Until this Autumn – my first cohabiting with a feijoa tree – the short-seasoned feijoa was a near-mythical fruit that used to appear in generous supermarket bag donations on the doorstep. I’d immediately set upon them to devour the sweet fragrant honey-coloured flesh in obscene quantities.
I couldn’t understand why people would give them away.
Now I have a feijoa tree I realise they’re quite hard to give away. Who had any idea how much fruit one tree could yield? And in the Auckland suburbs, if you don’t have a tree of your own, your neighbour does, or you’ve already been gifted in substantial quantities.
I adore them, longed for them while living overseas for 10 years, but as ungrateful as I feel saying this, the tree is relentless. The thrill with which I ate the first 20 has been replaced with a kind of dogged appreciation. The taste is still a sensation, but feijoa fatigue is setting in.
Apparently, this has always been the way.
David Burton’s New Zealand Food and Cookery says, “Such was the seasonal glut that, traditionally, owners of backyard trees would put buckets of free fruit outside their gates.”
I’ve always been curious how this fruit became such a staple of the suburban Kiwi garden, and this botanist’s description of feijoas from Purdue University in the United States is somewhat illuminating.
Feijoas originate in the highlands of South America and are named after a Brazilian-born botanist: João da Silva Feijó. After the successful fruiting of a Brazilian plant in France in 1897, plantings were then distributed to many other parts of the world including the Caribbean, India, California, Florida and Australia.
This flurry of international activity is in contrast to the relative invisibility of feijoas today outside New Zealand. It’s why the Purdue description asserts: “Few fruit bearers have received as much initial high-level attention and yet have amounted to so little…”
However “…nowhere has the feijoa received more attention than in New Zealand.”
It says an Auckland nurseryman brought three varieties here from Australia in 1908. It remained little known until 1930 when it began being promoted as an ornamental wall shrub. It was also popular for its wind-breaking properties.
So back before people fenced their suburban gardens so extensively, it helped provide some sense of a border and privacy. They also seemed to love the climate, fruiting well here.
It seems our grandparents and great-grandparents thought them quite the must-have – and thank goodness they did.
What to make with feijoas
Feijoas are fabulous in baking, retaining their shape fairly well in juicy chunks and taking on a slightly tarter flavour than when fresh.
I really like the French dessert clafoutis to really showcase seasonal fruit. This is basically a rich egg custard with just a touch of flour to stabilise it. The feijoas, which have been lightly cooked first in melted butter and brown sugar, meld with the custard, their juices seeping down to flavour it.
I used this James Martin recipe from the BBC website, substituting the plums for feijoa.
I also made poached feijoas in green ginger wine from the Fast, Fresh and Tasty iPhone app, so these should last for a while, and be extra flavourful in baking and desserts.