Beverly “Becky” Campbell, known to fruit lovers throughout South Florida for her tropical fruit dishes, died Dec 12 in her home in Homestead.
The wife of internationally known tropical fruit exert Dr. Carl Campbell, Becky Campbell complemented her husband’s career by experimenting with ways to utilize fruits such as carambolas, passion fruit, litchis and tamarinds.
Her cooking became legendary — except that she refused to cook a mango, believing it best eaten fresh. She did, however, develop techniques for drying mangos long before it became a common practice.
Campbell was 80 and had recently suffered a fall.
For years, she and her husband set up displays and taught newcomers how to grow and use mangos at such events in South Florida as the Ag Fiesta at the Fruit and Spice Park — a tradition carried on at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden as the annual International Mango Festival.
Dr. Richard J. Campbell, their son, is director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild.
For weeks prior to the festival, Becky Campbell set up some 20 fruit dehydrators in her recreation room and dried mango slices by the hundreds. Eventually, she developed an allergy to the fruit’s skin, so her husband would have to peel them. Nonetheless, Becky’s face and hands would swell gradually during the day, so she would take allergy pills and stop for the afternoon. The next morning, she’d be right back at the fruit driers.
Born in Edwardsville, Ill., on April 13, 1932, Becky was a home economics major at Illinois State University, where she met her husband. She eventually dropped out of school so he could earn his doctorate while she reared their five kids. The home ec training came in handy when the children — and a professor’s salary — were small.
“She taught me all about how to make a really good meal out of nothing,’’ daughter Nan recalled.
Nan Campbell recalled “an idyllic” childhood, with time spent in the woods, the Everglades and at the beach. Becky allowed them to play in the woods barefoot, only telling the children to be back at a certain time.
Nan Campbell recalled her mother mentoring young Homestead women entering the Job Corps in the 1960s and ’70s.
After Carl retired from the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, the Campbells lived for a year in Honduras.
“They had a maid, but mom didn’t want the maid to cook,” said son Rob Campbell. “Hondurans are crazy for cake. A bottle of rum costs $2 but a cake costs $3, so the maid asked Mom if she would teach her daughter to make cakes. Mom sent back to the United States for cake decorating equipment, and that gave the daughter a trade for life.”
Becky, whose parents started a bakery to pay rent in the Depression, once baked a wedding cake for a friend that ended up too big to get out the door of her house. “They had to take out a jalousie window to get it out,” Rob said.
Becky’s love of baking was passed on to son Richard, who once quipped that he only like two types of his mother’s pies: hot and cold.
She is also survived by daughter Lori and son Craig.
Becky Campbell’s ashes will be spread in the back yard of her home, where Carl’s were scattered.
A memorial bench is being planned for the edible garden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.