When Tish Farrell (Writer on the Edge — check out her blog if you don’t already know it) commented on my post ‘Summer No More’ that the approach of winter means time for baked stuffed apples, I immediately thought (and replied), “feijoa and apple crumble.”
I did wonder — knowing that Tish lives in England — whether she’d be familiar with that most deliciously, deceptively unassuming fruit, the feijoa. She wasn’t, and so this post is by way of enlightenment.
When I lived in the UK in the 1990s, feijoas were not only unavailable, but requests for them in fruit shops or supermarkets were met with puzzled looks and the odd suggestion that I must have the name wrong. A Kiwi friend recalls an English workmate insisting that such a fruit did not exist, and that perhaps “feijoa” was just her family’s special name for another, real fruit. “An apple, perhaps” was apparently his suggestion. Annoyed at being so patronised, she drove half way around the M25 to borrow a New Zealand recipe book from me, which she took to her workplace to demonstrate the reality of feijoas to her colleague.
Feijoa, or Acca sellowiana is a species of flowering plant in the myrtle family, native to South America (Wikipedia). I’m not sure how or when it was introduced to New Zealand, but it grows extremely well here and is widely planted in domestic gardens. Growing up, everyone seemed to either have a feijoa tree, or knew people who did, so that during the months March to June buckets of the fruit could be found in every pantry.
Feijoas seem to be one of those things that people either absolutely love or totally hate (like Marmite and Vegemite). My mother loathes them — likening the smell of the uncut fruit to wintergreen (methyl salicylate). Because of this, she tended to discourage neighbours’ donations of the fruit, so my brothers and I compensated by scrounging them from every source possible. One consequence of this was that we always ate ours raw, scooping the sweet creamy flesh straight from its slightly bitter green shell. It is only as an adult that I’ve discovered the pleasure of cooking with feijoas.
The first house I bought had a huge and prolific feijoa tree in the back yard. A Kiwi friend who has lived in Edinburgh for over 30 years visited one afternoon and we (literally) sat under the tree and gorged ourselves.
It’s only since we returned to NZ in 2000 that I’ve noticed feijoas for sale in shops. Before that, it seemed to be very much a home grown or donated fruit — although sometimes enterprising small children would set up roadside stalls selling what was probably grandma’s (hopefully excess) harvest.
This season, feijoas seem to have become — in culinary circles — the new black. Last weekend, I saw feijoa cake in a couple of cafes, the host at the B&B where we stayed baked us a feijoa cake as a welcome, we had the fresh fruit at breakfast and feijoa jam for our croissants. Since then I’ve found a plethora of recipes for cakes, muffins, crumbles, jams, chutneys and cordials, and while I don’t have any feijoas growing in my garden, they are ridiculously cheap at the local fruit shop so I decided to have a go at making a feijoa cake this afternoon.
I’m experimenting with dairy and gluten-free baking at the moment, and I’ve found a local (Auckland-based) food writer, Eleanor Ozich, whose book My Petite Kitchen Cookbook, has lots of useful recipes. One I’m particularly fond of is an orange almond cake; which I modified by using feijoa pulp in place of the oranges. The cake uses almond meal instead of regular flour, and is sweetened with a couple of spoonfuls of honey. I added the zest of a lime for a bit of extra zing, and (I must confess) did mix some icing sugar and lime juice to create a drizzle icing on top. But compared to my usual slathering of buttercream frosting on cakes, I feel I’ve been quite restrained.
The result doesn’t look as glamourous as the cafe cakes, but the Big T assures me it tastes great.
If anyone is interested in the recipe, I’m happy to bake another cake (purely for research purposes) with a bit more attention to quantities and technique, so that I can actually generate a recipe.
Meanwhile, I’m off to try a slice (purely for research purposes, naturally).