Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Guava jelly triggers boyhood memory

After many years, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich recently. As I took the first bite, several memories flooded my mind – my first taste of peanut butter as a child in India; eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during my stay in America; and the guava jelly my mother used to make in India’s heartland, where I grew up.

The most remarkable is the memory of guava jelly. Guava is essentially a tropical fruit; so, I didn’t see any in the United States, although, it does grow in semi-tropical America, like California and Florida. I grew up eating guava, for we had a huge guava tree in our backyard. I grew up in Bhilai, which was then a part of the state of Madhya Pradesh. The tree was more than a tree – it was a prime presence in our garden, almost a human friend as we climbed the tree, picked fruit, or swung from its branches like monkeys. The fruit was so delicious I have never tasted that variety anywhere else since then. It had few seeds, even the ripe ones; the shape was round, and the flesh flavorful. We would eat even the half-ripe ones with salt – the taste was sweet and mildly tart. What other fruit could beat it in vitamin C content?

My mother packed all the goodness of the guava in her jelly. I was too young – I hadn’t developed the strong interest in food that I have today. But, I remember the distinctive taste of the jelly, a dark brownish red stored in glass jars.

As I recently ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made with store-bought guava jelly, I asked my mother how she made the jelly. (She no longer makes the jelly, for she is 72 and a city-dweller far from our small-town garden we once owned.)

She first diced ripe guava and boiled it in water until soft. Then, she pressed the guava juice and pulp through a cloth or strainer. Next, she added sugar and lime juice, and reduced the juice until the jelly formed.

Back in the present, as I ate the sandwich made with store-bought Druk (Bhutanese brand) guava jelly, I imagined it was the jelly from my boyhood. I recalled the great guava tree in our backyard.

Dear reader, do you have such a memory?