Chanel M. Sutherland

November 29, 2021

Guava Jelly

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I was a layaway child.

Caratal was a village of grandparents caring for the children of their children. A village trapped in time and at the mercy of the fiery spirits of La Soufrière and the temper of the Atlantic.

I spent most of my childhood wedged between the adults, compelled by their conversations and the sure-handed way they planted, picked, peeled, or pegged their crops. There was always something to harvest, just as there was always comess to share. In April, it was guava picking season, and our yard had the two biggest trees. The neighborhood children would come to our house to run wild and play. The men came with their bamboo sticks and beer cans to coax the fruits from their branches. And the women sat working around immense pots on outdoor fires with wooden spoons that doubled as spanking sticks.

They were making guava jelly – my favorite partner for the homemade bread my grandmother would knead.

They followed no recipe. “Good guava is all you need,” Mummy would say. The measurements were in movements – a pinch of this, a flip of that – an instinct passed down through blood. The ingredients were few and simple, just brown sugar, lime juice, and of course guavas—an unspoiled reflection of all things from our land.

The trick to making the jelly was to use guavas fully ripened and fruits that were still maturing. Half ripened guavas blush yellow and contained pectin – a substance that helped thicken the jelly. The water used to boil them came from the village tap – balanced on the heads of young girls who, when provoked by young boys, spilled most of it before they got back to the pots.

Stories of foreign lands and heroes filled the gaps between the boil and the mash, the mash, and the strain. We would gather around the skirt tail of my grandmother, my favorite storyteller to this day. This was where I first met Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, although the way she told it those famed words had more to do with the back end of a cattle than they did with sesame. My grandmother could twist a tale when the mood struck and had us doubled over with laughter while the substance bubbling in the pots seduced our noses.

We ate the jelly at dusk, the rich yellow goo dripping from slices of fresh warm bread and chins. The way I remembered; it was always served with fever grass tea plucked from our garden. The women would bottle the jelly in whatever containers they could find while the children and men stuffed their stomachs to the fullest. Then the leftovers were distributed equally amongst the families. Everyone would leave with their share and the arrival of dusk.

About the Author

Chanel M. Sutherland is the winner of the 2021 CBC Nonfiction prize and the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize. In addition, she was awarded the 2022 Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship, longlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Max Margles Fiction Prize. Chanel was also included on the CBC Books 30 Writers to Watch list for 2022.

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