The first time I saw a feijoa I thought it must be some kind of guava because it looked like a small farang (ฝรั่ง), a Thai guava. Incidentally, farang is also what Thais call foreigners. What do us non-Thais and a tropical fruit have in common? Well, not much except that the fruit version was reportedly brought to Thailand by the Portuguese and so was therefore labelled as farang, meaning foreign thing. There is more to that story but I will spare you the etymology lesson. Anyway, I was keen to try this tiny New Zealand farang and decided, on first taste, that it was bitter and completely awful! The next time the season came round it seemed like everyone I knew was raving about the little buggers to the point that I thought I must’ve made some sort of mistake. I was determined to try again and when someone brought a bag of them in to work, I took one and broke into it. It was sweet and fragrant and had a taste somewhere in between pears and bubblegum. It was not at all bitter. I’d obviously eaten one that was not yet ripe the first time. It’s a good thing I am a try everything twice, sort of girl.
Most Kiwis have a rule of never paying for feijoas because almost everyone has a tree in their garden and, if they don’t, their gran/auntie/brother-in-law/cuzzy bro has one. People who actually pay money for feijoas are seen as suckers. Sadly, I do not have a tree. I am the aforementioned sucker. But being a convert to the joys of the feijoa, I sneak in to the supermarket incognito, look round to be sure nobody in building knows me, and then fill up my basket whilst running to the till. Don’t tell anyone.
Feijoas are not native to New Zealand, however. They were brought from South America in the 1800s. Chutney is not a New Zealand invention either, but feijoa chutney really is something you will find Kiwis making every year in a effort to make use of the thousands of feijoas falling off trees all over the country this time of year. My recipe is a whole fruit version that has a tang not unlike a good British piccalilli only there is no mustard or turmeric so it is not bright yellow. It tastes delicious on a sandwich with a bit of sharp cheddar.
You need these spices tied up in a piece of cheesecloth:
3 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
You also need:
9-10 good sized feijoas (about 1kg)
100g dried peaches or apricots
1 red onion, diced
2cm ginger, grated
2 whole dried chilies
1 stick of cinnamon,around 10cm long
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar (white or cider)
1 tsp salt
What to do:
Place all the items in a pot except for the vinegar and salt and heat through on low heat. Turn everything over a little to be sure that it doesn’t catch on the bottom, but don’t overdo it or the feijoas will eventually break down too much.
Once everything is heated through and the sugar is incorporated, add the vinegar and salt and cook until the whole mixture reduces and thickens to a nice, jam-like consistency.
Taste for flavour in case you like it a bit more salty or vinegary. Remove spice bag and then pour the chutney into clean bottles for preserving unless you are going to eat it straight away. Unbottled (uncanned) chutney needs to be refrigerated but it should keep for a good long time. Either way, it should mellow over time so if it’s a bit too sour for you at first, bottle it and try again in a month or two. This made two big jars for me.