November has slid into December and the barometer has dropped overnight warning of record lows. Snowflakes can be seen on the Met Office forecasts north of the Watford Gap. The High street glitters with red and gold, Ho ho hos and prancing reindeer decorate shop windows whilst sleigh bells tinkle away even in the corner shop. I’m not anti-Christmas, I’m just not ready for it. A week ago, I was feeling the sand between my toes as I saronged my way, chilled beer in hand to a rickety lunch table perched under a palm tree, listening to the waves crashing on the shore. That’s the trouble with holidays they leave you with a fading tan and a taste for the exotic which lingers for days on return home.
After holidays in France, it’s always the breakfasts I want to remember. The ritual of hunting down a tabac in the nearest village – it must be situated on a market square – with outside tables and a strong black brew. Down a cobbled side street there will be a small boulangerie, with a white aproned Madame, who seems to understand your mangled order for almond croissants, pain au chocolate and the day’s newly baked baguette. You sit sipping your coffee, crumbs of flaky pastry melt in your mouth as you watch the locals go about their business throwing around a ‘Bonjour’ in gay abandon. You hope that by the day you leave at least one greeting might come your way, to prove that you’re part of the scenery and not just another tourist. On return to what is inevitable a grey, chill London, the shock is great. You try and recreate that holiday feeling insisting that breakfast must be enjoyed in the garden no matter what the weather, as you futilely dunk shop bought pastries in your coffee in hope of reclaiming that buttery taste.
After Hawaiian idylls, I tried to recreate my holiday breakfasts of Kona coffee and exotic fruit platters, lunches of freshly cut sashimi and California rolls and the memory of rising at the break of dawn on Sunday to get to the bake shop just as the soft sticky cinnamon buns are removed from the oven. After skiing in Switzerland, a fondue set was bought and used at least twice or however long it took me to discover how hungry you really have to be to eat more than a chunk or two of bread soaked in melted cheese. From Italy, it was antipasti, delicate shreds of prosciutto, silky ribbons of red and orange peppers in peperonata, stuffed and deep fried courgette flowers, meals to share and linger over, whilst sipping a glass of chilled rose.
This year, work has dictated that we take our holiday in November. We had a few must haves. We needed a climate where shorts and flip flops could be worn, English was not the first language and there was the lure of sandy beaches. I had been to Sri Lanka before on a week’s yoga course in 2005, the year after the tsunami had caused such devastation. Then I spent every day bar one perfecting asanas in an air conditioned hotel in Colombo, only breaking for a whistle stop tour of cave paintings and a climb up to the summer palace. The only taste I remember from then was that of cashew nuts, dry fried at the beach bar and tossed with salt which we nibbled on our sun loungers whilst studying the Bhagavad-Gita – an ambiance impossible to recreate in Hammersmith.
This time we chose to go further south, to the old Dutch colony town of Galle, now a collection of cool, thick walled government buildings and churches and streets full of tourist tat. We moved quickly further east into the hinterland of Tangalle, close enough to take a tuk tuk to a number of thatched roof beach bars and restaurants, but also deep in a countryside full of paddy fields, pineapple plants, banana trees, brightly coloured birds, monkeys and monitor lizards. We ate platefuls of lobster, crab, prawns and a variety of fish, both simply fried or covered in a spicy sauce that passed as the ubiquitous food of Sri Lanka ‘curry and rice’. But it wasn’t this cornucopia of fish and seafood that left a lasting impression, but an intense, flavoured jam, dense with fruit and made locally by Amba Estate in Tangalle from a combination of papaya, passion fruit, and vanilla. Of course, jars were smuggled home in our suitcase, but they won’t last long. So, having found ‘ripe’ papayas from Brazil on sale in my local supermarket, as well as passion fruit from Columbia, I am going to have a go at recreating my taste of Sri Lanka.
Papaya, Passion Fruit and Vanilla Jam
1.50 kg Ripe Papaya flesh, skinned and chopped into small chunks *
130ml Passion Fruit pulp – about 8 passion fruit
1kg Jam sugar (with pectin)
125ml Fresh lime juice
2tsps Madagascan Vanilla Extract
* Unless you have a papaya tree in the back garden, shop bought fruit is never going to be as ripe, so do use a potato peeler to remove as much cream pulp, and use just the rose pink fruit if you can – Judi
Sterilise the jars you are going to use, either in a dishwasher on the highest setting or wash jars in soapy water, rinse and place jars and lids upside down on a baking tray lined with a tea towel in a preheated 100C oven for 15mins.
Place all the fruit, sugar, lime juice and vanilla into a large thick bottomed saucepan and mix to combine.
Bring the fruit to the boil over a medium heat, then lower to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for approximately 35-45 minutes. Skim off any surface foam as it thickens. If the papaya doesn’t break down as much as you would like it to, use a hand blender to pulp it down a bit.
To test whether the jam is done: chill a saucer in the freezer and water in the fridge. When you are ready to test, fill the saucer with water and drop half a teaspoon of mixture into the saucer. If you can heap the fruit mixture into a soft pile, the jam is ready.
Carefully pour the jam into the hot sterilised jars and seal.
Your own taste of the tropics to last until the next holiday.