In Mexico, villagers made the most of what they could grow. Today's locavore might regard their food as poverty cooking when, in fact, it was resourceful and sometimes surprisingly delicious.
Take this dessert, a sweetened squash puree. It's what you might have made if your kitchen lacked expensive chocolate but your chayote vines were loaded.
I came across it at the Museo del Dulce in Morelia, Michoacán, a museum and shop dedicated to preserving oldtime Mexican sweets. That's where the photo at the top was taken.
The taste is intriguing, not bland and dull. A nutty, mellow nuance makes the puree so enchanting that, when I cooked a batch at home, I couldn't stop eating it.
It's also traditional to add a fresh fig leaf, which means the best time to make this dessert is spring and summer, when the trees are filled with leaves.
DULCE DE CHAYOTE
From the Museo del Dulce, Morelia, Michoacán
4 large chayotes
1 large fig leaf, washed
Wash the chayotes and cut them in half lengthwise. Place in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil, uncovered, until very tender, 30 minutes or longer.
Drain and let cool slightly.
With a sharp spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and the membrane around them. Then scoop out the pulp and discard the shells.
Puree the pulp in a food processor or a blender. Measure the puree. There will be about 2 cups. Measure an equal amount of sugar. Place the puree and sugar in an unlined copper pot (if you have one. Otherwise, use an ordinary saucepan). Add the fig leaf.
Bring to a boil and boil until the mixture is very thick, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to let it burn.
Turn the mixture out into a bowl and let it cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature in small dishes, as you would applesauce.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.