Fruit sleuth David Karp was in southern Florida recently to photograph loquats and ran onto something else - a "fruit zoo!" He told Lynne about what he found:
David: South of Miami in Homestead and Florida City (Everglades country) lies a unique niche of tropical agriculture. All sorts of tender plants, and especially fruits, flourish here in the warm and humid climate. There are groves of mangoes, papayas, starfruit, sapotes, and rarities like lychees and their smaller brother (longans) with their honeydew-gardenia flavor. In Homestead the Fruit & Spice Park is akin to a "fruit zoo" and it's open to the public.
What is the Fruit & Spice Park like?
David: It's a fertile swath of land, about 30 acres, where you are free to wander about the collection of over 500 unusual fruits, spices, and herbs. You can explore by yourself or join the tour that leaves several times a day. Visitors are free to sample fruits lying on the ground, but are not allowed to pick anything from the trees. The best way to really enjoy the park is to wander off the paths and just observe the amazing variety of nature - jackfruit, 100 varieties of citrus, 65 varieties of bananas, 40 varieties of grapes, and 60 bamboo varieties. But the most fun are the exotics.
Are all of these fruits edible?
David: Most are edible to some degree and many are delicious. But watch out for the ackee, a notorious relative of the lychee. In the Caribbean it's relished as the "scrambled egg fruit" because it tastes just like it and is often eaten with salt cod for breakfast. But it's poisonous before it's ripe, when it splits open. Then there's the candlefruit, a long, thin white fruit that is palatable only for cattle.
Is there a best time of year to visit?
David: There will be some fruits ripe at any time of year but if you like mangoes you might time your visit to coincide with the international Mango Festival held each year at the nearby Fairchild Tropical Gardens.
Is there somewhere to buy fruit?
David: Locals directed me to the "Robert is Here" fruit stand in Florida City. I bought a bag of Key limes and a box of sapodillas, a tan fruit with the texture of a pear and a succulent taste of brown sugar. It's rare to find outside the tropics.
Fruit & Spice Park
24801 SW 187th Avenue
Homestead, FL 33031
Fairchild Tropical Gardens
11935 Old Cutler Road
Miami, FL 33156
Robert is Here Fruit Stand
19900 SW 344th Street
Homestead, FL 33034