Don’t let those brazen feijoas steal the limelight – guavas are also ubiquitous at this time of year, and their flavour is just as curiously delicious.
Yes, I know, the feijoas are haemorrhaging again. I like feijoas but they have a habit of throwing themselves at you. One of my neighbours said ‘If you are tired of feijoas, you are tired of life’ but after a couple of weeks of glut, that’s not strictly true. You can’t move for squishy green bullets all over my lawn and there’s such a thing as overkill, feijoa trees. Try and pace yourselves next year, why don’t you?
While we go through our yearly national feijoa obsession, we are completely ignoring the humble guava, also ripe right now on every second suburban section. I was brought up believing feijoas were actually a kind of guava, but these two majestic fruits are only loosely related. However, it is uncanny how guavas will grow anywhere you can grow a feijoa tree, and, like a feijoa, it has a completely indescribable, uniquely delicious taste and fragrance. The best way to eat them is in bulk, straight off the tree, while you absently stare into space (as with feijoas, but with the added advantage that you don’t need a spoon) and the best time to do that is now.
Unfortunately, if guava trees share another trait with the feejayjays it’s a tendency to suddenly spew their ripe fruit everywhere all at once. As much as you eat, you can’t keep up and eventually they’re just going to carpet your footpath and make a slippery mess. As kids we used to squish the fat red berries through the chicken wire of our grandad’s coop and watch in horrified glee at just what a bunch of brown shavers would do to each other to get to them first, but less disturbing and just as satisfying is to follow my grandmother’s example and make guava jelly.
Don’t freak out, this will not be hard. Jams and jellies are not complicated, and no matter what Pinterest says, you don’t need any fancy equipment to do this. Forget about setting agents and special jam sugars and thermometers. All you need is patience, fruit, ordinary sugar, a big pot, an old tea towel, a sieve and a couple of old jars/lids you have recycled. A funnel for filling the jars helps, if you want, but I trust you to have steady hands. Also, the recipe I have used here is not so much a recipe as a ratio – none of the older generations of women in my family would have used a recipe for a jam, and you don’t need one either. For every simple fruit jam/jelly/marmalade, there is always a fruit-to-sugar ratio and for guava jelly it is 1 cup juice to ¾ cup of sugar. Simple as that. My only other advice is to be a clean freak. Any little greebs getting into your jam will mean it will not store, and you’ll end up with a fermented mould trap instead of a luscious ruby treat at the end of your hard work. To this end, clean all your equipment fastidiously and make sure you only use the best young fruits with no squishy bits or flaws.
- Pick a whole colander of guavas. Spend a bit of time sorting through and washing them to get rid of bugs, twigs and any overripe guavas – this will pay off later.
- Tip the guavas into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and mash up with a potato masher, then add enough water so they are only just covered.
- Simmer the guavas on a low heat for about 20 minutes, making sure they don’t stick to the bottom by stirring occasionally. While this is happening, drape a very old, very clean tea towel over a sieve and place that sieve snugly over another big bowl or pot.
- Tip everything from the steaming, fragrant saucepan into the tea towel-lined sieve. Liquid should immediately start dribbling into the bowl below and this is good. Do not attempt to speed things up by pushing the juice through the tea towel. Just leave it alone for a few hours, overnight if you like, cover it with a plate or pot lid and go and do something else.
- Now things have stopped dripping, you should have a ruby red pool of beautifully scented liquid sloshing around your bowl, and a giant pile of smooshed guava in the sieve. You can recycle the guava bodies as you like, freezing them for a cereal topping perhaps, or just chuck them in the green waste bin. Measure out the juice to find out how many cups you have, and pour it back into your heavy-bottomed pot, adding ¾ cup of sugar for every cup of juice; stir to dissolve.
- Bring the sugar and juice up the boil again and keep boiling over the lowest possible heat, only stirring occasionally or it will crystallise.
- Prepare your ladles, funnel, jars and lids. I like to do this by putting everything through the dishwasher (or hand wash in very hot water) then standing all the (still hot) bits in a big bowl, and slowly pouring boiling water over them until covered. This step is annoying but necessary – basically, everything needs to be sterilised. Do more jars than you think you’ll need, just in case. Write your labels if you are using them.
- After half an hour or so, start testing your jelly for setting. Take a clean teaspoonful and pour it on a cold, dry plate. Once it has cooled down, drag the teaspoon handle through the jelly puddle – if the jelly just flows back together it is not ready. If the spoon makes a clear path and the jelly stays put, you’re good to go. If you leave it much longer after this point, you might end up with toffee, so get cracking.
- Carefully (use a pair of tongs) get your very hot jars/lids out of the boiling water, no need to dry them. The jars need to be hot or the hot jelly will crack them.
- As quick as you can without spilling hot jam on yourself, fill the jars with the jelly, right to the top. As quick as you can without third degree burns, put the lids on tight. If you have a little bit of jelly left over you can just put it in a little bowl or cup and use it straight away. The jars should keep, unopened, for as long as shop-bought jam would keep.
Much like quince, guava jelly is totally worth the messing about, so unusually flavoured and beautifully coloured that it makes a lovely gift – and it goes really well with a cheeseboard. Personally, I find this a bit wanky and just have it on toast like a normal person, but you do you.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.