This Christmas Season, Gift Yourself Some Guava Cheese

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This Christmas Season, Gift Yourself Some Guava Cheese

Illustration: Palak Bansal

I

t’s barely the beginning of December, and yet Christmas feels like it’s already here. Not only have words like “Secret Santa” and “Christmas plans” started popping into conversations, but the most Christmassy of all sweets has arrived in my house.

Just this morning, my mother and aunts were gathered around our tiny dining table, dispensing fawning admiration for something using adjectives such as round, sweet, shiny. My first thought was that they had cornered my cousin’s new born baby, and were being extra-proud grandaunts. Until I heard other adjectives like seedless, ripe, and crunchy. This surely wasn’t about a baby, I hoped. It wasn’t.

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On the table in front of them was a pile of pale, yellow guavas, about four kilos or so. My aunt had taken her dog out for a walk and spotted a fruitwala hawking these golden globes, so she picked up four kilos on a whim.

The logic behind this eludes me. I’ve only seen behaviour like this among top-rated chefs, who get excited when they come across the ingredients currently in season. Guavas are at their peak during winter; all the starch from the harder amruds eaten earlier in the year has by now been converted to sugars.

The mission at hand was simple – all these guavas would be boiled down to a smooth pulpy mash and cooked slowly with an equal quantity of sugar, over a kerosene stove, in a heavy copper pan that was older than me, using a four-foot-long wooden paddle that was also used to discipline me when I was younger. This alchemy would caramelise the sugar in the fruit, and the off-white pulp would take on a burnished maroon tone, slick with ghee so it didn’t stick. The texture would be akin to Karachi halwa: gooey, sticky and chewy. New-age hipsters would call this “fruit-leather”, but we call it “perad” or “guava cheese”. It is the only cheese that is devoid of dairy, but like well-made aged cheese, if stored right will last for the better part of a year.

But perad is polarising. If you’ve tasted it, you’re either a fan for life, or you hate it with a vengeance. Everyone I’ve spoken to about perad has this reaction.

The making of this guava cheese is an annual a rite of passage in my house without which the year would not be allowed to close. As a child, my job was to stir the mashed pears for a good two hours as they progressively hardened into a thick maroon sludge before me in the pan. The bubbles would burst, splattering arms, fingers, and faces with pinhead sized blobs of molten perad. Perad has, on more than one occasion, given me second-degree nipple burns through two layers of fabric. Despite this, I can’t get enough of it. My reward for two hours of slaving over a bubbling cauldron of guava pulp was getting to scrape the copper pan and the wooden paddle clean of all the perad that was stuck to it, inviting the jealousy of the rest of my cousins, who would beg for a bite.

But perad is polarising. If you’ve tasted it, you’re either a fan for life, or you hate it with a vengeance. Everyone I’ve spoken to about perad has this reaction. The reason people love it is also the reason people hate it. It’s the texture. It’s been described as gummy bears meets butterscotch toffee, or chewy, sticky, shitty, and sickly-sweet by others. This bias towards perad also means you’re biased towards gummi bears, Karachi halwa, and in extreme cases, jelly. It’s like chewing this stuff takes effort you’d rather not expend on food you don’t care much for. Then there’s those that complain about it being too sweet. Well, here’s the thing – it’s meant to be. It’s made to last, and made the old-fashioned way. If you want sugar-free guava cheese, that’s an affront. You shouldn’t be eating it anyhow. Also, if you complain about the sugar in perad and then go grab a can of Coke, I’ll come after you with the same paddle used to stir the perad.

Here’s a recipe you can try at home, just so you can decide which camp you fit into. It’s a microwave version, so it’s easier to make in a smaller quantity.

What You Need:

– Two ripe guavas (about 400 grams)

– 200 grams of sugar

– Half a lime

– Three tablespoons of ghee.

– Natural red food colouring (you’re not going to get the same burnished, deep maroon hue without a copper pan and a slow flame)

What You Need To Do With It:

– First, wash, quarter, and deseed the guavas.

– Now, chop them up and throw them into a pan with enough water to cover them, and boil them until soft and almost falling apart.

– Now puree them in a blender and sieve the pulp to remove any remaining seeds.

– Mix the pulp, sugar, and ghee in a microwave-safe ceramic bowl.

– Heat it on the highest setting on your microwave and cook it uncovered for five minutes.

– Now add in the lime juice, and cook on your highest setting for five minutes. It’ll be glossy and shiny, and should leave the bowl’s bottom and sides clean once stirred.

– Put it back and microwave for two minutes. Now add in your food colouring and give it a stir.

– Keep cooking it for about five more two minute intervals. Keep stirring with a rubber spatula, till it becomes one smooth, homogenous mass.

– Test if it’s ready by dropping a teaspoon of the mixture into a bowl of cold water. You should be able to roll it into a soft ball that holds its shape. If it doesn’t, give it two more bursts.

– Pour over the remaining ghee, move it around a little, and let it cool in the pan.

– Once cooled completely, invert the pan, and cut your perad into squares, or diamonds, or cubes, or whatever shape catches your fancy. Take a bite and choose your side, carefully.

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