If you met a feijoa on the street, how would you say hello? You could greet it in Spanish (fay-ho-ah), Brazilian (Fay-zhwa), or as they do down under in Australia and New Zealand (fee-joe-ah). Or you could chuck all that and simply call it a pineapple guava. It will answer to any of these names and then happily offer itself to you so you can eat it up.
They’re funny things, feijoas are. The blossoms are beauties — and edible, too. The fruits themselves are odd: mottled green torpedos with fuzzy little antlers. (If you drew a face on a feijoa, it would make a pretty good Muppet.) That starburst of scarlet stamens dries up into hard little bristles that you sometimes have to pick out of your preserving bowl. On the inside, the flesh of feijoas is subtly gritty; they’re sandy enough that some people just don’t like them.
I like feijoas very much. They have an intriguing, candy-sweet fragrance. (A friend says it reminds her of Pez candy. When’s the last time you smelled those?) It’s difficult to describe the taste. In her book The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, Linda Ziedrich says, “The sweet, highly perfumed flesh reminds people of pineapple, guava, strawberry, or a combination of these.” (Her book contains a recipe for a nice, low-sugar feijoa jam for the fridge.)
The Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota does a good job of summing up the entire experience of a feijoa, including the parts that make some people go “ick”: “The thick, white, granular, watery flesh and the translucent central pulp enclosing the seeds are sweet or sub-acid, suggesting a combination of pineapple and guava or pineapple and strawberry, often with overtones of wintergreen or spearmint.”
Given all of that, strawberries seemed like a natural partner for feijoas in a jam. The flavors are a great match. The berries smooth out the texture of the feijoas somewhat, and they definitely improve the color. (Feijoas are not a knockout color to start with, and they easily oxidize and turn brown.) We can get decent strawberries at our farmers markets here in California in November, but the ones I used are my favorite local berries, which I froze at the height of their flavor in June.
Personally, I adore this jam, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess that tasters have given mixed reports. Last year, I offered three different jars of jam to an organization for their winter silent auction, and the person who won the jams contacted me to see whether she could get more of this jam, in particular. She loved it. On the other hand, a good friend with impeccable taste dipped into an open jar the other day and scrunched up her face. “It’s the grittiness,” she said, “I don’t think I like feijoas.” So you’re on notice. Weirdly, I find the grit interesting and even entertaining. And it completely disappears when the jam is on toast: Is that my toast or my jam that’s crunchy? Who knows!
Two things to know about preserving feijoas: One is that they are not highly acidic. I have read that they are on the borderline of safe pH for canning (though I wasn’t able to find the exact value), so do use tested recipes if you want to seal them in jars. Between the strawberries and the added lemon juice, this jam recipe is thoroughly acidified. I tested the final product with a commercial pH meter and got a reading of 3.11, way below the safe mark of 4.6 — so no worries here. The other thing to keep in mind is that most of the pectin is in the skin. To capture the pectin and ensure a good set, this recipe includes a cup of feijoa juice made from the skins. It’s all described below . . .
Strawberry Feijoa Jam
2 1/4 pounds feijoa flesh (weigh after peeling)*
1 pound strawberries
4 cups sugar
2 ounces lemon juice (6 tablespoons)
1 cup feijoa juice
1. Rinse the feijoas, cut off the blossom ends (the ends with the hairy antlers), and slice the fruits lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Put the flesh into a large bowl and, at the same time, drop the skins into a large, nonreactive saucepot. (You will use these skins to make the juice in Step 3.) Mash the flesh with a potato masher and set aside.
2. Rinse, hull, and roughly chop the strawberries — or get ‘em out of the freezer if that’s where they are. Add the strawberries to the bowl with the feijoa flesh, then add the sugar and lemon juice to this bowl and set it aside.
3. Make the feijoa juice by covering the peels with water until they are submerged by about 1 inch and simmering for 20 – 25 minutes. Strain out the peels. (You will have a lot more juice than you need. I think this is a good thing, because you can refrigerate or freeze that juice to make a wonderful feijoa syrup later; see below.) Add 1 cup of feijoa juice to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients, gently mix, cover tightly, and place in the fridge to macerate for about 24 hours.
1. Sterilize your jars and place 5 metal teaspoons on a small plate in the freezer, to test your jam for doneness later.
2. Transfer the contents of the bowl to your jam pan. Heat the mixture on medium, stirring frequently until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring as needed to prevent sticking or burning. (If it starts to stick at any point, turn down the heat a bit.) Use a shallow, stainless-steel spoon to skim some of the stiff foam off the top of the mixture as it cooks, taking care not to scoop up the jam liquid as you do so. You may also want get in there with your potato masher again if you feel moved to do so. In my 11-quart copper jam pan, the total cooking time for this jam is 20-24 minutes. Watch the mixture and test it when it starts to thicken up, the foam settles down, and the bubbles become small and shiny.
To test your jam for doneness: Remove the pan from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a little bit of jam — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture just fails to run and is thick and gloppy when you push it with your finger, it’s done. If the jam isn’t ready, cook it a few minutes more.
3. When the jam is done, ladle or pour the hot mixture into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the jar rims clean and secure the lids. Process 10 minutes in a hot-water bath canner.
Yields about 6 half pints.
*If you don’t have enough feijoas, or if you prefer more strawberry, you can change the proportions of fruit to include more or mostly berries — just shoot for 3 1/4 pounds of fruit overall, and keep in mind that changing the proportions may change your cooking time, as well.
Bonus Feijoa Syrup
You can use the leftover juice from the jam recipe to make an easy feijoa syrup for homemade sodas or cocktails. Simply combine 1 part juice with .75 parts sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes. Skim off the little bit of skin that might form on top of the syrup, let it cool, and bottle it for the fridge. I like to add some chopped, fresh ginger while the syrup simmers, and then the juice of a couple of limes after I remove the syrup from the heat. Experiment! (But please remember this syrup isn’t for canning. Store it in the fridge or freezer.)