Stirring a pot of simmering passionfruit butter stirs up memories... I am reminded of poems, preserves, summers past and a robust flowering passionfruit vine that crept vigorously along the fence in my sister's back garden.
On summers past...
Christmas Day 1984 is a blue-sky scorcher. Gifts have been shared, and we've laughed, cried and eaten as much ham, turkey and potato salad as a belly can bear. There's passionfruit topped pavlova too, but that must wait. Outside in the back corner of the garden there's a surprise that beckons young and old. My sister and her husband reveal their new pool. It has cedar decking, banana lounges and a cabana that was once a cubby house for my nieces and nephew. In the heat of the day, it's cool, wet and inviting. My father, wearing shorts, is already in the water floating on a golden lilo. He is smiling, enjoying precious time spent with his beloved daughters and grandchildren. I see my mother at the door of the cabana, she has stripped down to her undergarments, a white cotton bra and knickers, for her swimsuit is the drawer at home in Malua Bay, 160 kilometres away. The oasis is sheltered from the neighbourhood thanks to a passionfruit vine creeping vigorously along the tall lattice-topped fence, so before long she too is in the water, my toddler son in her watchful arms. I take out my camera and capture the moment. Clouds waft across the vivid sky, the sweltering air fills with peals of joy, and the back lawn is slowly strewn with thongs, wet beach towels and puddles... as this memorable day draws to an end.
A robust flowering passionfruit vine crept vigorously along the fence...
It's a week night in 1994 and packed house at the iconic Tilley's Devine Cafe (named after Tilley Devine, Sydney's infamous 1920s Bordello Queen). A whole bunch of writers and interested artsy locals have gathered for an evening of performance poetry celebrating the polonius poets titles. Among those reading are my talented friends Robert Verdon (The Well-Scrubbed Desert) and Dorothy Shaw (1919-2007, Bright Stars and Dark Matter), as well as an 18 year-old named Danielle Stewart, who studied under renowned poet, Geoff Page. Stewart reads from her book i for icarus and the audience is mesmerised. I too love her work and am in awe at the maturity in her words. Her insightful piece titled Passion Fruit moves me:
small bombs skin
Afterwards, I line up with others to congratulate her and buy a copy of her book. She inscribes it: 'Dear Liz, thanks for coming! Yours sincerely, Danielle Stewart'. Years later, I continued to reach for that book, still enjoying her poems, and wondering whatever became of her. Only recently I read in a newspaper article that life was never particularly kind to Danielle, she had suffered abuse and years of intense turbulence. Tragically, aged 27, she stabbed her husband to death but has no recollection of doing it. She is now 37, has 'done her time' in prison, and returned to university to finish a degree. I remain in awe.
In the early 2000s, Mum's Mess was one of my favourite stores at the produce markets I managed and Janet, the owner, one of my favourite store holders. She was a no nonsense, down to earth lady, with a quick mind and cheeky sense of humour that matched my own. Over time, the former school teacher and fellow cook became a friend and confidante. Our conversations would always venture to family and life and recipes. Artisan jams, sauces and preserves were Janet's specialty and she had access to all of the market fresh fruit and vegetables from the greengrocers around the corner. Her tiny shop comprised wall to wall shelves filled with jars and bottles, all in neat rows. When cumquats were in season, with a wink and nod she would insist that I take a small bottle of leftover brandied cumquat infusion. Her special gift to me. 'Enjoy it', she would chuckle. It was almost like nectar with just a hint of citrus. A real treat! Another of her specialties was Passionfruit Butter... rich, smooth and exquisite. Not too tart, not too sweet. Here and there I would indulge in a jar of it, that is until my gallbladder told me to abstain. When her elderly mother fell ill, Janet sold her shop. Someone pleasant enough bought the business, but it wasn't to be the same. Janet would always be missed. For a time, I saw her at the Old Bus Depot Markets, but then she faded away. Nowadays whenever I make brandied cumquats and passionfruit butter, I think fondly of her.
PASSIONFRUIT BUTTER *
10 large passionfruit
3 free range eggs
200g vanilla infused caster sugar
30g unsalted cultured butter
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cut the passionfruit in half and scoop out the pulp, seeds and juice into a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then transfer the egg mixture to a stainless steel saucepan. Add the passionfruit pulp, seeds and juice, together with the caster sugar, butter and lemon juice. Stir over a medium heat until the mixture begins to boil, then lower heat and simmer gently for around 15 minutes until it thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, sterilise a 1/2 litre jar and ladle the hot passionfruit butter into the warm jar. Seal immediately and refrigerate after opening.
* My recipe is adapted from one by Maggie Beer in one of my favourite of her books, Maggie's Orchard (1997).
Note: look beyond perfection at the produce stall, for the sweetest, best-tasting passionfruit have old, wrinkled skin.
Stirring a pot... stirs up memories and I am reminded of summers past...
Small bombs, skin bruised like love...
Tell me, do you reflect on past events as you cook, dear readers? Does stirring a pot stir memories for you?
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Image of passionfruit flower used under Creative Commons. See footer.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.