Papaya Fruit Pastille Squares

by Dr. Hennie Fisher

We often find ourselves perplexed by the fluctuating prices of fresh produce at different times of the year. These fluctuations may not be kind to our farmers, but indicates that we do to a certain extent still eat according to the seasons in South Africa, and that is a good thing. In olden days, people would make good use of a glut of fresh fruits and vegetables by preserving them for leaner times when they were unavailable because they were out of season. People would dry peaches, bottle tomato sauces, and use many types of innovative culinary techniques to keep such products for long times. Fortunately we do not live in a time or country where severe winters render us totally reliant on such foods, one of the main objectives of preserving foods in times gone by. However, when fresh ingredients are in abundance and consequently inexpensive, and one has the time and ability, it is a good idea to make such items.

Making these fruit squares is not difficult at all, even though it might sound intimidatingly so. The big secret is patience, as one needs to cook the fruit pulp until it is really thick and a lot of the moisture has evaporated while checking that it does not stick or burn. A very heavy pot with a thick base is essential. Fruit pastilles or pâte de fruit are delicious at the end of a meal as part of a petit four plate, and despite containing some sugar, fairly healthy. The only real problem with the recipe is that the papaya needs to cook for a long time and consequently loses some of its fresh tropical flavor, but one cannot win them all. One could set the pulp with either gelatine or agar-agar, but the problem with these ingredients is that they will give your pastilles a different mouthfeel and they aren’t always temperature stable. This traditional method of cooking the fruit pulp for a long time allows the pastilles to be stored outside for an undetermined time.

Ingredients for around 25 – 30 squares:

  • 500g papaya, puréed and strained through a fine mesh sieve
  • 500 g castor sugar
  • 30g pectin (usually bought in a powdered form, and can then be mixed with the sugar)
  • 2,5g powdered citric acid
  • Optional: the tiniest drop of orange food colouring – but that greatly depends on the ripeness and deepness of the papaya’s colour
  • Granulated white sugar to coat the blocks


First prepare the container that the pulp will be poured into once it is cooked. This recipe makes roughly one liter of mixture, so the tin that one will pour it into should be around 20cm x 20cm, with a height that would accommodate at least 2.5cm of fruit pulp. One does not want to spread the pulp too thinly, since one wants nice, fat squares of pâte de fruit. Each block should ultimately be around 2,5 x 2,5 x 2,5cm.

Line the tin with tinfoil. It is easier to cut a piece of tinfoil that fits snugly into the bottom of the tin, and then to place thin strips of tinfoil around each edge. A single large piece of tinfoil will result in crumpled edges. Spritz the tin very lightly with baking spray; too thick a coating will cause your sugar coating to clump.

Place all the ingredients, apart from the additional coating sugar, in a thick-based, non-reactive stainless steel or preferably enamel pot. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring frequently. Lower the heat and simmer the mixture – it may take as long as an hour, depending on the moisture content of the papayas, for the mixture to become really thick. Remember to stir often. You could gage your progress with a food thermometer that should read around 110 °C at the end. If your mixture should not reach the desired stage of thickness, your pâte de fruit will be too soft and will not set.

Once the desired thickness and/or temperature has been reached, pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Work quickly at this point; you want to pour the mixture into the tin when it is super hot and still runny to create a flat, smooth surface without having to try and achieve this manually. Give the tin a few hard bangs on the work surface to really level off the mixture, so that it is glossy and smooth on top.

Allow the fruit mixture to cool down completely, turn it upside down onto a cutting board, remove the tinfoil and use a ruler and a large, sharp chef’s knife dipped in boiling water and dried with a cloth, to cut even blocks. Coat the cubes in sugar on all sides and let them sit outside for another day to dry. Store in an airtight container.