Tesajos de Calabaza by Donne Gonzales

On November 6th, the Los Sembradores crew spent the day learning about tesajos. In the Northern NM region, a tasajo is a form of dehydrated food, and on this particular day, we made tesajos de calabazaThe morning was cold, but the air was filled with all the beauty that comes on an autumn day. The birds were chirping in the trees overhead, with the wind blowing leaves dancing around and falling upon us. 

We started by gathering wood for the horno. Firing the horno allows us to take the opportunity  to use branches that had been pruned from the surrounding orchard in the spring. We gathered lena de manzana and cedro. We started it slowly with a big pile of branches, and once the fire was established, we fed the fire with bigger chunks of lena to heat the horno. We kept the fire going for about two hours.

Starting the fire with small apple wood twigs


After two hours of heating the horno, we carefully removed the coals and ashes with a shovel and placed them in a metal wheelbarrow . We were sure to throw water on the coals so they were extinguished. It’s important to work fast, because you don’t want the horno to lose heat, but you also need to be careful as it’s an intense heat and burns could be serious. 

During the time of letting the horno get hot, we worked on opening the pumpkins and taking out the seeds and fiber. The seeds got sorted and saved for a new year of pumpkins to be planted. Smaller pumpkins are easily cut open with a good knife, while larger pumpkins are cut open using a small clean ax. 

Cleaning out seeds and inside fiber


Next, we seasoned the pumpkins. We had cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, olive oil and salt to choose from. In the past we have used olive oil, salt, and garlic. You’re able to combine as many flavors as you want, but we like to keep it simple. 

As soon as the pumpkins are clean, and the horno is ready, the pumpkins are carefully placed in the horno. The larger pumpkins need to be placed further back, since they will take longer to cook. Larger pumpkins need to cook for about 40-45 minutes, until they are tender. Medium and smaller ones are quick to burn; they only take about 30 minutes. We use the door to keep heat in, and the heat stored in the horno walls will cook the calabaza. It’s important to keep a close eye on them, while the aroma increasingly becomes delicious. 

Sealed horno to keep heat in and cook the pumpkins


If you look closely, you can see pumpkin juice gathering in the middle. We pulled them out very carefully so that we could drink the DELICIOUS juice. We used a special tool for the horno, forks, tongs, and metal baking pans to help us with taking the pumpkins out. 

Calabaza cooking in horno


Once we took them out, we gave them just a few minutes to cool and started eating hot, tasty, pumpkin treats! 

Traditionally, tesajos are peeled away from the hard skin, then cut into long ribbon strands and hung outside to dehydrate. The cutting process takes practice. Hanging outside is both really amazing, and also a hassle, as the birds will find it and easily have some food. 

Tesajo team checking on the calabaza


With modern technology we have resorted to using the dehydrator. It works beautifully. The end result is delicious pumpkin jerky! If you don’t have a dehydrator or lack time for it, you could easily store it in the freezer. In years when we have had a big pumpkin harvest, we cook a large amount in the horno and then store it in the freezer for an easy pumpkin soup dinner or to make pies.

The pumpkin jerky is good to eat all on its own, but you could also rehydrate over a 10-12 hour period and then make pumpkin soup, filling for pumpkin pie, etc. It’s a really cool way to save tasty pumpkins for months. I really love this traditional way of cooking calabaza because you can cook so many at one time, and it is actually really quick and a lovely way to spend the day with your familia.

Cooked pumpkins!

Leave a Reply

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