Flavors of Brazil, we've discussed how Brazilian servants, cooks and housewives dealt with the problem of overabundance of fruit in the days before electric refrigeration. In colonial Brazil electric refrigeration didn't exist and indeed up to the middle of the 20th century most Brazilian households didn't have a fridge or a freezer. So when one fruit or another was in season and there was a Biblical-scale abundance of fruit on the vine, in the tree or on the bush, the cook's problem was how to preserve the fruit so it could be enjoyed later in the year.
The most common ways to preserve fruits were either to boil and can them in a sugar syrup or to process them into jams and jellies. There was a third alternative, however. As with conserves and jams, this technique relied on the preservative properties of sugar to prevent the fruit from spoiling and allow it to be stored at room temperature. But in this case, in the process known as crystalization, the fruit was cooked in a sugar syrup, but then it was drained, partially dried and rolled in granulated sugar before it stored.
The crystalization process is not unique to Brazil. It's a traditional preserving technique that is used in many cultures, and was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. The most common example of the technique in northern hemisphere cultures might be the production of crystalized ginger (sometimes called candied ginger).
In Brazil, the technique is applied to many varieties of fruits, such as pineapple, mango, fig and especially papaya. This recipe for crystalized papaya comes from the central state of Goiás, but similar recipes can be found in traditional kitchens almost everywhere in Brazil.
RECIPE - Crystalized Papaya (Mamão Cristalizado)
2 lbs (1 kb) not-overly-ripe papaya, seeded, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
3 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups water
3 cups granulated white sugar
In a large saucepan combine the pieces of papaya with water to cover and add the baking soda. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When at a rolling boil, turn off the heat, remove the pan from the stove and let the papaya cool in the water for 24 hours. The next day, drain off the water, add fresh water to cover and bring to the boil again. Remove the papaya pieces to a sieve with a slotted spoon and let drain thoroughly. Reserve.
To make the syrup heat the 2 cups water and the 3 cups sugar in another saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is simmering. Add the reserved papaya and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, leaving the papaya in the syrup, for 24 hours. The next day, bring the papaya and syrup gently to a slow boil and cook until the syrup has thickened considerable. Remove the papaya into a sieve and let drain thoroughly.
While the papaya is draining, spread 3 cups sugar in a shallow serving platter. When the papaya is drained but still warm and moist, roll it in the sugar, making sure that each piece is completely covered with sugar. Let the papaya cool in the sugar, mixing gently from time to time, for 24 hours.
Remove the papaya from the sugar and store in airtight containers until ready to eat.
Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.