Dirt Candy

By • April 3, 2011 • 10 Comments


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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

Makes 1 cup

  • 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!

Comments (10) Questions (2)

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over 2 years ago Galapagos

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."

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over 2 years ago besswww

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?

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

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_with_ava

over 2 years ago Sasha (Global Table Adventure)

Oh my goodness - this is perfect to make with my toddler - fun, sweet, and healthy. Thank you.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad you like it!

Flower-bee

over 2 years ago Droplet

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.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

So interesting. Is lime ok to consume? And where do you get the lime and the grape syrup?

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over 2 years ago Galapagos

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.

Flower-bee

7 months ago Droplet

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.

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about 3 years ago ellenl

How clever!