Patrons got to sample a plethora of tropical fruits, enter a watermelon-eating contest and browse the booths of local vendors selling everything from honey to African jewelry, orchids and fruit trees at the annual Summer Fruit Festival, held over Father’s Day weekend at the Fruit and Spice Park in the Redland/Homestead area.
“It was difficult but fun,” said Sabrina Manze of the watermelon-eating contest. A first-time visitor, she traveled from Palm Beach County to the event with her parents and sister to celebrate Father’s Day and her mother’s birthday. “The watermelon was really juicy, and there was a lot to eat.”
“I liked learning about a bunch of new fruits,” she said of the event. “Most I’ve never seen or tried before, like the jackfruit — it tasted like candy.”
“I tried the rose apple,” said her sister, Gabrielle Manze, of the fruit related to guavas. “It literally tasted like a mix between a rose and an apple.”
The Summer Fruit Fest has been an annual June event for 30 years at the park, which was established in 1944 and is owned by the Miami-Dade County Parks Department. Hundreds of varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables and spices are grown on its grounds.
“People come because they’re excited about tropical fruit,” said Fritz Barberousse, a member of the Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Society of the Redland and the International Rare Fruit Council.
Barberousse cut and dished out free samples of hard-to-find fruits at the event. He collected them in a golf cart the day before the weekend festival from the Fruit and Spice Park’s grounds, which span nearly 40-acres. Among them: bright orange mammee fruit.
“Some people say it tastes like their favorite mango. Personally, I think it tastes like apricot,” he said. “That’s why, in my country of Haiti, we call it abriko, which means ‘apricot.’ Other people love it because it’s tender and crunchy.”
Also on his display table of exotic, rare fruits were jaboticabas, dark purple fruits with clear-white insides commonly found in Brazil, where they’re used to make wine, jellies or juice — they can also simply be enjoyed as-is. “You can have at least three crops a year if you take care of the tree,” he said.
He also educated event-goers on the different varieties of jackfruits, which are prickly and green with a dense yellowish inside. When mature, they can be as large as a human toddler. “They can either be crunchy or soft inside,” Fritz said. “You can put the soft kind in a blender, then a strainer — because it’s very fibrous — and get dynamite juice.”
“Plant the seeds,” he yelled after people before they departed.
Although mangoes can’t really be considered rare in South Florida, the varieties can. In front of Fritz’s booth, over 200 varieties of mangoes from India, Asia and other countries were labeled and laid out on a dozen six-by-six-foot tables. All were harvested either at the park, at the USDA’s Subtropical Horticulture Research Station at Chapman Field in Coral Gables, or at the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead. Some mangoes were ripe, but the majority were still hard and green. Fritz attributes it to a damp winter, making this summer’s harvest come much later than usual.
Fruit tastings are offered every day at the Fruit and Spice Park and are included in the $8 admission.
“Everyone who comes to the park gets to taste what’s ripe and ready,” said Jim Stribling, the Park’s manager, of fruit that’s harvested there daily. “We have lychees, mangoes, jackfruit … and some really obscure things like mamey and canistel (egg fruit) — just all kinds of tropical fruits.”
Guided tram tours of the grounds and the many varieties of fruit trees that grow there are included in the price of admission and are available every day, three times a day. “It’s arranged in ethnobotanical regions,” says Stribling, “like a trip around the tropics of the world: the tropical Americas, Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and the Mediterranean.”
The park’s next festival, “GrowFest,” takes place in October and will offer workshops and classes about organic growing.
If you go
Fruit and Spice Park is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. For more information, visit fruitandspicepark.org.