Mock apple sauce is not another example of the bizarre austerity dishes the Ministry of Food tried to publicize in Austerity Britain. Instead, it exemplifies the adaptation of English foodways to the tropics. By the middle of the nineteenth century the English had acquired the reputation for harboring a suspicion of foreign foods. That is a little odd, as least regarding the upper classes, who undeniably relished Indian food; many of them also considered themselves Francophile gourmands.
The tropics were different, at least during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially but not exclusively if you were poor. Settlers learned to stretch scarce flour supplies with cassava, and even to fashion palatable pie crust from the root. They acquired a taste for tropical fruit, and chilies, and rum.
Undeniably, however, as Carl and Roberta Bridenbaugh demonstrate in their sad and stirring history of the seventeenth century English Caribbean, No Peace Beyond the Line, they craved the food of home all the more when faced by the bewildering climate and social dislocation they endured.
Pork was plentiful to Caribbean colonists from the outset of settlement; European traders, principally Portuguese and Spanish, had marooned pigs who obligingly procreated to proliferation, and contemporary accounts consider the meat more succulent than the best English pork. A wag whose identity the Editor has mislaid wrote something during the late twentieth century that the whole point of roast chicken is bread sauce, and while the English do not take so extreme a view on the necessity of applesauce with roast pork, they do--and did--like it.
Apples were not available to the first settlers in the islands; as Jinx and Jefferson Morgan note of Tortola in the British Virgin islands, “our climate doesn’t favor true apples” (The Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook 177)and imports of anything other than salt fish were costly. Enter the christophene, also called cho-cho in the islands, mirliton in Louisiana and chayote in Spanish. By any name it is a “climbing plant belonging to the melon family and a native of Jamaica and Cuba…. It is a pale green, pear-shaped fruit” that, like the tomato, usually does service in the context of vegetables. (Winifred Grey, Caribbean Cookery, London 1965, 75)
Christophene, however, also makes of lovely sauce that tastes reminiscent of but distinct from apples. The proportions of your own recipe may vary with personal taste; the idea is to balance the sweet and tart. It pairs well with roast pork and, if you add enough sugar, makes a Caribbean ‘apple’ pie.
Bajan mock applesauce.
-3 christophenes (mirlitons), peeled and sliced
-some cloves or a little allspice (either is optional)
-about ½ cup sugar
-juice of a biggish lime
- Cook the christophenes in barely enough water to keep them from scorching, with or without the clove or allspice.
- Once they soften, remove the cloves if you used them, or whole allspice berries if you used them, and mash the fruit.
- Stir the sugar and juice into the fruit and season the mixture with a pinch of salt to complete your sauce.
- Christophene/mirliton has lots of other uses. Louisiana cooks, for example, parboil and split the fruit to stuff with seasoned shellfish mixes, but this and other recipes for it are beyond the scope of this Number.
- Barbadians also use pawpaws to make mock applesauce but the Editor does not have ready access to them.