This week there are feijoas everywhere in our neighbourhood. Green eggs start dropping off trees around Easter time. For a fortnight – maybe a bit longer – there is an amazing abundance of feijoas. We currently have four buckets full at the back door.
I love feijoas for their almost-tropical aroma and sweet-sour zing.
Feijoa - Acca sellowiana – is an evergreen perennial shrub or small tree that’s native to the highlands of South America, but now grows in many parts of the world including Azerbaijan, Western Armenia and Southern Russia. It's also called "pineapple guava" in some places. It’s a warm temperature to sub tropical plant, it’s frost-tolerant, and it needs 50 hours of winter chilling to fruit well, so it’s no surprise that it grows especially happily in the Waikato.
Feijoas are widely cultivated in the North Island of New Zealand, but they’re not so common in the South Island – I think it must be too cold. We usually send a box of feijoas to Margaret, my mother-in-law, who lives in Dunedin. Even with the high postage costs it’s worth it, with feijoas selling for up to $20 a kilo in supermarkets.
Feijoas for market
If you live in a place where you can’t grow feijoas, expect to pay a premium for them. Growing feijoas for market is tricky – they don’t keep easily once picked.
Frans de Jong, of Southern Belle Orchard near Matamata, is an expert at growing beautiful, huge feijoas, mainly for export. He is on the executive of the national feijoa growers association, and his scientific skills get plenty of practice overcoming challenges in harvesting and packing feijoas, so they arrive in excellent condition and get premium prices. Southern Belle feijoas are currently sold in Australia, Singapore, Japan, the United States, “and a small amount in the UK”.
Frans grows up to 15 different varieties of feijoa. Most are grown on frames, espalier style, which means the branches don’t break, and it’s easy to pick the fruit. The Southern Belle feijoa season runs from mid-March to June - much longer than a backyard feijoa tree can manage.
Latest news: Southern Belle have just won the supreme award at the 2015 Waikato Farm Environment Awards, in recognition of their environmentally sustainable growing practices in their feijoa orchard and also in the greenhouse where they produce excellent capsicums, chillies and cucumbers. (See here for another post I wrote about Southern Belle Orchards.)
Looking after feijoa trees
In a home garden, feijoas are ready to eat when they drop off the tree. But that means they will probably be bruised, and won’t keep more than a couple of days. If you can catch your homegrown feijoas just at the point where they are ready to drop, they will keep for a few weeks in a cool place.
Feijoa trees will survive without much attention, but Clare Jackson of Green Footprint says you’ll get bigger (and fewer) fruit if you give your tree some pruning, feeding and mulching. Big feijoas are much quicker and easier to cook with than small ones.
What to do with feijoas
1. Just eat as many as you can
As fast as you can, cut in half and scooped out with a teaspoon. I love them with plain yoghurt. When you have OD’d on feijoas, sit back and recover, knowing there won’t be any more until next year.
2. Whizz them up in a smoothie.
Here’s a good combo: four feijoas, scooped out, a piece of kale, half a cup of coconut milk or yoghurt and half a nashi pear. Add raw honey to taste.
3. Feijoa crumble
My family thinks this is even better than apple crumble.
¾ cup flour, white or brown or a mixture
pinch of salt
115g butter, grated
½ cup sugar – I use half Fairtrade golden/ raw and half muscovado (from Trade Aid)
½ cup oats
¼ cup dessicated coconut and/or sesame seeds and/or ground almonds
Rub butter into dry ingredients. Place a thick layer of scooped out feijoas in a greased oven dish. Add 2 tablespoons sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Sprinkle the crumble mix over the top.
Bake at 180 degC until topping is golden-brown (approximately half an hour)
Eat hot or cold, with cream or yoghurt.
4. Feijoa wine
My husband Matthew loves turning surplus fruit into wine: apples, plums, grapes…
Here’s his method for feijoas:
Wash 2 kg of feijoas and cut in half. You don’t need to peel them. Put the feijoas in a large pan and add 3 litres of boiling water. Leave them for a few days.
Dissolve 2 kg of sugar in 1 litre of water. Strain the feijoas (don’t squeeze them) and mix the sugar-water into the feijoa liquid. (Throw the used feijoas in the compost.) Add a small sachet (about a large teaspoon) of winemakers’ yeast. You buy this from Brew Your Own Liquor in Te Rapa. Pour it all into a carboy (big bottle) with an airlock. Leave it to brew until it stops bubbling - around four weeks. Then bottle. Sample it regularly. If it starts smelling or tasting bad at any stage, throw it out and try again.
5. Dried feijoas.
This week I made a couple of batches of dried feijoa, using my dehydrator. It takes at least 12 hours, so it’s probably not very energy-efficient, but it uses up lots of feijoas. One bucket full turns into a 1 litre jar of yummy little pieces of dried feijoa, which are great in muesli and for snacks. It’s a good gift to post overseas to homesick kiwis. My neighbour Clare just sent off a parcel of dried feijoas to her son Paul, who’s studying at Cambridge (the Cambridge that’s in the UK, not the Waikato).
6. Give ‘em away.
If your friends are fed up with feijoas, offer them to neighbours. Leave the surplus in supermarket bags next to your letterbox with a “help yourself” sign. They always go.