Covid-19 has struck smack dab in the middle of an important cultural fixture in New Zealand’s calendar. Customs and rituals are being impinged upon as we bubble-up and keep to ourselves. I’m referring of course to the annual feijoa harvest and the bottling, preserving and baking that goes with it. Our usual seasonal gesture is to share the bounty, reach out to our family and friends, and our wider community for inspiration, collaboration and jars in exchange for a gifting back of condiments. Now we need to stay at arms-length and we’re stuck with our own feijoas and our own limited imaginations.
Everyone has feijoas, they are the thing that binds us together across our diversity. We grow them or we can get them by foraging on the berms around the neighbourhood, the issue is swapping the creativity. Once we’ve made our jam, our paste, our muffins, we know what went into them, so beyond the first bite they’re boring. Traditionally we trade them so we have a cornucopia of surprising delights, a squirrel’s pantry to sustain us over the winter. Where one household may add ginger to their feijoa conserve, another may go for curry notes in a relish. Now though each bubble has a glut of chutney in the same homogenous flavour-profile. It’s a crisis.
Twenty years ago, I missed feijoas so much after a year in London (and with Borough Market feijoas at £2) that my mother, as some kind of torture tactic, sent me the newly published Feijoa Recipe Book. I was from Auckland so this little gem and its intrepid creators were then unknown to me. This week, amid a frantic panic about mounting piles of feijoas, I reached for the diamond from the cookbook shelf and found it’s written by Havelock North’s Wyn Drabble with photographs by Bruce Jenkins of Napier! After 20 years carting this treasure around I now live in the very same region as the two men who wrote the book on feijoas, literally. Someone should erect a plaque!
Drabble and Jenkins posit such bold inventions as pork picnic loaf with feijoa stuffing, feijoa butter cake, feijoa fool and candied feijoas.
They also suggest some brave new takes on classics and some internationally inspired offerings that are bound to impress, especially when you photograph them in a rustic setting and post them on Instagram: Panna cotta, parfait, souffle, jalousie, terrine and tartlets all featuring feijoas; sweet and sour red cabbage with feijoa; pork spareribs with feijoa marinade.
The book was commissioned by the Feijoa Growers Association who gave Drabble two seasons worth of feijoas to devise recipes and shoot dishes.
Drabble had a solid background catering in Sydney. “French was always my favourite cuisine (I devoured Elizabeth David books in my early adulthood),” he tells me, “So I always enjoyed trying to create French classics.”
Jenkins says he trusted Drabble to serve up dishes that were aesthetically pleasing even though the feijoa isn’t the most picturesque fruit. “I really had total confidence in knowing that Wyn had presented the best dish that was both visually pleasing and great to eat.”
As well as shooting each dish they ate them, getting through a fair amount of feijoas in the process. “I recall we did get tired of overdoing it but we did some good eating,” remembers Drabble.
The gluttony didn’t put them off feijoas and they still enjoy them. Drabble prefers them cooked where Jenkins eats them raw.
Drabble was determined to stretch the fruit beyond its traditional sweet roles. He found feijoa had a friend in pork. “I think it’s a natural with pork but chicken should also work well” particularly with feijoa salsa he adds.
The Number One Go To for most of us is crumble – Drabble’s favourite – and the way we use feijoas there says a lot about us. Page 45 hints at personal quirks in crumble making. “Some people like a generous layer of fruit with a thin crumble topping while others prefer a thin layer of fruit with plenty of topping,” writes Drabble. “Some like to serve this dessert in individual gratin dishes while others prefer a large dish to serve centre table.”
Prodding him to expand, he explains: “I think it exposes whether they’re a bit of a guts or not.”
Drabble may vote for crumble or cobbler when it comes to getting rid of feijoa superfluity, but he’s most chuffed by the mastery of page 54: “I’m still proud of the triangular ice cream terrine. For the centre strip I used a French loaf tin and the triangular stainless steel mould was specially made for me by a Havelock North company.”
Twenty years on the Feijoa Recipe Book hasn’t been beaten. It’s available from lo-fi publishing outfit Stonepress in Norsewood at feijoa.co.nz.
For anyone wanting to photograph their own feijoa creations Jenkins says it’s much easier now than it was when the book was shot. In those pre-digi days every shot was taken on 6×7 transparency film with only 10 shots on a film roll. “That added a whole different style and skill set compared to how it would be shot today.”
The most important ingredient for photos though isn’t feijoas, it’s light.
“Understanding light is still key…one of the best forms of light is daylight and south-facing windows are perfect (rather that direct sunlight),” says Jenkins. “The main thing is to shoot your style in a way that pleases you.”
Let feijoas fuel your creativity: cook ‘em up, click away, share your inspiration with your friends and your followers. That way we can, virtually, be nourished this feijoa season.