Hooray, it’s feijoa season! Perfumed green fruits like no other, and the final harvest of our autumn. Here’s a few tips for growing, harvesting and eating them, including our favourite recipes.
The feijoa is a smallish, evergreen tree that hails from Brazil. It produces stacks of beautiful (and tasty) pink flowers in spring, which are followed by pendulous, egg-sized green fruit in late autumn – which drop to the ground when ripe. And they are dee-licious. If you can get your hands on some, we highly recommend doing so.
When feijoa trees crop, they do it properly. The fruit will be literally everywhere, dropping underneath the tree and rolling off under nearby shrubs. Which is why having a few recipes and methods for preserving them up your sleeve is a fine idea, if you have a feijoa tree about.
No space to grow? No problem. Learn to recognise the leaf, fruit and flower shapes of feijoas, and keep your eyes out for likely trees as you walk around your neighbourhood. We have found feijoas in every city and town we’ve lived in, many of them big old things in frontyards with no-one picking up the fruit (until we came along). So learn your leaf shapes, that the food may find you.
The feijoa is a hardy customer which has spread all over the world from its native Brazil, due to its attractiveness as a hedge tree, and also for its flowers and fruit. Feijoas will grow in sub-tropical to cool temperate climates, though for the fruit to set properly, a minimum of 50 chill hours is considered necessary for most cultivars.
Like many other kinds of fruit trees, feijoas can be grown from seed, but don’t grow true to type. So if it’s fruit you’re after, consider buying a named variety (there are quite a few), or get some cuttings from an established tree that’s fruiting well and propagate those.
Feijoas are a fairly easygoing customer when it comes to tree care – they like regular water and nutrients, but don’t need special attention. They will also tolerate a range of soil types, and should begin to fruit somewhere between 2-6 years of age (it depends on the cultivar apparently, and good care and attention will obviously help).
Pollination of feijoas can be tricky. Some cultivars are self-pollinating, and some are not-so-much, so need another tree to pollinate them. If you have a few feijoa trees which are not really fruiting (or not fruiting at all) buying another named variety from a nursery is considered a good strategy. Pruning to open up the canopy and to allow for more pollinators is also recommended.
In some places, bees are considered the primary pollinators of feijoas. However, where we live, the wattlebirds (and other small birds) have figured out how tasty the petals of the flowers are, so they’re forever eating them, getting feijoa pollen all over the tops of their heads, and then moving on to the next flower, inadvertently pollinating it in the process.
Enter the Fedge
That title was just an excuse to say the word Fedge an extra time. But fedges are actually brilliant. A fedge, of course, is a Feijoa Hedge (or any type of fruit hedge). And a fedge is something that you should definitely plant, if you have space in your garden.
Planting a fedge is a great idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, feijoa trees make a great windbreak when planted in this way, and are perfect for sheltering a veggie patch, chookyard, or playspace. Shelter with bonus fruit snacks!
Secondly, feijoas are fire-retardant. Which is a very good reason to grow a row of them near your house, and near anything else that needs protecting, especially on the side of prevailing summer winds or your fire sector (permaculture design can help you figure this out).
Thirdly, a fedge allows for great pollination, and helps centralise the ground area that you will creep across on a daily basis come feijoa harvest season, slowly attempting to fill your basket with green fruit which gets eaten as quickly as you can pick it up, if you have enough kids around.
Feijoa flowers – nature’s sherbert
This was one of the biggest discoveries of last spring, for me. Feijoa flower petals taste like sherbert! Yum. I think it was Hannah who clued me into this delightful secret. And now, no feijoa is safe from my family in spring. They taste a bit marshmallow-y too. Yum.
Of course, if you want feijoa fruits aplenty (and you do) – go easy on the petal predation. But a few plucked here and there – eaten straight up, or used to dress desserts, or to flavour water kefir – are a delightful addition to homegrown, early spring flavours at our place.
Feijoa fruit – when it rains, it pours
If you do know a feijoa tree that’s fruiting well, you’ll know that when feijoas fruit, they really, really fruit. You will have many. More than many.
Conveniently, feijoas fruit right at the end of our fruit season here in Victoria – in late autumn, from April until June. This is a time when the apples and pears are nearly done, we’ve eaten our fill of chestnuts, and we’ve thankfully just recovered from the end of tomato season. So we’re up for a bit more preserving (but only for you, feijoas) before autumn ends.
But how to tell when are they ripe? They’re so hardish and greenish…
Feijoas fall off the tree when ripe (generally speaking) so the easiest way to tell if they’re ripe is if they’re on the ground. They will also smell AMAZING when ripe – we’re talking pungent aromatic guava/pineapple/feijoa vibes. Apparently that smell is actually methyl benzoate, but whatever you call it, it’s good. And signifies that your feijoas are ready for the eating.
Feijoas will also be a little soft when ripe – not squishy, just a bit of give when you squeeze them. If they’re still rock hard, put the feijoas together in a bowl on your table for a day or two. You’ll get high from their lucious smell and before you know it they will be slightly squeezy. Proceed.
Feijoas can be eaten straight up, but the flavour of the skin is too strong for some. Other popular ways to get at them is to slice in half crosswise and then scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon, or slice into quarters and eat in segments.
The inside of a feijoa consists of slightly grainy flesh harbouring a goopy interior which contains the small seeds. Eat the whole thing, or the whole thing minus the skin if you prefer.
Strangely (and we’ve tested this extensively, if inadvertently) feijoas seem to be one of the few fruits which can be eaten until you are truly sick of them – without stomach ache or a scurrying off to the toilet. Good information to know, should you find yourself eating a bowlful of them with friends.
Feijoas won’t keep terribly long – 7 days at most – so are best eaten or preserved as you harvest them. They also make excellent barter with feijoa-starved folks nearby.
Preserving the feijoa harvest
If you have too many feijoas, there’s lots of things you can do with them. Here are the two core things you need to know:
Firstly, do not dehydrate your feijoas in slices. Just don’t. Unless small, extremely hard, brown, grainy disks that no-one wants to eat are your thing.
Secondly (and it’s difficult not to shout this revelation) you DON’T need to peel feijoas if you are stewing or jamming them. Really, you don’t. Even if you prefer not to eat the skins when eating feijoas fresh, leaving the skins on for preserving is fine. More than fine, even – the skins add aroma and a robust taste that would otherwise diminish by cooking. This one tip can give you back literally hours of your life, if not days, by not having to scoop or skin all your feijoas before you proceed to preserve them. Hooray.
So. to the recipes.
Most often, we preserve the feijoa harvest by stewing, then bottling. We slice them in quarters (taking off the flower end) and add to a big pot with a good splash of water, then heat slowly until they are lightly stewed. At this point we add sugar to taste (maybe 1 cup to 10 litres of stewed fruit? It varies with the season, and taste), stir it in, and then decant while hot into clean bottles with good metal lids, that we then waterbath for 30 minutes at 85ºc. We then use them year-round in cakes, on porridge, with yogurt, with pudding, with other cakes, or whenever feijoas are called for.
The start of the feijoa harvest often lines up with the last of the figs here at Melliodora, so we make feijoa, fig and ginger jam. We’re more the ‘stick it all in a pot on the stove and stir slowly when we think it’s ready or we’re ready for bed, add sugar and then bottle it’ type jam makers, which I realise may not be very helpful if you are a beginner. Here is a good recipe to start off with.
Also, New Zealanders love their feijoas so here is a cache of feijoa jam and chutney recipes. Just disregard the instructions to peel them, if you wish to maintain your sanity. Also, leaving the skins on makes the resulting jam green, not brown. Green jam! Awesome.
- Feijoas are perfect for flavouring water kefir
- You can also follow a basic wild fermented fruit soda recipe with feijoas (do it!)
- Wild fermented country wine – follow our recipe
- Here’s a non-wild (but still looks good) Feijoa wine recipe
Fruit liqueur, meet feijoas. We’re going to be good friends:
Fill a jar with quartered feijoas, and pour over enough 40% vodka to cover feijoas and fill jar. Label with the date and put under the stairs (or similar out of the way place). Come back in 2 months, and taste. At this point, we drain off the feijoa-flavoured vodka into a seperate bottle and add sugar or honey to taste, then label, store and sip with friends as required (it’s amazing with mineral water and a squeeze of lemon).
The drunken feijoas at this point get put back in their jar, mashed up, and then more vodka is poured over. In two months this mix is sieved and the vodka sweetened to taste.
And then there’s
- Feijoa paste (think quince paste but not)
- Feijoa, coconut and lemon cake
- Feijoa doughnuts
- Any banana cake recipe – substitute same amount of feijoas
Whew! What do you do with your feijoas? Any killer recipes or techniques that we should know about? We’d love to hear about them (we have a whole month left in feijoa-ville here, at time of writing)… thanks in advance!