Last month I finally received a new supply of mason jars. The dozen that I carefully carried back from Australia last year quickly got filled in the last round of preserving I did. My enthusiasm for canning was bolstered by my success so another yachtie and I decided to combine our order and split the shipping costs to Fiji. We tagged along on a pallet shipment that was coming from the USA, figuring it would be more economical than shipping it by regular parcel post.
As it turned out it wasn’t. I am now the proud own of some of the most expensive mason jars on the planet.
I have no doubt that the jars will pay for themselves in the long (long) run. Pickles, chutneys and the like are often very expensive, so much so that we usually fore go buying them. I love a good pickle as much as the next guy, but am not willing to spend $10-15 for a very small bottle of mediocre ones.
A little while ago I made a batch of my Grampy’s Sweet Mustard Pickles. We ate them on everything; cheese and crackers, ham sandwiches, a spoon straight from the jar. Out of the 9 or so mismatched bottles the recipe yielded we were down to one.
That box of shiny new jars was calling; I decided to make a another batch. I went to the market to buy the ingredients only to discover that the lack of rain over the last few months meant no more cucumbers, or at least no half decent ones. It looked like we’d have to start rationing our last jar of pickles.
Then one morning I was walking up the marina driveway and spotted a pawpaw (papaya for those in the northern hemisphere) tree on the other side of the fence heavy with fruit. I wondered “Could I substitute pawpaw in my mustard pickle recipe?”
I am always looking for new ways to use the same old ingredients, especially when they are things that grow year round and that we can forage. I have often cooked green papaya like a summer squash, sauteing them with onions, garlic and herbs or like a green pepper, stuffing them with rice/meat combination. Picked under ripe they are basically a crunchy vehicle for flavour, absorbing what ever seasonings you put with them. I decided to give it a go.
The property on the other side of the fence belonged to the Total Gas Depot that is just down the road. It looked to be a bit of a green space between them and the marina/a graveyard for some of their old equipment. The grass was mowed but it was obvious that those pawpaw were not destined to be eaten by anyone but the birds.
I wasn’t about to go trespassing but when I spotted a crew of men working in the yard one Saturday morning I took my chances. Slapping on a smile I walked through the gates towards them and politely asked if I could pick a couple pawpaw off the poor abandoned tree. They of course said yes; it isn’t very often in the South Pacific that anyone will refuse sharing excess fruit, especially when you use a few phrases in their native language and ask politely.
I happily returned home with six pawpaw still warm to the touch from the sun. I spent the afternoon peeling, seeding and dicing up the pawpaw. The fruit was especially green, the seeds themselves more white than black, so it was a bit of a task, but after a sticky hour I had great heaping bowl full of papaya chunks and three left over to use in other recipes.
Traditionally you salt the cucumber and it let it sit over night, it both softens the cukes and draws out excess moisture. Since the pawpaw was SO green I figured an extra few hours would help things along. After generously tossing the papaya chunks in salt I spread them out on the cafeteria tray that I use to dry the dishes and left them in the corner until the morning.
Later that night I broke a whole head of cauliflower into florets and cut up a half a dozen long radish that were picked fresh from the garden at the resort next door and given to me by the Head Chef, who was keen on hearing about my latest experiment. Those were lightly salted and added to the heap until morning.
The next day I borrowed a large pot from some friends on another boat, promising they’d be paid handsomely in pickles of course, and got to work. Although it was tasty I tweaked the original recipe; less sugar, more turmeric and mustard powder and I threw in some fresh chillies for some added kick.
The Spicy Mustard Pawpaw Pickles were delicious! Dare I say even better than the original. It has a satisfying crunch and if you didn’t know you probably wouldn’t guess it was make with papaya.
The pawpaw took a little extra cooking as the salting over night didn’t do much to soften it but since I threw the cauliflower and radish in at the same time they lost a little of their texture. No big deal, easily remedied in the next batch by simply cooking the pawpaw until almost tender and tossing the rest of the veggies in to complete the cooking time.
I gave a bottle to the Chef next door, an Englishman, and he happily gave it the thumbs up. We met up with the couple whose pot I borrowed again last week and they proclaimed their disappointment that they only received one bottle. And I sent a jar home to my Mom hoping she’ll enjoy them as much as she did the ones her Father use to make.
As for our stash….I think I’ll be looking for another pawpaw tree in the near future.