Cascos de Guayaba
It’s not really news that you should see what tops the ingredients list of certain foods and rule out anything lab born. Still, we all have our blind spots and for me its guava in all its forms. Easy enough for most to avoid, except for Cubans to whom its practically a food group, I get as far as seeing red color #20 and think better of it. When I’m in Miami, this isn’t a problem. I can always find freshly made poached guavas, pastes and jellies in local markets. Visting Jamaica this past November, my suitcase was weighted down with jarred preserves where the most intense add-in was clove and maybe a dash of nutmeg. In New York, I have fewer options.
I’ve tried to poach my own, but the results have been eh to awful. Online recipes were vague, incomplete, and called for an amount and variety of guavas I couldn’t hope to find on the random Chinatown fruit cart that occassionally sells them. A few weeks ago, I was food tripping through Jackson Heights when I came across an enormous bin of round, yellow, Mexican guavas. I don’t see fresh guavas very often but I stock up when I do. Determined to get the poaching right, I tried a few different ways – peel on and off, seeds removed before and after, and random blends of spices. I made it through 3 lbs and had only a small jar of sugary jam (at least that’s what I called it) to show for it.
With no plans to return to Queens anytime soon, I thought that was it until I found a small basket’s worth of small green apple guavas around the corner from my appartment. Union Market likes to throw in a random to their well-stocked produce section – ugli tangelos, dragon fruits, carambolas…Like foreign exchange students, they end up forlorn on a shelf after the initial novelty passes. I picked up a few and let them ripen over the course of the week. After a couple of days, my apartment was under a guava cloud and I was ready to try again. Taking a little from each of my previous attempts, I peeled them but didn’t strees if I couldn’t get all of the seeds out knowing it would be easier when they were poached, I eased up on the spices, and used vanilla bean instead of extract. I also made extra syrup since I wasn’t sure of the cooking time and figured too much was then letting them dry out.
I would have loved to find pink guavas but adding food coloring would have defeated the purpose. Besides, these were pretty in their own way. After all the effort and misfires, I was happy to have a jar of freshly poached, lightly golden, vanilla bean speckled guava shells. Tucking the empty pod and cinnamon stick into the jar, the flavors only deepend over the next few days while it chilled in the refrigerator. Having finally figured out how to go about it, I was sure I’d be able to repeat it whenever I came across fresh guavas – be it by the handful or cartful.
Cascos de Guayaba/Poached Guava Shells
1 1/2 pounds guavas, well rinsed and peeled
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice, whole
2 cloves, whole
1/2 vanilla bean
Combine water and sugar in a large, wide bottomed saucepan. Wrap the allspice and cloves in small square of cheese cloth tightly gathered and tied together with kitchen twine, alternately use a sachet or tea strainer. Slice open the vanilla bean, scape out the seeds, and add both the seeds and the pod to the pot. Add the cinnamon stick. Bring to a high simmer over medium heat.
Cut the guavas in half and scrape out the pulp and seeds with a serrated spoon.* Discard the the pulp or save for another purpose. Add the guava shells to the simmering syrup, cut side up. Lower heat and simmer gently, turning once during cooking, until cooked through and tender, 15-20 minutes.
Remove guava shells from the syrup and allow to cool. Remove remaining seed and pour shells into a serving bowl or jar with lid if using later. Continue to simmer syrup until its reduce by half. Remove from heat and strain. Discard sachet. Add one tablespoon of lime juice to the syrup and pour over guava shells.
Chill until ready to serve with cream cheese or goat cheese and crackers.
*Any seeds left behind can be easily removed after poaching.