Hit the feijoa jackpot

Hot stuff at farmers’ markets.

Hot stuff at farmers’ markets.

It’s not pineapple, or guava, or anything in between. In fact, the pineapple guava fruit isn’t even a tropical plant. It smells like one, though, with its billowy essence of papaya and mango perfume. But it thrives right here at home in the Sacramento Valley and even requires a few frosty days each winter to best produce its flowers and fruits.

The feijoa, as it’s called, is native to subtropical South America but, while known to a few Californians, it just isn’t the rock star that it might have been.

The greenish-blue fruits are outstanding little things, tart when young and sweet as Key lime pie when allowed to soften in a plastic bag on the counter. Orland farmer Debbie Ariza recalled the late 1980s, when the feijoa was a rising star. “People thought it was going to be the next big thing,” she remembered.

A local salesman pushing the product and selling thousands of seedlings to speculative farmers eventually sold out—and then he and other marketers dropped off the scene. Consumers never caught on, and each October and November countless thousands of feijoas dropped off their branches to the ground in local groves and gardens—just what’s supposed to happen when the fruits ripen. But they rotted. And the Arizas, who initially planted 300 trees, uprooted all but 36.

But the tide is turning back, Ariza said, and she and her husband’s annual crop of mammoth and triumph pineapple guavas now can’t keep pace with growing consumer demand. Each week at the Sunday Central Farmers’ Market at Eighth and W streets, and the Wednesday and Saturday markets in Davis, the Arizas’ feijoas vanish before the day’s end.

I suppose I’m not helping to thin the queues, so I’ll finish with a tip: Years ago, many feijoa plants were trained into hedges, often to divide yards from sidewalks. Until December, keep your eyes on the ground beneath such shrubbery. You just might find a jackpot of falling feijoas.