I like papayas. They remind me of the Dominican Republic, where I spent a week two years ago sitting on the beach, drinking rum cocktails, and watching people kite surf. (No kite surfing for me, thanks. I like my neck.) Here in West Philly, where we’re blessed with a large immigrant population, you can find papayas, mangos, daikon radish, bitter cucumbers, and other random produce at dirt-cheap vegetable trucks. I’m not sure that I would buy slightly damaged or B-grade produce off the back of a truck in any other city, but here, the stuff that you find on the truck is the same stuff that you find in local supermarkets because it’s all coming straight off the barge via the Philadelphia Food Distribution Center. I no longer buy anything from the truck that I can get locally, but with papayas I figure: hey, what the hell. No one’s growing those in Lancaster County, and everyone needs a treat now and then in winter, so why not? If you have the willpower to walk away from a $2, 3 pound, good-looking papaya, I salute you.
On a whim, I cut one up and stuck it in the dehydrator. I cut them into 1/3″ strips and dried them at 105°F overnight. After 15 hours, about half of them were done; the other half needed somewhere between 4 to 6 additional hours. The flavor is a little odd. I sort of like them, but my husband thinks they taste like cardboard….coral cardboard. Some foods just don’t dehydrate well on their own—my attempts at strawberries and raspberries were equally weird. If I were to do it again, I think I’d blanch them in a sugar syrup first, and maybe dunk them in coconut. Because, you know, if you’re going to fall off the local foods wagon, why not go all the way?
I do love the idea of dried papaya. Any suggestions on how to make it better?