Note: I was supposed to submit this for some magazine or another, one of those impulsive decisions I get every once in a while, which often lead nowhere. This “article” was supposed to be my first attempt at sending – through the traditional avenues of submitting a legit manuscript – something to big publishers and agonizing for a month or so, crossing my fingers often, all the while unceasingly wondering if the editors will publish it or not. Through events not under my control, the submission came back to me unopened. Scrawled across the big envelope were the words “RECIPIENT MOVED; NO FORWARDING ADDRESS AVAILABLE”. I should really stop reading back issues of magazines. Everything’s so… obsolete. Anyway, for what it’s worth and for lack of energy to write anything far more engaging, I present today’s special:
In the Philippines, the guava (Psidium guajava) takes flak from those who want an excuse for not excelling in academia. It has been a running joke through generations of Filipinos that if one wasn’t able to complete the elementary level or to get past secondary school, the fruit was to blame. Even in college, the joke still stands that if one has below average marks in certain subjects, it was because one has been busy with “pamayabas” (guava-picking).
Native to South America and some areas in the Caribbean, these shrubs may have been imported from South America to the Philippine shores during the days when country was still under Spanish control. The tree from which the ripe pale yellow fruits, with a deep pink or orange flesh, is a low shrub from which some mothers have torn twigs off as handy sticks for whacking the bottoms of errant offspring (this was of course in those days when corporal punishment reigned supreme in the child-rearing department). When the fruit, round nubs at first, grew to about the size of a baby’s fist and ripened, and the heady sweet aroma pervaded the air, children headed for the trees they pass by on the way home from school and congregate there like a flock of birds resting on tall trees on a stopover before heading back north from their winter migration.
I rarely see a guava tree these days, least of all a guava tree heavily laden with fragrant fruit, standing by a roadside and patiently waiting for school children who would be sure to get enchanted with the fragrant golden orbs. Because of the scarcity a thing so familiar during my childhood (I know, I am getting old), when I do happen across guavas in the local market, it is like being in the presence of ghosts of the past; the fragrance of the ripe fruit invokes the spirit of carefree childhood summer days when school was out and all there ever was to do was play, play, and play. Maybe this was what caused some children to stay out of school: to prolong the experience of pure bliss.
An excursion to the market one day turned me into the hoarder of about five kilos of the native guava – those that had a strong tart flavor and sweet heady aroma that are missing in those genetically modified oversized mutant variety sold by ladies wearing straw hats outside school gates. A more enlightened soul would have called others from her age group – a.k.a. friends – to share the bounty and reminisce together about old times as each sank their teeth on the golden fruit. But I was selfish and decided to keep the guavas for myself. I scurried to the kitchen, put on a big pot on the stove, and channeled the spirit of my grandmamma to aid me in making guava jelly. Kidding on that. I actually looked up recipes in several cookbooks – they were my great grandmamma’s – and took the one with the simplest instructions in it.
First, the guavas had to be washed and then sliced into quarters. It must be stressed here that the fruit should be very ripe, but not overripe. Please do away with rotten fruits. Drop the quartered ripe guavas into a pot then fill the pot with water until the fruit are fully submerged. At this stage, some would suggest bringing the water to a roiling boil using high heat. On the contrary, it is best to raise the heat to let the water boil and then to turn the heat to medium, bringing the water to a slow, sensuous simmer. A half hour of this without stirring would help yield a more flavorful jelly later on. It is also a practice on self control, because most of us have a tendency to grab a ladle and constantly stir what’s cooking in the pot. Take a deep breath, put that ladle down, turn your back to the stove and amuse yourself with the view from the kitchen window. This way, the guavas, goaded by the steady temperature, will release their flavorful oils better.
Finally, the half hour is up. Turn off the stove fire and let the liquid stand for at least twenty minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a strainer by taking a clean cloth (some would use a jelly bag, with its convenient stand, or a quadruple layer of cheesecloth on a colander) spread over the mouth of a bowl deep enough that the bottom part of the cloth would not graze the estimated surface of the strained liquid. Better if someone is there to help you with the next step because it requires you to slowly pour the liquid onto the clean cloth. Allow the last of the liquid to drip right onto the bowl. If using the cloth, you might want to gather the edges and secure it with kitchen twine and tie it somewhere over the bowl you are using to gather the liquid because the dripping could take the entire night, and you wouldn’t want to be standing there the whole time, holding the cloth and wondering if the toil of making guava would be all worth it. And while you’re at it, resist the temptation of squeezing the bag. I should have had a disclaimer to warn you that this is a multi-stage task requiring utmost commitment.
At last, the next morning arrives, and you are again ready for another round of jelly making. Now, transfer the strained liquid to a pot over a stove. Keep the flame high and bring the liquid to a boil. When the liquid has been reduced, lower the heat. For every cup of liquid in the pot, add a cup of white sugar. Bring to a boil then immediately lower heat to medium. Then, add another two cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon calamansi juice. Let simmer. Stir every once in a while. After about 25 minutes of this, test for doneness by taking a teaspoon of the jelly and dropping in a bowl of water. If it forms a soft glop, remove from heat and transfer into a sterilized glass jar. Let cool. The jelly may be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks.
There. An essence of carefree days has been captured in liquid form. Get some pandesal or crackers and butter to go with your jelly. Reminisce as you take the first bite.