Back on the block, when I was coming up in the world, one of our favorite desserts was papaya, especially Dulce de Papaya, or papaya preserve. I love papayas. They are a delicate fruit whose peak season is from June until September. They are great right now. Although today, in most supermarkets, they are available year round. When papayas are green, they taste awful. But when ripe, they are delicious. Still, be aware that if too ripe they'll dry out. You can discern ripeness by a smooth yellow color and tenderness to the touch. An overripe papaya will start to discolor. So seek out only that fruit which is mellow yet firm and unblemished.
For cooking purposes, a moderately ripe papaya will do. Some cooks say only green ones should be used for making a preserve. The problem with that is that more sugar is needed as a sweetener. I've discovered with the recipe given below that you can use sugar or maple syrup (which is my innovation). Since I spend my summers in Vermont, I prefer the maple syrup, which is healthier. Oh, yes, the recipe is from my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group, Running Press).
DULCE DE LECHOSA
3 medium ripe papayas, peeled, seeded, and cut into into 1/2-inch strips
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 quarts water
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground anise seed
1 cup maple syrup (or 2 cups sugar)
1. Place papayas in saucepan with water to cover. Add salt and let stand 5 minutes.
2. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Place in a pot or heavy kettle but not aluminum for it will stain. Add 2 quarts water, cinnamon sticks and anise seed.
3. Bring to a boil and cook on low-to-moderate heat, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until tender.
4. Add maple syrup and continue cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Note: if using sugar, cook until sugar is thick and syrupy.
3. Remove cinnamon sticks and allow papaya preserve to cool at room temperature.
6. Serve in a dessert bowl or store in glass jar or container in the refrigerator.
Yield: 4 servings.
Photo: courtesy of Vegetarian Times
Labels: Cinnamon, Maple syrup, Papaya, Perseus Books Group, Puerto Rican cuisine, Sweeteners, Vegetarian Times, Vermont