In praise of the fabulous feijoa

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; creamy flesh inside firm bitter green shells. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Feijoas; creamy flesh inside firm bitter green shells. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

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.

Feijoa-almond cake, with lime drizzle icing. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Feijoa-almond cake, with lime drizzle icing. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

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).

 

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32 thoughts on “In praise of the fabulous feijoa

    • They are such a love-hate fruit aren’t they? We had a long talk about it with our B&B hosts last weekend. He is French and loathes them; she’s a kiwi and not only loves the taste, but cooks the most amazing food with them. Her feijoa jam was incredible. The cake is pretty good, but I think the recipe need a bit of re-jigging. I’m thinking of adding ginger to the next one. 🙂 hope you have a great day.

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  1. Well this is a real eye-opener, Su. Thank you for writing such a fulsome, and yummy post. The cake looks quite delicious. I still can’t quite imagine what feijoiias taste like. Pity you can’t email me a taste attachment 🙂 And thank you for the plug to my blog. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Tish. I’ve been thinking of how to describe the taste, and I’m struggling a bit. Texturally, they are a bit like firm pears (Bosc varieties); there’s a grainy sort of edge around the more jelly-like centre. The taste is also a bit pear-like, but sweeter and (I know this sounds a bit odd) quite perfume-y. There is quite an astringent after-taste, and something a bit spicy that stays in the mouth. Confused??? 🙂

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  2. Such an interesting post with rich info on the exotic feijoas!If you don’t notice the details,they look like avocandos.The pattern of its heart is amazing!
    The cake looks delicious and its texture reminds me of a walnut cake I make.
    Enjoy your day Su Dear 🙂 xxx

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  3. enjoyed reading every word of this – :0 and smiled with the research purposes at the end – ha! I am cooking with almond flour and brown rice flour these days too – and things sure are different – but can be really great – and this feijoa-almond cake looks very rich and satisfying – if you do get the recipe down – I would be interested in it – even though I am not sure I could find any feijoa here in the States.

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  4. Struth, Su – you make me drool … and I’ve never even seen a feijoa. I have heard of ’em, no worried; but I must see if I can track one down to guzzle. Or perhaps not, eh ? [grin]

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    • Thanks M-R. I’ve never seen them in Melbourne (which is the only part of Oz where I ever go grocery shopping), but I guess they’re probably available. My guess is they’d grow quite well around Sydney. You ok, post-storm?

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      • I’m extremely glad to hear that. One of my (slightly more gullible I have to admit) cousins post a pic on FB of water running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge as though it were a dam spillway (which is probably the origin of the image they photo-shopped .. but anyway). I figured if she was even questioning whether it was “real” the storm musta been pretty bad.

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      • It was heartbreaking to see video of a house being washed away, and that lives had been lost. It’s a “news flash” for most of us, but for those affected life will probably never be the same. Survivors of the Christchurch earthquakes are still battling and battle-scarred four years after the events.

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      • And I keep wanting to see footage of where they’re up to in Christchurch. I wish to all the gods that someone had had the forethought to set up a locked-down camera …

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t ‘like’ that, Su – not that I don’t appreciate your posting the links … It’s so goddam depressing.
        To think of a community of today living with that total ruination in its midst …!

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      • One current affairs programme has taken up the cause (along with quite a few others) and tried to call the authorities to account. Surprise, surprise, the programme is under “review” and may be axed. It’s a beautiful world we live in.

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      • Jesus. That’s overtly heavy … In fact, frightening, Su. Still, the MD of the ABC used the guvmint’s taking squillions of bucks off their budget to arrange things to his personal pleasure, the fuckin bastard ! The world is full of them.

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