I met my first guava last month on a hill overlooking the town of Machakos, Kenya.
I’d been huffing and puffing up the red dirt road with my sister Janet, to the delight of the local boys, who ran beside us practising their Hellos, and the shy young girls carrying loads of sticks on their backs.
Below us, their mothers washed clothes in the stream meandering between smooth red rocks, while their fathers tended the garden or checked on the goats hobbled in the grass along the side of the road.
Janet spotted them first, a mound of bright yellow Ping-Pong balls on the ground beside a fruit and vegetable seller. Negotiating in her best Swahili, she bought six for 10 Kenyan shillings, or 13 cents.
For the next three days, her house smelled like a bouquet of exotic flowers as we blended the ripe fruit into thick smoothies and ate them like apples, swallowing the hard seeds.
Back home at my local Food Basics, I approached the clamshell of hard green Mexican guavas with trepidation: Could I replicate my Kenyan experience?
When the cashier spied my fruit, she began waxing poetic about the scent of guava trees in her homeland, the Philippines.
Randy Dietrich, of Broadview Produce, says Canadians of all nationalities are discovering the joy of fresh guavas, especially since he and other importers began packing them in plastic clamshells.
“It’s not a big item,” says Dietrich, “but sales are going up considerably and we love it — it’s extremely healthy (rich in vitamins C and A) and the fragrance can fill a room.”
I’ll second that!
For an exotic summer drink, cut off both ends of ripe or semi-ripe guavas, throw them in a blender with a little water and blend to a pudding-like purée. Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl, add purée and press down with a spatula to catch all the seeds. Yes, it’s a pain! Discard seeds. Add water and sugar (or honey) to desired thickness and sweetness, plus a squeeze of lime juice. Make it even more delicious by blending with bananas, strawberries, yogurt or whatever you have on hand.
Guavas are native to Mexico, or perhaps Brazil. The tree belongs to the myrtle family, which makes it a close cousin of fragrant cloves, eucalyptus and bay leaves. The 140 varieties come in all shapes and sizes — round, pear-shaped, small to softball-sized, with green or pale yellow skin, white or salmon pink flesh and a pear-like texture. It may taste like strawberries, pineapple or banana, all three or none of the above.
Buy & Store:
- Like pears, guavas are harvested when mature but not ripe.
- They’re available year-round from Mexico but grow in many parts of the world.
- Choose fruit without blemishes or soft spots.
- Leave on the counter for a few days until the fruit yields to a gentle pressure.
- As it ripens, the guava’s scent turns from musky (some say barnyardy) to intensely floral and the skin may turn yellow.
- Use ripe guavas immediately or refrigerate in a plastic bag or container for a week or two.
- Wash and trim ends before using.
- Enjoy a fresh guava one of three ways: eat whole like an apple, peel before eating or scoop out the seeds in the middle and eat the remaining flesh and skin, though there won’t be much left!
- Dietrich recommends tasting guavas hard, semi-hard and soft to see which you prefer.
- Sliced guava adds a tropical punch to fruit salads.
- Use puréed guava as a base for sorbet and ice cream, smoothies and puddings.
- High in natural pectin, guava jam and jelly are beloved worldwide.
- Poach whole or halved guava in honey and rum with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
- Grill guava slices and serve with grilled meat.
- Simmer into a savoury sauce for chicken or pork.
Spread this thick butterscotch-coloured spread on toast, serve with a strong blue or cheddar cheese or use as a base for cocktails.
1 lb. (450 g) guavas, ends trimmed, quartered
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Place prepared guavas in large saucepan. Add just enough water to cover fruit. Bring to a boil on high heat then reduce heat to low. Cook until guavas are very tender, about 15 minutes.
Place in fine mesh sieve over bowl. Press down with spatula or back of spoon to catch as much flesh and juice as you can. Discard seeds and skins.
Return guava pulp to clean saucepan and stir in sugar. Bring to boil over high heat then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour into glass container. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks. Spread thickens as it cools.
Makes 1 cup.
Welcome summer with this refreshing tropical cocktail.
1/4 cup Groovy Guava Spread (recipe above)
3 ripe bananas
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (3 limes)
6 oz white rum
1 cup crushed ice
In blender, place guava spread, bananas, lime juice, rum and crushed ice. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Published June 24 in the Toronto Star