For Costa Ricans, miel de chiverre has a status only slightly lower than mom’s gallo pinto.
Although this food product is available all year, it is traditional for Semana Santa. The squash from which the jelly or miel comes is on sale now as is the jelly itself from those who do not want to wrestle with the preparation.
The chiverre squash looks like a watermelon, but the shell is very hard. Inside, the texture is similar to that of a pumpkin but colored white.
This member of the cucurbit family (Cucurbita ficifolia) can be found at ferias and hundreds of roadside stands.
Costa Ricans use them in many ways, mostly sweet and based on brown sugar, white sugar, in conservas and the famous miel de chiverre or chiverre honey.
Easter this year is Sunday, April 24. But the start of Semana Santa, Holy Week, is a little more than two weeks away. April 15 will be the last day to do official business because many Costa Ricans take off the whole week.
The gastronomy of Semana Santa is pretty much like Christmas. The holiday meals are full of seafoods and a lot of sweet homemade delicacies, including encurtidos, vegetable conserve in mustard or vinegar, and spicy chileros.
Semana Santa is a time for feasting as people enjoy time off and go to the beach or participate in the Way of the Cross or any number of other religious processions associated with the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
When the praying is done, it is time to gain weight.
Ticos think automatically of miel de chiverre, coco ayote and arroz con leche. The season also is one of exchanging visits with relatives and friends to taste and compare the different kinds of chiverre dishes, ceviches and prawns with rice.
There are three different ways to serve chiverre: with pink sugar, with black sugar cane or con tapa de dulce de caña and finally by using a trapiche or small mill to create a conserve.
Chunks of dried squash are cooked with butter and sugar to make a brown, sweet paste. Then that is rolled into empanadas and other delights.
There are coconut variations as well as with tamarindo, cinnamon and aromatic cloves which will determine the taste. Texture means a lot, too. People will recognize the maker according to the texture and the way the main ingredients are cut, chopped or ground.
Expats are urged to buy the prepared miel or honey at the supermarket because home preparation involves burning the squash shell and using a hammer to break it open.
Semana Santa Glossary
The chiverre (Cucurbita ficifolia) is a large green and white squash that can grow to 20 kilos (44 pounds).
Cubaces (Phaseolus coccinius) is known in English as the scarlet running bean. Here the beans are big and white and used for stews.
Tapas de dulce are those circular blocks of brown sugar made from cane.
Encurtidos are pickled pieces of vegetable.
Chilero is chopped peppers, onion and other vegetables that can be served alone or used as a garnish on other foods.
Ceviche is chopped, marinated raw fish credited to the ancients Peruvians.
Tamal de cerdo is the traditional Christmas pork tamales.
Saray Ramírez Vindas contributed to this article