Back on the block, the favorite dessert for this time of year was, invariably, bread pudding or, as we called it, “Budin.” The rest of the year, our desserts were the usual stuff: tembleque (a coconut based custard) or flan. But, for the holidays, my mother also created a family favorite: Dulce de Lechosa (Papaya Preserve). We weren’t the only ones. Our barrio neighborhood would be redolent with the fragrance of simmered papayas ready to be consumed by all. Neighbors would vie as to who had the best dulce de lechosa in the apartment building. Every time I prepare this regal dish, those memories awaken.
Let me state that papayas are as delicate fruit. When green they taste awful.They are best when ripe. But be aware that if too ripe, they’ll dry out. You can discern ripeness by a smooth yellow color and tenderness to the touch. Overripe papayas will start to discolor. So seek out fruit that is mellow yet firm and unblemished. For cooking purposes, a moderately ripe one will do. Some cooks claim only green papayas should be used for making a preserve. The problem with that is that more sugar or honey is needed. Whether ripe or green, store the preserve in the refrigerator in a glass bowl.
The recipe given is from my cookbook Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books – Running Press). Though this dessert is common in the holidays, you can serve all year round. It’s that good. Also, some prefer to serve it over ice cream, or with whipped cream on top. In my family we like it as is, with nothing extra to mar it’s great taste.
DULCE DE LECHOSA
3 medium ripe papayas, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips.
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 quarts water
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground anise seed
2-3 cups sugar, depending on taste, or 1/2 cup honey (or more to taste)
1. Place papayas in a 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 stick and anise seed.
3. Bring to a boil and cook on low-moderate heat, uncovered for 15 minutes or until tender.
4. Add sugar or honey and continue cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until sugar is thick and syrupy.
5. Remove cinnamon sticks and allow papaya to cool at room temperature.
6. Serve in a dessert bowl or store in a glass jar or container.
Yield: 4 servings.
Photo: courtesy of PK Diet