The Southwest

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The Southwest (U.S.) has a repertoire of native sweets that entwine with those of the former Spanish empire like stripes on a candy cane. The original foray into the American Southwest, into what is now northern New Mexico, was led by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in 1598. Unlike many European colonists on the Atlantic coast, the pioneers who settled in this region remained intensely loyal to their homeland, including its culinary traditions, and they immediately planted their familiar wheat upon arrival. Panocha, a porridge or pudding made from wheat and little else, was likely the first sweet prepared on the frontier. Wheat kernels were rinsed with water, bagged, and set near a fire or other warm place until the grain sprouted. This germinated grain was dried (malted) before being ground into flour (also called panocha), which had a subtle natural sweetness. Spanish settlers had access to some honey, and they grew a little sugarcane and sorghum in areas as unlikely as the New Mexican foothills. However, sugar was in short supply until the railroad came to the region in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Today, cooks flavor their panocha with cinnamon and brown sugar, caramelized white sugar, or piloncillo, a cone-shaped raw sugar dissolved in hot water. See sugar. This dish, cooked on the stovetop and then oven-baked, resembles a lustrous Indian pudding. It is most often served in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado during Lent.