An ode to the humble feijoa, the Che Guevara of the fruit world.
New Zealand in the late 1970s was basically a socialist paradise. Healthcare and education were free, oil prices were high enough for the government to introduce an insane rationing policy (Carless Days anyone?), and the advent of One Day cricket played by professionals seemed like a seismic shift we might not survive. Not long after that Rogernomics happened. Successive governments decided that the road to happiness was asset sales and service cuts masquerading as tax cuts. In the last few decades New Zealand has become demonstrably less egalitarian as the gap between rich and poor widens and empathy for the less fortunate shrivels.
Every April though we’re reminded that New Zealand can be a place where, like any good little socialist, the average Kiwi thinks of his (or her) fellow man (or woman) and shares excess production without giving a thought to material reward. The reminder comes in the form of the humble feijoa, New Zealand’s most socialist fruit. Every April and May modern socio-economics is upended as we collect and give away a stubbornly uncommercial yet delicious fruit that we have grown in our own yards and then, because seasonality, forget about until next year.
Acca Sellowiana, aka Pineapple Guava (not actually a guava), aka Brazilian Guava (I said, not a guava), aka Guavasteen (I said, oh forget it), aka feijoa, originated in Brazil, discovered by a German botanist in the 1800s, and ended up on these shores in the 1920s. The shrub, with its dark green leaves and little red flowers, resembles a young pohutakawa tree, and once planted in your yard will not get too big or get in the way of your lawnmowing, will barely need any attention, and for two months a year will put you back in touch with your socialist agrarian past by pumping out a few bags full of tasty little morsels.
So apart from a passing resemblance to our national flower, being easy to grow, and a welcome addition to any yard, feijoas have one more quality that has made them a kiwi institution – they don’t store. Not only do they bruise easily, but you can’t coolstore a feijoa they way you can an apple or a banana or a kiwifruit. All of those fruits can be picked at a certain stage, then using refrigeration and ripening chemicals sent to market and brought to optimum ripeness at just the right moment. Not feijoas though. Not only do these fussy little buggers refuse to co-operate with the modern food economy, but they grow bloody near anywhere with no need for specialist skills or equipment. This odd little plant has been found by a white man and removed from its South American homeland to enrich no-one and bring happiness and goodness to thousands – basically the opposite of the music of Sting in fruit form.
Of course you can buy feijoas in the stores these days – nothing, not even the mighty feijoa, can resist the crushing modern need to be commercialised and standardised forever. Fewer of us have yards with a motley selection of scraggly fruit trees, and horticulturists are bound to slowly come up with cultivars that bruise less and travel more. That’s to be expected. But for the next couple of months, when someone brings in a bag of feijoas into your office for anybody to take, please remember that this little green immigrant, this Che Guava-ra if you will, with its sweet, symmetrical innards and uncommercial shelf life, has carved out a niche as New Zealand’s most socialist fruit.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.