While perusing our local food stores you will no doubt come across unusual, discus-shaped tins or plastic packages of a local Puerto Rican specialty and taste phenomenon. Guava paste (pasta de guayaba in Spanish) is a very thick, dark pink, sliceable conserve or sweetmeat derived from cooked, strained guava pulp boiled together with granulated sugar. It is traditionally served with crackers and manchego cheese– a smoked, sheep cheese from La Mancha region of Spain. The combination is truly scrumptious and frequently appears on homey Viequense restaurant menus as a dessert.
The fundamental recipe of guava paste is probably of ancient origin. During the late 4th or early 5th century A.D. the Roman gastronome and author, Caelius Apicius, wrote his cookbook, De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”). It contained a collection of Roman recipes including several for stewing a fruit called quince (an Asian cousin of apples and pears) with honey and a little vinegar. After long cooking, the mixture would gel up upon cooling. Keep in mind, at that time only the Near and Middle East had access to sugar.
Historically, the nuns from the convents of Portugal, Spain and Italy made a paste from quinces. The word “marmelo” is the Portuguese word for quince. Our English word “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word “marmelada” meaning “quince preparation”, describing the paste or conserve. Over time, the English “marmalade” began to refer mainly to jams made from citrus fruits, especially oranges.
When religious clergy was introduced into the New World from the 16th-century on, the homesick nuns, craving the familiar foods of their birthplace, began experimenting with the unfamiliar tropical fruit they encountered using their customary cooking techniques. They discovered that guavas worked perfectly for their beloved “marmelada” and and guava paste was borne.
One of the tastiest ways to try guava paste is to visit Arepas Viequense located on Rt. 200 just east of the airport. Look for the sign on the ocean side of the road, pull in and honk your horn. Pricila Flores and Ernesto Rodriquez make the most delicious arepas de coco, guayaba (guava), and queso (cheese). Occasionally you will find them selling arepas right in front of the ferry terminal. 787.399.4553