Friday, August 8, 2008
Blogging from Belize and Papaya Pickles
That's right folks, I'm in Belize again, for three solid weeks on the farm before I return to the hustle and bustle of Washington DC. I'm absolutely loving it. I am eating breadfruit, okra, mangoes, avocados and papaya straight from the farm, working in the garden and spending every minute of the day outside. Its a far cry from my receptionist job in the city-there's actually sunshine and rain. I missed the weather badly and now I'm living in it, and with it, everyday. It is wet season here, so the steady drum of rain drops on the tin roof lull me to sleep at night. Much more relaxing than police sirens. This week I climbed a mango tree, helped prop up fallen citrus trees in our orchard and split a ripe tangerine with our dog Mattie (Mattie has a broad and discerning palate and appreciates the taste of many tropical fruits).
We have tons of papayas on the farm right now thanks to three prolific trees that I planted in the garden last time I was here. Papaya trees like rich, well drained soil and so they don’t usually do too well in the waterlogged clay found across our farm. However, these babies got their start in a big pile of rotted cacao pods, rich and teaming with worms.
Now we are reaping the benefits of that soil amendment, in the form of ripe and green papayas. Most people think of papaya as a fruit or dessert course, but it is very tasty eaten green as a vegetable, as anyone who has been to a Thai restaurant, where green papaya salad is a favorite appetizer, can attest. Diced and boiled, roasted or steamed, green papaya makes a nice vegetable with a slightly sweet flavour and the texture of a smooth summer squash.
This recipe is from Euell Gibbons famous book, the Beachcomber’s Handbook, which chronicles his three years living off the land in Oahu not long after the end of the Second World War. The papaya pickle is made using a half ripe papaya-only pale orange inside and still quite firm.
Peel and cut one medium papaya into spears.You should get around 5-6 cups of spears. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the papaya in, cook for 5 minutes, then drain.
Meanwhile make a syrup with 2-1/2 cups of sugar and 2-1/2 cups of vinegar (I used a mixture of white and cider vinegar). Add 2 teaspoons salt, 10-15 peppercorns, 16 whole cloves, 10 whole allspice berries, 2 bay leaf (I used a large allspice leaf) and if desired, 4-5 of the tiny fiery hot bird peppers common across Central America and the Caribbean (you may substitute a finely chopped habanero or jalapeño). Bring to a boil and add the partially cooked papaya spears. Cook in the pickling mixture for 12 minutes, then seal in sterilized jars*. Let sit for at least 3-4 days before trying them so the pickle mixture has time to fully permeate the papaya.
* To sterilize jars take thoroughly washed glass jars and their lids, (your empty peanut butter or jelly jars will be perfect for this), and place them mouth side down in a shallow pan filled with 2-3 inches of water. Place the lids face up, fully submerged under the water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, then lower the heat and use tongs and oven mitts to take out one jar at a time. Pack the papaya spears into the jar, then seal with the hot lid. Let sit until completely cool before storing. The pickles do not need to be refrigerated until the jar is opened and the seal is broken.