5 Ingredients or Fewer

Dirt Candy

April  3, 2011
3 Ratings
  • Makes 1 cup
Author Notes

A few years ago, a New York restaurant opened called Dirt Candy, a reference to vegetables. I always loved this name. Then our first intern at food52, Helen -- you remember Helen! -- showed me how to make real candy out of dirt candy.

Dirt candy was a trick Helen learned while working as a cook at Prune in New York City. There, they would cut butternut squash into tiny cubes, shower it with sugar and let it sit for a few days.

Indeed, as Helen showed us, over the course of a few days the tiny cubes let go of their moisture and raw flavor and shrunk, yet retained their crisp snap.

I've tried the recipe with both raw and white sugar. Conventional white works best. I've also extended the trick to beets and carrots, which work well, although the butternut squash sweeps the dirt candy field. —Amanda Hesser

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup butternut squash cubes (1/4-inch)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Combine the butternut squash and sugar in a bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mix again. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 days, stirring once a day. Taste and decide when it's ready. Enjoy your candy!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • borntobeworn
  • Galapagos
  • Sasha (Global Table Adventure)
    Sasha (Global Table Adventure)
  • Droplet
  • Amanda Hesser
    Amanda Hesser
Amanda Hesser

Recipe by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

12 Reviews

borntobeworn December 14, 2014
I placed my cubes in a air tight container in the fridge and now they are almost soupy with sugar. Should I have covered them with something that could get a little air circulation so they would dry out a bit? I plan to take these to a party tomorrow night so I need to know what I can do to rescue these in 26 hours :) Thanks
Amanda H. December 27, 2014
Hi borntobeworn -- I'm sorry I didn't see your question until now. The sugaring process draws moisture out of the squash so if there was liquid in the container that's ok, you just drain it off before serving. Hope they worked out, and thanks for trying the recipe!
Galapagos January 7, 2012
Harold McGee says in pretzel baking the lye (NaOH; another chemical base similar to lime) gelatinizes the surface starch which then dries during baking to that characteristic glossy finish. he later comments that the lye reacts in the oven with carbon dioxide to "form a harmless carbonate."
besswww October 23, 2011
I made this and am a bit confused -- the end result seemed like slightly less raw butternut squash soaked in sugar water, sort of the texture of carrots but artificially instead of naturally sweet. Did I do something wrong? One thing I noticed is that the sugar melted pretty fast when I put it in with the squash (which was naturally damp from cutting). Should it have?
Amanda H. October 24, 2011
You didn't do anything wrong! I've made this a number of times and sometimes, I think with younger squash, the syrup is quite watery, whereas with older squash (which contains less moisture), the syrup ends up heavier. But yes, it really is just lightly "cured" by the sugar, so it should taste a little raw, a little sweet. I made a batch the other night and added some salt with the sugar. That had a nice effect.
Sasha (. October 17, 2011
Oh my goodness - this is perfect to make with my toddler - fun, sweet, and healthy. Thank you.
Amanda H. October 17, 2011
Glad you like it!
Droplet October 5, 2011
This reminds me of something my grandmother used to make called "rachelle" , which involved soaking pumpkin in lime (as in lime solution, not the citrus), then cooking it very slowly in white grape syrup and sugar. In the end there were these candied cubes of pumpkin and a very concentrated thick pumpkin syrup.
Amanda H. October 25, 2011
So interesting. Is lime ok to consume? And where do you get the lime and the grape syrup?
Galapagos January 7, 2012
Lime (calcium hydroxide) solution is what soft pretzels and bagels are dipped into before baking. It's what makes them shiny. Probably hydrolysis some of the protein in the flour.
Droplet October 2, 2013
Amanda, I am sorry I haven't replied, the comment mustnot have made it to my inbox back then. Lime is not save to consume, but I think that the pieces were only soaked in lime solution for a period of time ( a few hours or overnight), then rinsed very well and blanched. Then they are cooked in grape syrup which is simply reduced grape syrup made from the last very ripe grapes that still linger on the vines when pumpkins start to show up.
Something reminded me of this recipe tonight, and I came back to find it. I thought it would be nice to serve with some rice pudding with a generous amount of lime zest and juice in it.
ellenl April 4, 2011
How clever!