As usual, I had things that needed to be dealt with. I’d just accepted a new job and the thought of going back to a corporate-ish world, albeit one with a steady paycheck and things called benefits, sent me into a slight panic mainly due to another thing called vacation policy. Aww, man. I need to get a trip in. Fast. So I ran away to London to visit friends for one last hurrah. The morning of my flight, I gazed into my refrigerator mentally sorting out what could stay and what had to go. 87 half filled jars of jam? Stay. That formerly beautiful now sadly wilted asparagus I hadn’t gotten to? Go. And right in the middle of all this sat a large, very ripe, very beautiful pineapple like some kind of Vegas showgirl. Crap.
I just didn’t have the time nor the appetite to eat a whole pineapple at that particular moment. So I decided to make popsicles, paletas actually, knowing they could sit perfectly happy in the freezer until my return in two weeks. Time was of the essence so rather than figuring out a recipe myself or getting lost in an endless internet search, I turned to my popsicle fairy godmother, Fany Gerson, to see what she had to say about the matter. Right there on page 32 of her Paletas book … Spicy Pineapple Paletas. Well there you have it. Done.
With one eye on the clock, I quickly peeled the pineapple, carefully and efficiently cutting out the eyes in the spiral pattern the way I was properly shown years ago by a tough-to-please chef. I chopped, I diced, I infused, I pureed. Into the molds went the bright yellow, now liquefied fruit dotted with bits of chile. Freezer space was hastily cleared as things were shoved this way and that to make room for the bulky contraption. I may have even duct taped the freezer door shut, just to ensure nothing came flying out in my absence. And then I hailed a cab and left.
I returned home last Saturday night after the long, slow slog of international travel. 10 hours in a middle seat in the way back, seemingly endless lines everywhere I turned and the snarl of Cubs traffic to top it off. After lugging my suitcase up 3 flights of stairs and getting some air flowing in my hot, stale apartment, I was uncomfortable and exhausted. And then I remembered. The little treasures I left in my freezer, unceremoniously shoved in there the morning of departure.
I unwrapped one bejeweled package and took a cool bite. Bright tropical flavor with just the slightest hint of heat. It was so delightful, I ate another while laying on my couch gazing with utter disinterest at my unopened suitcase in the hallway. As I struggled against my impending jetlag, I considered having a third but thought it best to eat something more substantial. So I ordered Chinese and had that third popsicle after, just before I nodded off. They were so good – cool, refreshing and bright as a summer day with just enough heat from the serrano infused simple syrup and a shot of chile powder to make them interesting. They really hit the spot.
Fruit based popsicles are the ultimate summer treat but before you can get anywhere near a good one, you’ve got to locate some good fruit. I cannot emphasize enough that you need to use an absolutely ripe pineapple. If the fruit isn’t delicious, your popsicles won’t be either. True story. So how do you know if a pineapple is ripe? Age old question, my friends. Fact is, like a lot of fruit, a pineapple doesn’t ripen after it’s picked and it’s never picked fully ripe due to fragility. Best guess is that Hawaiian pineapples, shipped via air, are about 2-3 days old minimum when they hit our markets. Pineapples from other tropical climes – Mexico, Honduras, etc. – are shipped by boat and truck and are probably anywhere from 1-2 weeks old upon arrival. It’s hard to say exactly which is better when presented with a choice but I’ve had much better luck with the Hawaiian varieties. Pineapple season is technically April-May but with the state of international farming and transportation these days, good pineapples are available year round so it’s difficult to really pinpoint when they’re at their best. I’m not sure you need to.
So the best cues in determining ripeness are perfectly logical: your two basic senses of sight and smell. First and foremost, pick it up and smell the bottom (root end). Does it smell sweet and fruity like a pineapple? It should. If it smells a little boozy, it’s started to ferment and that’s a clear sign that the pineapple is past its prime or well on the way. The color should be predominately bright golden yellow around the base and eyes of the fruit, not brown and certainly not moldy. While a green pineapple can be considered ripe, it’s a crapshoot. The yellower the better .
Also the green leaves at the top should be green and bright – not dried and crackly. Contrary to popular belief, pulling leaves from the center doesn’t tell you anything – they’ll release freely whether the pineapple is fresh or old and sad. Despite all this, you might pick up a bright yellow fragrant pineapple and still end up with a dud. It happens. If you have the means, and by means I mean the proximity, go directly to the farm. As with most things, pineapples are best at the source.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: A DO AHEAD MARVEL. Make these just to have them stashed in back of your freezer. They were absolutely perfect on a hot, tired afternoon and perked me right up, well for about 10 minutes before my jetlag kicked in. But that doesn’t count.
on this blog four years ago: Tart Dough & Tips, Sour Cherry Sorbet
on this blog three years ago: Expoloring Minnesota – Betty’s Pies
on this blog two years ago: Life in Southwest France
on this blog one year ago: Bastille Day Bomb Pops, Sour Cherry Slab Pie
SPICY PINEAPPLE PALETAS – recipe adapted from Fany Gerson’s Paletas
Makes 10-14 depending on your molds
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 small Serrano chile, seeded and finely diced
1 ripe pineapple, peeled and cored
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon ground chili powder (piquin, guajillo, or arbol)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and boil until sugar is dissolved.
- Add the diced Serrano and let steep, off the heat for 5 minutes. Strain and let cool to room temperature.
- Finely dice 1 ½ cups of the pineapple and coarsely chop the rest.
- Mixed the finely diced pineapple with the chile and salt in a small bowl and set aside until needed.
- In a blender, process the coarsely chopped pineapple with the Serrano infused simple syrup and lime juice until smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the diced pineapple/chile mixture.
- Pour the mixture into the molds about ¼” from the top.
- Top with the lids and sticks and freeze until firm, at least 4-6 hours but overnight is best.
- To remove the popsicles, run hot water on the outside of the mold and slip the popsicles out. Wrap in plastic and place in a Ziploc in the freezer for longer storage.