Guavaberry: “The Caviar of Fruits”

Guavaberry

When a Caribbean-born person ventures far and wide, one of the flavors he most craves is that of the guavaberry. And today, with next-day courier services routinely making intercontinental deliveries, it is not uncommon for a package destined for a Caribbean national to include a container of guavaberry preserve. It is as if the fruit’s unique, spicy, sweet-bitter flavor is in the DNA of the region’s peoples.

Myrciaria floribunda is a tree native to the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America. The tree bears a diminutive fruit called “guavaberry” or “rumberry” that has been dubbed “the caviar of fruits”: It is tiny—about the size of a large fish egg, a green pea, or a juniper berry. The guavaberry is blackish-red or amber-red in color; it has a delicious, distinctive flavor, so much so that it is one of the defining flavors of the Caribbean; and it is both rare and prized. Guavaberry is related to the Brazilian “jabuticaba” (Plinia cauliflora) and is similar in appearance and flavor, except that the guavaberry is about one-third the size and has flavor about ten times as intense as its South American counterpart. 

Because the guavaberry tree is more shrub-like than tree-like, the fruits are most efficiently harvested when ripe by shaking them from the branches onto a drop-cloth or net. The somewhat-astringent fruit, which tastes like lingon berry, but with undertones of juniper, is oftentimes eaten fresh. But because guavaberry is relatively scarce, it is typically preserved to ensure an annual supply. Held between thumb and index finger, the fruit is gently squeezed, thereby expelling its round stone, which is about half the size of the fruit. The juice, pulp, and skin are then cooked with sugar to make a preserve that is traditionally used to make open-face tarts and as an obligatory topping of one of the layers of the authentic Crucian Vienna cake (See “Crucian Vienna Cake” below). The preserve is also added to rum then filtered (typically through cheesecloth) to make “guavaberry liqueur,” customarily drunk during Christmastime throughout the Caribbean. “Guavaberry rum,” on the other hand, is made by macerating the fresh fruit in rum, thereby infusing the rum (traditionally kept in a demijohn) with guavaberry’s unique flavor and reddish color, a process which takes at least a year. Stored in a cool, dark, dry place in a tightly sealed demijohn or glass container, guavaberry rum can endure indefinitely, improving with age. Unlike its liqueur counterpart, guavaberry rum is not filtered; it is poured directly from the demijohn, the objective being for each serving to contain a portion of the macerated fruit.

On St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands, Armstrong’s Homemade Ice Cream, founded in the year 1900 by Minerva Petersen, ancestor of the present-day Armstrong family of the town of Frederiksted, makes a guavaberry ice cream that is highly coveted. Offered only during the Christmas season and on the occasion of the island’s annual Agriculture & Food Fair in February, people queue up—as if buying tickets for a rock concert or a blockbuster movie—to get their serving of the locally famous ice cream.

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