granny and guava cheese

Bird of paradise flower, photographed in my grandmother's garden in Trinidad, March 6, 2009.  Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.

This weekend has felt very milestone-y.  The story about how I got to this point is wild and convoluted and best told over a bottle of wine at a cozy, casual restaurant, preferably one with a fireplace (so if we ever find ourselves together in such a setting one day, remind me to tell it to you), but the upshot is that this weekend I signed with a literary agent.

I'm feeling a cross between sort-of-stunned and rather-grown-up.

I'm hoping to work with her on a book idea that arises in large part from the piece I did on my grandmother's advice to me before I got married.  The book won't be written until after I finish writing The Beauty of Different (because trying to write two books at one time would likely drive me to near-alcoholism), but over the past week or so, I've jotted down some ideas in my journal of how I think that the book might be organized.  And in the process, in an apparent fit of insanity, I decided that I needed to make guava cheese.

For those of you unfamiliar with guava cheese, before you get an idea in your head of what guava cheese must be like, first let me tell you:  it is nothing like cheese.  In fact, there isn't one thing in it that could even be tenuously described as dairy.  It is actually a Trinidadian candy (sort of the consistency of Turkish Delight), and there are only two ingredients needed to make it: fresh guavas and sugar.  My grandmother used to eat this stuff all the time.  She had two huge guava trees in her back yard, and at any time of the year, you could go into her cupboard and get a piece of guava cheese from a batch that she had made herself.  And go into her cupboard she did:  guava cheese was one of her very guilty pleasures.

I have no idea what possessed me to decide to make guava cheese myself.  First of all, trying to find a fresh guava in Houston, Texas is like trying to find ... well, it's like trying to find SOMETHING IN A PLACE THAT DOESN'T HAVE IT.  I combed the city looking for them, and was either met by grocers who had no idea what a guava was, or grocers from tropical countries who would get sudden wistful looks in their eyes while they shook their heads:  "No," they sighed.  "No, we don't have them."  And then they would look at me earnestly: "But I wish you the very best of luck."  It was really quite sad.

Finally, in reponse to a desperate tweet, someone announced:  "There are fresh guavas in the Fiesta downtown!"  Within hours, I found myself in one of the shadiest supermarkets I'd ever entered in my life, staring at a bunch of sad, tiny little guavas.  But they were guavas, man.  The smell immediately brought me back to my grandmother's kitchen.  I quickly bought three pounds ($10!!), and took them home.

Normally, I would share the recipe with you here; and actually, on paper it seems very simple.  But I won't do that to you: the truth is, it's a pain in the ass.  There's a lot of peeling, and chopping, and rubbing into a sieve, of all things.  There's stirring in a hot pot, where there's a lot of spitting (note: the guava cheese mixture was spitting, not me).  And if you don't do it right the first time (as I failed to do), you have to put the whole concoction back into the pot for more stirring and spitting.  But eventually, my final attempt turned out okay in consistency, and just about perfect in flavour -- and when I took it over to my parents' house today, they agreed it tasted just as it did back home.

(Confession:  it got especially good after Marcus suggested that we pour a bit of fine Trinidadian rum over it.)


My attempt at guava cheese.  I feel my teeth ache just looking at this photograph.

I'm so glad I tried to make it, but it likely will be just a once-a-year thing, it was really that much of a pain.  But to be honest, it was all worth it when my mom took the last piece, and said, her eyes looking upward:

"Mom? I'm going to have this last piece for you."


Song: Jean and Dinah by Mighty SparrowThis song is one of the earlier calypsos, a musical style whose birthplace is Trinidad.  While the style of calypso has changed over the years,  it remains often very satirical, usually about the politics of the day, or, frankly, sex.  Mighty Sparrow is a calypsonian from way, way back -- quite possibly the Elvis Presley of Trinidad when it comes to calypso music.    My grandmother, bless her soul, was a huge fan of Mighty Sparrow.  And trust me when I tell you that every Trini who clicks this link is currently bobbing their heads and tapping their feet.