If you need a tasty dish for a Cinco de Mayo party, look no further than the papaya in your backyard or at the farmers market.
Papayas grow well in Florida and a mature tree can yield many, many pounds of fruit, so it’s common for neighbors and co-workers to share them with the “papaya-less” crowd. Just this week, my new friend Sylvia* gave me one. She literally picked it off her tree and gave it to me — you can’t get any fresher than that!
Armed with this tropical delicacy, I remembered an entry about papayas in my Cross Creek Cookery book by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (author of The Yearling), first published in 1942, with recipes she made in her north Florida home. She used the food available from land and water, gathered recipes from neighbors born & raised in Florida, and was known for sumptuous meals she served to travelers and friends. The book includes dishes like alligator-tail steak, gopher stew, parsnip croquettes, boiled mullet, Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie, and frog legs. Recognizing their uniqueness, Marjorie wrote “. . .some may horrify the delicate.” Undoubtedly.
Here’s Marjorie’s ‘recipe’ for papaya: “A fresh, thoroughly ripened papaya. . .must be so ripe that it is a mass of black spots, so that the uninitiated would think only that it was time to throw it out. The flavor is mild and needs the addition of lime juice preferably, or lemon juice. The papaya is peeled and cut in small cubes. Sprinkle generously with Florida lime juice and let stand in the ice box at least an hour before serving. It is an acceptable dessert after a heavy meat particularly, as it is high in pepsin. Diced papaya also makes a good first course, or a course to be served in sherbet glasses with the meat, as one would serve an ice.”
Fresh lime juice maximizes papaya’s natural flavor while eliminating its ‘odd’ scent, which has the ability to repel some folks. It’s interesting to know that this method of adding lime juice dates back to at least 1942 (when the book was published), but it’s actually a South American delicacy so, somewhere along the line, this method reached Florida. Maybe some day I’ll dig further to find out how that all happened. Today, there are many variations, including things like lime zest, sugar, cinnamon or cumin.
When I broke open my papaya I expected to see those lovely little black seeds that look like caviar. But I was shocked to see only ONE seed!
Possible explanations: 1) the tree went through trauma due to a Florida storm, or 2) it came from a female tree and the fruit wasn’t pollinated, thus, no seeds. Regardless, it was ripe and quite tasty.
I hope you try this classic dish to celebrate the day the Mexican army claimed victory over France during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
*Sylvia Colbert is not only an enthusiastic gardener, she also makes amazing soaps, so check them out when you get a chance.
Fresh Papaya with Lime
A classic dish of fresh, ripe papaya sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder.
- 1 Ripe papaya
- 1-2 Fresh lime(s) (Florida Key limes would be ideal!)
- 1/8 tsp. Chili powder (optional)
- Cut papaya in half and remove seeds (see Notes).
- Using a small paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the papaya's skin.
- Slice fruit or cut into chunks. Sprinkle generously with fresh lime juice, cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes before serving. Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with chili powder (optional).
*Papaya seeds are edible and full of antioxidants, monounsaturated fatty acids and fiber. They can be eaten fresh, or dried (as they offer a peppery flavor) and used in a pepper grinder 🙂
I love papaya. As you know , our tree died. It did produce quite a bit of fruit and we did share. This is such a nice recipe. Thanks
Thank you! I’m sure you’ve got at least one neighbor who has a big papaya tree — maybe they’ll share!
Thanks! I have used papaya in a smoothie and never thought to add citrus juice for flavor. Thanks for your post!
Lime or lemon juice add a welcome balance to the ‘interesting’ flavor and scent of papaya. Enjoy!
Love fact that she refers to ice box
rather then current “refrigerator”
Just one of the reasons I love vintage cookbooks 🙂
This looks like a recipe I can manage. And we just planted two papaya tree – next to our lime tree – so I will be ready!
Perfect – you’ll have all the necessary ingredients for this recipe 🙂