Sandy’s Garden ... Feijos

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Forty-four years have passed since Roger and Mary Mead began making yogurt on their farm.

Based in Blagdon, in the Yeo Valley near Bridgwater in Somerset, and using milk from their dairy herd, the couple sold the product from the gate of their farm and through local shops. And if, gentle reader, you are thinking “Mary Mead? Mary Mead? Why does that name ring a faint bell?” then allow me to answer. St. Mary Mead is the fictional village created by Dame Agatha Christie, a village whose name first appeared in a Hercule Poirot novel before it became the home of Jane Marple, better known as Miss Marple. And just as the fictional village of St. Mary Mead is nowadays known by millions of television viewers, the name of the location where Roger and Mary Mead began making yogurt in 1974 … the Yeo Valley … is nowadays known to millions of supermarket shoppers who buy more than two million packs of Yeo Valley yoghurts each week.

But it is not Yeo Valley yogurt which prompts this column; it is the results of a survey, conducted by the firm recently, into how well we Brits know our fruit, a survey which revealed that a staggering 40% of the adults polled couldn’t tell an apple from a mango. But even more surprising … to me, at least … was that 15% of those adults recognised a feijoa. A what? A feijoa, pronounced ‘feɪˈ(d)ʒəʊə’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary which translates into plain English as ‘fade-joe-ah’. Well, I am one of the 85% who would not recognise a feijoa if it came up and bit me on the b**, let alone know where it came from and what I might do with it.

The feijoa’s common names are pineapple guava and guavasteen, I learn, together with the fact that the fruit is native to extreme southern Brazil, northern Argentina, western Paraguay and Uruguay where it is common in the mountains. The fruit grows on slow-growing evergreen shrubs that can reach a height of a little less than 5 metres … say, 15 ft. in old money … which spread to a similar diameter. These shrubs, as well as being grown commercially for the fruit, are also grown as hedging plants, windbreaks and screens. They like a temperature range of between -10°C and 27°C … say between 15°F and 80°F … which I would describe as cold winters and warmish summers; and they need a fair number of days of freezing weather if the fruits are to be full of flavour. Don’t even think of growing them in central Scotland where the summer temperatures are very unlikely to keep the plants happy and where a moderate winter followed by a sharp spring frost will destroy the young fruit.

Feijoas resemble oval limes but are a rather darker green with a powerful and distinctive fragrance, which Wikipedia says strongly resembles that of the chemical methyl benzoate … C6H5CO2CH3 ... which is used in perfumery and in flavourings. (Wikipedia also says, “Methyl benzoate has a pleasant smell, strongly reminiscent of the fruit of the feijoa tree,” so you get the general idea.) The taste is similar to guavas or quince; and feijoas are used … sparingly, for they are strongly-flavoured … in baking, confectionery, chutney, smoothies and salads. They grow very happily in parts of New Zealand; and Pole to Pole Fresh, a leading New Zealand produce marketing company, says in its advertising, “To most New Zealanders, imagining life without feijoas is almost unthinkable.”

Since Pole to Pole Fresh export Zeijoa-brand feijoas around the world, it may be that the 15% of Brits who recognise these fruit live in parts of the UK where these fruit are available. And who knows? Perhaps we shall find feijoas in a supermarket near us quite soon.