Rachal – Candied Pumpkin

Traditional orange pumpkins are great for Halloween jack-o-lanterns, their seeds, and pulp for pumpkin pies – and they’re easy to find.

I had my heart set on trying my hand at making rachal – candied pumpkin, which requires a yellow or white pumpkin – also known as white milk pumpkin… not as easy to find.

I came across a recipe in my newly acquired cookbook from NJ’s St. Leon Armenian Church’s Women’s Guild (thanks Mom!!). The recipe, submitted by Carolyn Soojian and Ginny Clarke, is said to be a favorite of their Der Hayr, Father Diran Bohajian.

Carolyn’s and Ginny’s recollection: Father Diran’s mother Victoria made rachal every autumn – a treat he loved very much. We gave him the recipe, which he now prepares for his family and himself.

Aside from the length of time to prepare, making rachal really didn’t sound too daunting. Finding two of the necessary ingredients, however, presented the challenge – slaked lime powder, and yellow or white pumpkin.

Failing to find slaked lime powder in the types of stores suggested in the recipe, I turned to my friends, Nazan and Eddi Macarian, proprietors of Macar and Sons, Inc., International Food Distributors, for help. Alas, they did not have slaked lime powder.

Doug came to my rescue, as always. He simply googled “slaked lime powder” and found that a brand called Mrs. Wage’s Pickling Lime, is carried by – are you ready for this? – Ace Hardware stores! 

Before jumping in the car, I called 3 local Ace Hardware stores. Of course, they’d never heard of Mrs. Wage’s. Hmmm. On my fourth try, I hit pay-dirt! The store in Boca Raton (a 30 mile round-trip drive) had 2 bags left, and they would put one on hold for me.

One ingredient down, another to go.

The other hard-to-find ingredient was the pumpkin itself. I called my local farmer’s market, but they only had the orange variety. Whole Foods wouldn’t have white ones for another couple of weeks. My last hope was The Fresh Market; they carried them – and – they were in stock. (If this hunt sounds familiar, I went through the same thing last autumn looking for quince!)

Finally, I had all the ingredients on hand.

Mrs. Wage’s Pickling Lime and white pumpkin

Today, I offer you two recipes…rachal and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Recipe #1: Candied Pumpkin – Rachal
from Carolyn Soojian and Ginny Clarke (with a few of my own touches)

Day 1:
one 5-lb pumpkin (yellow or white)
2 small bottles slaked lime powder (about 3 to 4 Tablespoons)**
1 gallon water
Day 2:
10 cups sugar
3 3/4 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
chopped walnuts for garnish
I used ½ cup of Mrs. Wage’s pickling lime to 1 gallon of water.
Be sure the lime powder you use is “food grade” and not “commercial grade”.
Older cookbooks suggested that slaked lime powder or calcium hydroxide could be purchased in Middle Eastern stores or your local pharmacy. Neither of those proved successful, however, pickling lime in powdered form can be purchased on line at http://www.mrswages.com/.

Day 1 Directions:
Cut pumpkin in half. Remove seeds and save for making roasted pumpkin seeds. (See recipe below.)
Cut pumpkin into 1/4 inch slices; peel slices.
Place pumpkin slices in a large porcelain (or plastic) container.
Dissolve slaked lime powder in one gallon of water.
Add lime-water mixture to pumpkin slices. Place a large, heavy plate on the pumpkin to keep slices submerged. Let stand overnight.

Jars of finished rachal

Day 2 Directions:
Remove pumpkin and wash each slice thoroughly in cold water.
In a large pot dissolve sugar in 3 3/4 cups water, stirring until completely dissolved.
Tie cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in cheesecloth, and add to sugar water.
Add washed pumpkin slices. Cover and bring to a boil.
Remove cover; simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours. Turn slices occasionally.
Add lemon juice; simmer 15 minutes.
Remove and discard cinnamon and cloves.
Syrup should be somewhat thick and pumpkin should have changed color and texture.
Cool. Store in glass jars and refrigerate.
To serve: sprinkle chopped walnuts on top for garnish.

A Dabbakian Family specialty…

My Aunt Zippi (Zabelle Dabbakian) Keil shared this with me: 
“after my mother made rachal, she stored it in a cool place to preserve its crispness. I can still see the pumpkin slices so beautiful and appetizing in its syrup with walnuts throughout. So during the winter months, when it snowed and while it was still snowing and so nothing would touch the new-fallen snow, my father would go into our backyard with a large bowl and collect the fresh snow. In the meantime, my mother would have the “rachal” chopped into bite size pieces together with chopped walnuts (or almonds) and we children would be waiting with great anticipation for the winter’s most delectable dessert! They would spoon out the “rachal” over the fresh snow into bowls and we would dig in! This was very much like today’s sorbet or Italian ice desserts…..only much, much better.”
Doesn’t that sound glorious? It’s a shame there’s no snow in South Florida.

Recipe #2: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (unsalted)

• Wash pumpkin seeds thoroughly in cold water. Remove any fibrous, pulpy strands.
• Place in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet (or use a vegetable spray instead of oil); stir to coat seeds. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Bake at 325 F until toasted – about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally during baking.
• Cool completely; store in an airtight container.

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  1. Mark Gavoor October 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    In the late 1980s, my Grandmother Azniv was telling me about a savory treat from her youth: rechel. I looked in a few Armenian cookbooks and actually found a recipe. So, I thought I would whip up a batch and surprise her with it.

    It took me forever, LOL, to find the ingredients, forever to clean, cut up, and boil the pumpkin, forever to boil this, mix that, stew up and bottle the concoction. There was no whipping up at all here. It reminded me of my friend who always said "Armenian cooking is labor instensive."

    Yes, mostly I enjoy and rarely prepare. Guilty as charged.

    I waited a good day to taste it. It was pretty tasty but nothing special. I took some to Grannie, as we called her. She tasted it and said "yeah, dats da rechel." Pure minimalist Grannie.

    About six months after making rechel which I boldly decided would be an annual ritual, we found it on the shelf in our local middle eastern food store… Arabic writing and in English, "Candied Pumpkin." It tasted every bit as good as what I made. $5 for a jar or spending an entire Saturday (yes, I am not deft about the kitchen) making it. Hmmmm… let's see… it was a pure buy decision.

    But, I can say that have made rechel.

    Read more about my Grandmother at:

    I love your blog and what you are doing on-line for the great heritage of Armenian food.

    All the best,

  2. Robyn October 28, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful comment, Mark. I'm glad you had the "rachal experience", too. Everyone should try it at least once in their life.

    And… thanks for sharing the link about your amazing Grannie.

  3. Unknown October 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks so much for this wonderful recipe! My grandmother used to make this a lot in Hayastan. I made it last night and distributed 10 jars to family and friends. They were amazed! 🙂

  4. Robyn October 27, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Stella, That's great! So glad your family enjoyed the rachal!

  5. Anonymous November 2, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Awesome stuff!!! What would happen if I used an ordinary orange pumpkin, would it not turn out? I believe I recall my grandmother using regular pumpkins…. Any insight would be great! Thank you for the recipe!

  6. Robyn November 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    My feeling is that if it worked for your grandmother, it should work for you. The texture might be slightly affected, but certainly not the taste. If you try making rachal with the regular pumpkin, would you let us know how it turned out? Now,I'm curious! Thanks!

  7. Anonymous November 3, 2011 at 5:25 am

    I plan on making it this weekend, got 2 large pumpkins, got my jars, had ACE hardware order me Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime….I'm almost ready! Wish me luck!

  8. Robyn November 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Excellent – and – Good Luck! Be sure to let us know how it turned out.

  9. Anonymous November 6, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Robyn, I just finished cooking the Rachal….it turned out beautiful! Color, texture, flavor….is exactly how I remember it. Than again I have never had it with white pumpkin so I can't compare. I have had store bought candied pumpkin and the texture is identical to that. I had to triple the recipe as I had allot of pumpkin and a big family. My only concern, I feel that there isn't enough syrup to fill multiple jars. I may have to make additional syrup infused with cinnamon and clove to top off the jars…..do you think that'll be ok? Thank you once again!

  10. Robyn November 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Topping off the jars with additional syrup should be fine. I'm so happy to hear the recipe worked out well, and hope your family enjoys every tasty bite!
    Happy eating!

    1. Robyn September 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Roberta, The answer is 'yes'. You can certainly sterilize the glass jars in the same manner as with peaches.


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