The way Proust felt about his madeleines is how I feel about papayas. Papayas evoke hot summer days and desserts made by my dad. First, he would slice into a ripe papaya, halve it, and scoop out the black, caviar-like seeds. Into the hollow would go spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream. He’d hand me one of the papaya ice cream boats and he would take the other half, and we would sit on the deck, scooping into the mellow flesh and slurping up the pool of melting ice cream. I don’t know why exactly, but food always tastes better when the bowls are edible too.
We may be a bit more than a month away from the start of summer, but I’ve been thinking about papayas lately. It started with the hot, scratchy tickle in my throat, a constant reminder of my current scuffle with spring time allergies. I was craving something cool, sweet, and hydrating to take the edge off the dry heat at the back of my throat.
Papayas and pears make a happy duo because they’re both cooling and hydrating. Both lubricate the lungs and relieve a dry cough. Pears especially, are superstars when it comes to generating fluids and eliminating excess mucous that can stem from irritated lungs. Together with a few gelatinous fronds of snow fungus, this sweet nectar is a moisturizing balm for a dry, unhappy throat, and a drink mild enough that it can be enjoyed anytime.
If you’re heard of papaya enzymes, then you’ll understand why Chinese Medicine says papayas are spleen and stomach strengtheners. After a big multi-course meal, my mother-in-law will sometimes steep a batch of ripening papayas into a sweet after-dinner soup. It’s a mild digestif that makes use of the papaya’s protein-digesting enzymes, chymopapain and papain, to ease the digestive process and break down meats and other proteins. Papayas are neutral in its therapeutic temperature, making it a versatile ingredient. Here, I coupled it with the pear’s cool therapeutic temperature to make my throat soothing drink.
Sweet and mildly sour, pears directly effect the lungs as well as the stomach meridians. By increasing the yin fluids of the body and clearing heat, pears are natural moisturizers for both the lungs and the digestive organs of the body. I chose a nice green Anjou pear for the nectar. When cooked down, these crisp pears yield a creamy flesh with a slightly gritty texture that pairs nicely with the soft juiciness of papaya flesh.
More than just a garnish, ruffly snow fungus is another lubricating power player that nourishes the lungs and the stomach. Jelly-like when soaked in water, these neutral-flavored wood ear mushrooms add another layer of texture to the nectar. Depending on how long they’re soaked and cooked, they can retain a slight crunch or leave a silky finish on the tongue. A tip to you and myself: snip them into smaller “flowers”. Snow fungus is fairly flavorless, adopting the flavors of whatever they’re in, so smaller pieces allow them to be more equally distributed so there’s never a moment when you get a big mouthful of gelatinous “nothing” in your mouth.
Double double toil and trouble… you’ll want to simmer this melange of fleshy fruits for a good while. When the liquid is lightly amber colored, you’re ready.
This nectar is wonderful served hot or cold, but I especially like it slightly chilled. There’s no need for additional sweeteners like honey. The sweet mellowness of the papaya and pears seep into the liquid. It’s refreshing and revitalizing. Hydration for the win!
Papaya Pear Nectar
Makes 4 servings
Half a medium-sized papaya, roughly 2 cups of chopped papaya
1 pear, preferably Bosc or Anjou
1-2 pieces snow fungus
4-5 cups water
- Soak the snow fungus in water for 30 minutes.
- Rinse off the papaya, scoop out the seeds, and chop into roughly 1 inch chunks.
- Peel the pear and cut into 1 inch slices or chunks.
- Rinse off the softened snow fungus and cut into smaller pieces.
- In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the papaya, pears, and snow fungus.
- Pour enough water in to submerge the ingredients, roughly 4-5 cups, and bring to a boil.
- Once at a boil, lower to medium heat and simmer for 45 minutes, until the liquid takes on a light amber hue.
- Remove from heat. You can either serve it immediately while it’s hot or serve it chilled. If you do the latter, allow the nectar to cool, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Enjoy!