A kiwi who doesn't like feijoas? Yeah right

22:58, May 26 2013
KIWI AS: Loved by Kiwis, these little green beauties make the best cakes, muffins, vodka, anything really.

How to share the feijoa love when you've eaten yourself silly and preserved all that you need for the year ahead:

Sharing table - Some churches, clubs, and even streets have a table where you can put surplus stuff' for others to help themselves to.

Rest homes - Keep local rest homes in feijoa crumbles over the winter.

Workmates -
Take them to work.

Pick Fruit Hamilton -
Pick, sometimes preserve and distribute fruit to community groups. Email pickfruithamilton@gmail.com.

Op shops, food banks and community houses
will often accept donations of fruit for redistribution.

Your local Playcentre or school
may be interested in taking fruit for their students.

You can recognise the people who don't have mature feijoa trees: they're the ones who are still greeting offers of the fruit with small cries of delight. To find such, you must negotiate the looks of despair, or snarls of "No!" from those who are suffering from feijoa fatigue as we near the end of the season.

There is another, minority group who don't like feijoas. Admitting this in New Zealand is akin to admitting you don't like pavlova or hokey-pokey icecream.

"Demand for this Kiwi icon gets stronger every year, " says Tim Harper, president of the New Zealand Feijoa Growers Association.

This is a far cry from the situation 100 years ago, when feijoas were barely known here. Indigenous to Brazil and Uruguay, the feijoa was first described for Western science in 1856.

The tree was valued principally for the medicinal properties of its leaves. The fruit were small and usually infested with insect larvae.

It wasn't until 1898 that the food value was highlighted by Frenchman Edouard Andre in an article in the Revue Horticole, reported in some New Zealand newspapers. Andre may have undone some of the interest by reporting that the fruit grew in the same climate as the coconut. In fact, the natural range is similar to that of kauri.

Away from the South American fruit fly and in better soils, Andre's fruit were up to 6cm long and weighed up to 86 grams. The first seed did not reach our shores until 1908, with the resulting fruit described as walnut-sized with a rough skin. In 1909, it was reported in New Zealand that the plant trials in California and Australia were not being met "with the favour of horticulturists that was at first expected". Improved varieties were imported from California in the 1920s, with Hayward Wright's nursery leading the way in developing New Zealand varieties.

At this time, the feijoa was grown as a garden curiosity. A garden column in 1915 encouraged planting feijoas primarily for the attractive flowers.

Many were grown as windbreaks. On the paddock side, they had branches to the ground, but on the garden side several were trimmed up, showing off the beautiful reddish bark, with a garden seat below in the nook below.

By the late 1930s, feijoas had become fairly common backyard plants. In 1942, they were described as one of the most popular recently introduced small fruits.

The DSIR ran breeding programmes from 1954, focusing on producing large, smooth fruit with good storage characteristics.

However, even in 1973, the Department of Agriculture's book, The Home Orchard noted that most local plants were still being grown from seed of highly variable quality.

Commercial growing did not take off until the 1980s, when regular exports to California started. In 1988, Grant Thorp, of HortResearch, undertook the first survey of the fruit in their natural habitat, collecting wild plant material to broaden the genetic base of our stock. Fruit grown in New Zealand conditions from this stock often weighed over 240g.

Commercial growers touch-pick the fruit to avoid bruising. Despite considerable research, there is no guaranteed way of telling if the fruit is ripe until you cut it open. Poor cross- pollination makes for hollow fruit.

If you aren't brave enough to plant two trees in your garden, the New Zealand cultivar 'Unique', developed in the 1970s, is the only completely self-fertile variety.

Te Ara reports that feijoa trees have a productive life of 30 to 40 years, but Lesley Wyatt's tree in Cambridge is thought to be at least 70 and is still producing "an embarrassment of fruit".

Her neighbour, Richard Whittaker, has taken 17 bags of feijoas into work so far this season, and the fruit is still dropping.

Elsewhere in Cambridge, Jenny Wilson grew a 235g monster this year, measuring 7 cm across, and it tasted good. This may back Puhoi Valley's claim: "New Zealand's best feijoas are sourced from the Waikato".

Eating seasonally means that by next November I will again harvest some delicious petals while dreaming of the fruit, my mouth watering as I think of my favourite dishes - pork in feijoa and green ginger wine sauce, and feijoa crumble with lemon and almonds.