Traditional Pumpkin’s arrope

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Arrope de calabaza

Traditional arrope, meloja o aguamiel, is a very dark, almost black, thick syrup, produced by cooking and concentrating the sugar of sweet fruits (such as pumpkin, fig, quince and melon) or in a honey and fruits mix, or even in must.

Traditional pumpkin arrope, for example, is prepared in different parts of Extremadura, so it is difficult to link it to a single area. It is present also in other Spain regions, especially Murcia, Alicante and Castilla-La Mancha. Plus, this sweet crossed the Atlantic and reached Argentina and Chile.
Its production is linked to the domestic sphere and there is a great process variability, depending on the different regions. In the middle of the last century the production of arrope for family consumption was widespread, while nowadays it almost disappeared.

To prepare a traditional pumpkin’s arrope, the pumpkin is cut into thin slices and soaked for 24 hours in water where some quicklime was added, so that it does not fall apart. Then it is removed, dried, and set aside. The figs and other fruits are cooked in water, then strained to remove the seeds before being added to the syrup. Figs are often cooked longer until their juice thickens. The pumpkin pulp is then mixed with the cooked fruits and the liquid obtained from the fig cooking. Sometimes honey or matalahúva (anise) is added. The arrope is then cooked slowly until it thickens, put into glass jars, and cooked again in a bain-marie to assure its conservation. At a family level, arrope is produced for self-consumption, which means that just the fruit surplus is transformed into arrope to preserve it. Now some companies buy fruit, must and honey from the region to produce industrial arrope.

The many different process variations depend on the area where the arrope is prepared. In the northeast area, the arrope is made with dried figs, very typical in this part of the region, or with grape must since the area has a large presence of vineyards. In the southern parts of Extremadura honey or just figs are used. In all cases, they use the most present fruit of the region: pears, melons, pumpkin, dried figs, quince. This arrope is paired with the typical Extremaduran migas (a traditional dish prepared with fried bread crumbs), or used as a complement in sweets, and cakes, or used as if it were a jam. Arropes are sold in local markets.

The Spanish word arrope comes from the Arabic “arrub” or “rrub,” which refers to the thick syrup. Since the 8th century, the era of Al-Andalus in the Iberian Peninsula, arrope has been used as a dessert or as an ingredient to sweeten desserts. In the post-war period, its consumption spread due to its high caloric content. Regarding the evolution of this product, the traditional version can be considered endangered because more modern industrial versions are now available on the market. However, companies must comply with health regulations and they had to adapted the preparation to these requirements. This means that despite if the traditional steps for its preparation are carefully followed, the taste of these not-artisanal arropes is way different from the original. Although arrope is consumed at any time of the year, it is traditionally eaten around All Saints’ Day. Formerly, the arropeiros (street sellers) went through the towns and cities to sell it on the streets. Today, it is sold in shops and street stalls.

The tools used for the preparation of this tasty preserve are still used in the traditional preparation. They are copper pots, passed down from generation to generation, spatulas, iron skimmers and even some special knives. The consumption of the traditional version is in decline, while the presence on the market of more sugary industrial arropes is increasing.

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Nominated by:Slow Food Extremadura