few. Arrope was first created by slow cooking grapes to caramelize their sugars and create an exquisite semi-preserve ideal for sweetening any dish in the colder months.
In the Murcian tradition, a special variety of this arrope was developed that is served cold and made from boiled figs combined with calabazate, a mixture of pumpkins or quinces, melon, and sweet potatoes cut into pieces and cooked in a slaked lime mixture to prevent them from falling apart. The result is a dessert whose characteristic sweetness derives from the caramelized flavor of the figs.
Now that you know the history of this delicacy, take up the following recipe, don your apron, and give it a go at your apartment at La Manga Club. Its aroma will fill your house with warmth even on cool days, and delight your guests with centuries of tradition and flavor.
- 3 kg of pumpkin
- 9 liters of water
- 1 kg of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide, sold in drugstores)
- 750 grams of sugar
- 6 kg dried black figs
- 1 sweet potato
- 1/2 melon
- 1 kg of pears
The day before making the dessert, you have to clean the figs by cutting them open and leaving them to soak overnight. The next day you should remove them, set aside the water used for soaking, and boil them in clean water for about 3 hours. After that, add back in the soaking water little by little until you have a black broth with a liquid consistency. Strain it to remove the seeds of the figs and put it back in a pot over heat until it thickens.
Now that you have your arrope, you can proceed to the calabazate. Put about 9 liters of water in a pot with the slaked lime, stir, and let the slaked lime settle at the bottom of the pot. With the help of a saucepan, begin to remove the water, trying not to disturb the slaked lime at the bottom, and pour the removed water into another large bowl containing the fruit and vegetables, which should already be peeled and cut into large pieces. Leave them to soak for about five hours. Take them out afterwards and wash them well. Set the pot with syrup to boil, then add the washed produce to the pot and boil until it is a bit tender. Turn off the heat, let the contents cool, and your dessert will be ready to sweeten your table.
Take advantage of the winter season to try this out at your apartment at La Manga Club and, of course, don’t forget to pass by the Plaza de San Pedro de Murcia at the end of October to try the traditional version prepared by locals alongside other seasonal delicacies like fig bread, fried milk, and huesos de santo.