When Boyce Thompson founded the Arboretum way back in the days before penicillin and Starbucks, it was with the idea that arid plants should be studied for their value to humans. With that in mind, I have generously undertaken the odious task of sampling various plants around the park to better “understand” their edibility. It’s a difficult job, full of possible danger and woe, but as you might expect from someone who used to listen to Jimi Hendrix at full volume on Klipsch speakers, I am comfortable with danger. I want to share this information with you, dear reader, regardless of the consequences. (And, no, I don’t expect a Nobel Prize for Grazing – if they had one – but would feel a tad thankful if you would submit my name anyway because the prize money could pay for a longer ladder to better pick the ripest fruit.)
Here at the BTA there are common plants such as prickly pear cacti, olive trees, carob trees, cattails, and roses that can provide you with delectable comestibles. (Never had rose petal jelly? Steep two quarts of fragrant pink – not red – petals in hot water and then add pectin and sugar.) But there are also less common plants with more exotic flavors such as Texas persimmon, hackberry, wolfberry, and pindo palm.
It's completely irresponsible for me to say this and there are lawyers who would advise against it (thus the subtle qualifiers), but it is fairly safe to taste (not eat) almost anything in small quantities except for water hemlock, death camas, Albert Camus, and certain mushrooms of the Amanita and Galerina families. Those red berries on the pyracantha? Perfectly edible, but the seeds are, like apple seeds, apparently toxic. Myrtle berries? Not really that tasty but they won’t kill you. Manzanita berries? Now, they are very good to eat. A freshly picked olive is unbelievably bitter until it is “cured” by either salt or poisonous lye. I guess what I’m intimating here is that, in general, people are unreasonably horrified by the idea of tasting unknown wild fruit, just as they are unreasonably horrified by spiders, mice, snakes, clowns, and folks from foreign countries. However, with a little knowledge and curiosity, the world can be your oyster and - who knows? - maybe you can get a pearl out of the deal. (Then again, when it comes to oysters, there’s also a chance of getting vibriosis. That’s the problem with using metaphors - taken too far, they become unrestrained.)
Let’s now move on to the topic at hand – the pineapple guava - which is, confoundingly, neither a pineapple nor a guava. (Pineapples, also misnamed, are neither pines nor apples, so go figure.) The pineapple guava could have just as ridiculously been called a “crocodile pumpkin”, but no, it’s a pineapple guava and the binomial name is Acca sellowiana. This plant is in the myrtle family.
The pineapple guava is either a small tree or a large shrub depending on whether you are a “glass half full or glass half empty” kind of person. It originates in South America which is, to my understanding, where piranhas and llamas live. In the spring, this large shrub-like small tree produces some exotically beautiful blooms that look vaguely like passion flowers. The succulent red and white petals are a sweet delicacy and add nicely to salads provided you eat salad and not just meat and potatoes. So, in the spring, by all means, eat some of the flower petals, taking care not to destroy the flowers entirely in your gluttonous rage because, ultimately, you want them to turn into fruit. In the fall, the fruit develops into something similar in appearance to small green eggs. Since the fruit is green, it is hard to tell by sight when it is ripe. A sure way to get ripe fruit is to lightly shake the limb. What falls to the ground is ready to eat. It is advised not to pick the fruit as it may not yet be ripe. Collect the freshly fallen fruit, cut them in half, and scoop out and eat the pulpy middle (leaving only the skin to compost). You can eat it “as is” or cook it into a jam of some sort. Pineapple guava has a slightly citrusy taste and mealy texture. It’s good but it’s not “mortgage the house and start a pineapple guava farm” good. Would I cross the street to have one? Well, if Selma Hayek (dressed as Frida Kahlo) were handing them out for free then, yes, yes I would.