True that we are still getting used to the summer heat. But while the sun continues to shine on us, the few carob trees situated around the Maltese Islands are blooming with green pods and are preparing themselves for the carob season.
Carobs are usually picked at the end of the summer. Especially before the first rain of September. All you need to do is pick the pods from the tree before they fall naturally. Very similar to other fruit trees like apples and peaches. Once they fall off the tree, the pods will be very mature and preparing to get bitter and rot.
We had a stash of carob pods hanging around from last summer. Since the new harvest is coming up, we decided to clear up and renew our pantry with a few more jars of carob syrup. Better known in Maltese as ‘Ġulepp tal-Ħarubb‘. ‘Ħarubb‘ is the Maltese word for carob.
Making carob syrup is no rocket science. Once you learn the method you will be tempted to make your own batch from then onwards.
Carob trees are survivors of time
Carob trees can be very old. Like olive trees, it is with maturity and age that they get better. Unfortunately the carob tree population in Malta is on the decline as conditions are challenging due to insufficient water supply, harmful insects and organisms, destruction due to strong winds, and neglection.
The carob tree represents time. It has seen the years pass by. It has seen several generations of people come and go. The late Maltese poet, Rużar Briffa, actually wrote a poem describing the age-old carob tree as an observer. Stationary, yet observant of the fast pace of life passing right in front of it.
Waħedha fuq l-għolja ġeblija,First stanza of RuŻar Briffa’s POEM ‘Quo Vadis?’
imbiegħda mill-bqija ta’ ħutha
fil-qalb ħadranija tal-wied,
magħtuba mit-toqol tas-snin,
qed tħares madwarha
ħa tara il-għaġla tan-nies għaddejjin.
Carob is good for you
In Malta it is an annual ritual for a lot of people to stock up on a jar of carob syrup for the cold winter months. It is that kitchen cupboard item which you will probably purchase once a year.
Like that extra box of aspirin or vitamin C, carob is also considered as a remedy in Maltese households. For example most people consider it as an effective remedy to relieve oneself from a soar throat. It has soothing properties.
Carob has quite a few medicinal properties. It is a great source of fibre. It contains antioxidants. It has low amounts of fats and sugars. Most importantly is has no caffeine. It is also gluten free.
Not just to flavour your cup of tea
The most common use of consuming ‘ġulepp‘ is with hot water or mixed with a black tea. Unfortunately you will not find many households in Malta using the carob for other uses. It is actually such a shame because the carob has such an interesting flavour profile with hints of caramel, vanilla, and even chocolate.
We plan to change this with future recipes using the local carob. For now we decided to start with the basics. The simple, humble and throat soothing carob syrup.
For example in the past you would find candy stalls on your way into Valletta selling ‘karamelli‘. They would be like nougat-style candies made with carob, honey and sugar. You don’t find these often nowadays unfortunately. Also a liqueur is made in Malta with carob called Leila.
We love using the carob in lamb and duck marinades before slow roasting. One of our chefs last year even used the carobs as a base to make a Mexican mole sauce. A lovely concoction which we plan to share in the near future.
Enough said for now. Once those carob pods are mature enough, go and pick some and get on with it and make your own batch of ‘Ġulepp tal-Ħarubb‘.
Ġulepp tal-Ħarubb (Carob Syrup)
- 4 x 250ml Jars with lids (sterilised)
- Roasting Tray
- Big Heavy-Bottom Pot
- Wooden Spoon
- Measuring Scale
- Fine Sieve
- Medium Heavy-Bottom Pot
- 1 kg Carob Pods
- 2.5 litres Water (filtered)
- 1 Lemon (zest and juice)
- 6 Cloves
- 2 Star Anise
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 1 kg Sugar
- Pre-heat oven to 160°C.
- Thoroughly wash and drain the carob pods.
- Snap the carob pods into pieces and place in an even layer in a roasting tray. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Once roasted from the oven, immediately soak in the big pot with the filtered water and leave overnight.
- The next day add the cloves, cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for around 30 to 45 minutes.
- Pass the contents of the pot through a fine sieve into the medium-sized pot. Discard the contents of the sieve and boil the remaining liquid with the sugar for around 30 minutes.You should get a thick syrup. You can decide how thin or thick you want the syrup by coating the back of a wooden spoon.
- Bottle in sterilised jars and store in your kitchen cupboard.