If any fruit could evoke my childhood with one deep inhalation it would have to be the feijoa. There’s something mystical about its flavour, something remarkable that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a fruit which fills the mouth with an unmistakably robust flavour yet somehow still remains subtle.
It’s a mouthful of nostalgia for me. It reminds me of a time and place where houses were separated by trees rather than fences, where I could walk home from school down the middle of the road, where milk bottles were delivered to the letterbox with silver foil caps and where we disappeared for hours on end, roaming about the neighbourhood, completely unaware of any angst our parents were enduring. Ahhhh yes…the sweet taste of childhood. All of this makes me sound rather old, which I shall neither confirm nor deny.
But let’s get back to the humble feijoa before the glass of wine beside me takes hold and all hell breaks loose. Or melancholy ensues. I’m not sure which is worse. The thing about feijoa that reminds me of my youth is that consuming them usually went hand in hand with roaming the streets to pass the time. I never once remember my parents buying a bag at the grocery store. That would have been completely ludicrous, given most people had a tree in their backyard or at least knew of one nearby that they could raid when the light fell low enough. Feijoa trees belonged to the common good, not the property on which they dug their roots. I just can’t bring myself to fork out for a bag, unless it’s an honesty-box roadside stall. As a result feijoa have been notably absent from my autumns in the last few years. Maybe it’s the urban lifestyle most of us lead…not many people I know have an accidental orchard in their backyards.
Fortunately though, I visited friends earlier this week who have cultivated an enviable fruit and vegetable garden including a heavily-laden feijoa tree in desperate need of relief. I was, of course, more than willing to assist. The trick is to retrieve the fallen fruit before they turn into garden mulch, which seems to happen in the blink of an eye. What’s so great about them though is that while they are magnificent sliced through their girth, the flesh scooped out and eaten au naturel with a spoon, they are also unbelievably great cooked, the riper the better. A fresh batch of feijoa jam, stewed with apples or baked in a cake…it’s all happy stomachs as far as I can make out.
A fresh feijoa cake, still warm from the oven, served with greek yoghurt and a cup of tea seems like the perfect antidote to the falling autumn light, shortening days and ever-colder toes. This delicious cake below is one I adapted from the classic Edmonds banana cake recipe. I wanted to make it gluten-free, not only to suit household dietary requirements, but also because I am a huge fan of cakes which use ground almonds as their base. It’s seriously good. So good you just might plant a feijoa tree in your backyard. Or maybe even create a feijoa-tree-map of your neighbourhood, showing which are the easiest to pilfer from without getting caught. Not that you heard it from me.
125g butter – at room temperature
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
300g feijoa pulp – mashed with a fork
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp hot milk
150g ground almonds
165g gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Stir the feijoa pulp and lime zest into the egg mixture, combining well with a large metal spoon.
5. Heat the milk, add the baking soda and stir well until frothy and the baking soda has dissolved.
6. Add to the feijoa mix along with the almonds, flour and baking powder and fold gently together until just combined. Stop stirring as soon as the last scrap of flour disappears. Don’t be tempted to overmix or the cake will be stodgy.
7. Pour the mix into the prepared tin, smooth the top gently with a spatula and bake for approximately 50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Serve warm with a dollop of greek yoghurt on the side and dusting of icing sugar if you feel the need to keep up appearances.