Guava (Guayaba in Spanish)
– is a delightfully fragrant fruit, revered and hated throughout the world. I love its smell and taste so much I can’t imagine hating it, though I know some folks don’t like their smell.
Here in South Florida, commercial plantings are typically of big-fruited Asian varieties, harvested and eaten green. At this stage, they are crunchy like an apple, without much aroma, and often eaten with salt and a sprinkle of hot pepper – much like a green mango. However, there are many other varieties, and a few growers grow them for ripe eating. There are some closely-guarded groves with old-fashioned types, considered to have the most flavor. Many years ago, guavas escaped into the wild – thus they are classified as invasive and not recommended for planting here. Not that there’s much wild left here…
Wild guavas exhibit a lot of variability. They could be small or large-fruited, oval, round or even pear-shaped, with creamy white, yellow, orange, pink or red interior, and they vary from subacid to sweet in flavor.
No matter what kind of guava you grow, though, in South Florida we have a terrible problem with fruit flies. Often, by the time the fruit ripens, they are completely infested with squirming larva that hatch in the center pulp and eat their way out.Ripening is what triggers the hatching. Many growers spray pesticides, and also bag the fruit in a cloth or plastic bag to prevent the fly from laying eggs in the fruit. When you see a field full of “bag trees” – think guavas!
Guavas can produce multiple crops throughout the year, with a heavy crop in late summer and often a light crop around December. It’s guava season now, and it’s time to take advantage of the bounty.
What to make with the windfall? First, harvest them just before they start to turn soft and yellow. This will minimize the hatching and development of fruit fly larva inside the fruit. The eggs will still be there, and maybe some young ‘uns, but as I like to say, “it’s 33% protein”. When harvested early, they’re confined to the seedy pulp, which can still be processed to make jam, guava butter, juice, and other delicious things. Why can you do this? because the seeds are so hard you’ll end up straining the seeds out, along with the buggies, leaving delicious pulp. But if you’re a die-hard vegan, stay away, because there will always be some tiny eggs slipping through and even some tiny larva, all completely harmless. Squeamish? get over it, and you’ll enjoy much deliciousness.
My favorite way to deal with guavas is to make “Cascos de Guayaba” with the shells, and guava butter with the pulp. They’re both very easy to make. Sometimes I get inspired and make guava leather with the pulp (heavenly, with some cinnamon and hot pepper). You can also make juice with the strained pulp.
Cascos de Guayaba aka Guava Shells
(and bonus pulp for other recipes)
- Wash a bunch of guavas (as many as you’d like to use).
- Remove any left-over sepals sticking out from the end of the fruit and lightly trim off the rough end.
- Cut each guava in half. Using a spoon, remove the inside seedy pulp, taking care not to dig into the shells. (Set the seedy pulp aside for guava marmalade, guava butter, or even juice.)
- In a deep saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. The amount of sugar you use depends on how sweet and thick you want the end result. You can make a light syrup or a heavy syrup, to taste. Add a stick of cinnamon, and (optional) 3 or 4 pieces of star anise. Also optional: the juice of 1 lemon or lime, and a very small pinch of salt.
- When the syrup is boiling, cook the guava shells in batches. Don’t overfilll the pan, so you don’t damage the shells as they cook. The longer they cook, the softer and darker they will get. Again, this is to taste, so play until you like the results.
- Carefully remove the cooked shells from the boiling syrup and put them in a bowl or a jar. Repeat, until you’ve finished cooking all the guavas. Pour the syrup over the cooked shells, and cool.
- Serve chilled, with a dollop of cream cheese (the traditional Cuban way), drizzled with some of the syrup. Save the extra syrup to use on pancakes or angel-food cake, or use as a deliciously-flavored sweetener.
What to do with the seedy pulp you saved?
- Cook the pulp (with or without the seeds) in enough water to encourage the pulp to separate from the seeds. If making guava butter or leather, don’t add a ton of water, or you’ll be stirring it for hours while all that extra water evaporates.
- When it’s sufficiently soft, strain the seeds out and save the pulp. I like to extract every last scrap of pulp, so I will often pour a bit of water through the strainer and scrape the strainer to get more of the goodies. Be careful, though – too much scraping and you might push some seeds through.
- Sweeten to taste (you need less than you think, because as the water evaporates it will concentrate the sweetening power). If you feel the need, look up an apple butter or a jam recipe to get an idea of amount of sugar to use per cup of pulp. I always cut it to half of what the recipes say, but that’s me – I don’t like super sickly sweet jams.
- Add a bit of lime juice (optional). If have a lot of syrup left over from the guava shells, you can use it in place of some of the water and sugar.
- You don’t need pectin with guava, as they have their own.
- Cook slowly, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Start with a medium heat, then lower the temperature as it thickens, so it doesn’t burp in your face.
- For apple butter, you need it thick enough that it will spread on a slice of toast without being runny. You can keep going, and make jam or marmalade. In that case, use a thermometer, or use the “sheet test” – scoop up a spoonful and slowly let it drip off the side of the spoon. If it comes off in a curtain or a sheet instead of pouring off in drips, it’s ready. Pour it into a jar, cap, let cool and refrigerate. If you want to keep it shelf-stable, then run it in a canner (canner).