Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Florida Travel Adventure To The Fruit and Spice Park

For years, I've dreamt of visiting the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, FL.  A park that includes over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts from tropical and subtropical climates around the globe.  Spread over 35 acres, guests are allowed to wander about and taste varieties that are ripe.  It's a bit of a park mixed with sort of a wild, hunter and gathering game.  

It's amazing.

But Homestead is about a hot minute north of the Keys.  It's not super close to Fort Lauderdale.  But it's definitely worth a visit and was a surprising highlight of my trip for everyone!

I was nervous about this one as it was my only real request for the visit.  It was HOT and with kids in tow, I wasn't sure how this would pan out.  I wasn't entirely sure what to expect myself, even having read about the park for years.

When you walk in to buy your tickets {incredibly affordable!}, there's a display of fruits that are currently ripe for you to sample.  It was a fun way to start sort of an unknown adventure.  Of this display, but far our favorites were the Mamey Sapote and the Olosapo.  My least favorites were the Red Mangosteen {a disappointment as I expected to enjoy it but it was so tart and astringent} and the Bilimbi.

Godson J was on a mission to find and taste a Jackfruit.  They were in prime season and if I am being honest, it was one of the biggest draws for me too.  I've read about them, seen YouTube videos, poured over Instagram posts about them, and known about their exquisite flavor for years.  Do you remember eating Juicy Fruit gum as a kid?  The flavor of that gum is based off Jackfruit.  Godson J was all too pleased to pose next to this one ripening in the Park Store before we set off on our adventure.

Right outside the entrance I spotted something I've wanted to try for years {this bit about me wanting to try things is going to be a running theme in this post...so prepare yourself}.  Ice Cream Bean.  The brown, sort of fuzzy pod falls from the tree when ripe.  You open it up to find fuzzy white pods that look questionable at best.  I knew exactly what it was though so I was thrilled to taste.  It's said to taste similar to vanilla ice cream, and that's pretty accurate.  The texture though is a lot like fairy floss or cotton candy.  It's strange to wrap your head around the flavor and texture combination.  But we all liked it and it was the perfect start to our adventure.

We never figured out what Goddaughter E is holding here.  But she was such a rock star at foraging!

So let me explain how the Fruit and Spice Park works.  You are allowed to eat the fruit.  BUT...you may not pick anything.  You are only permitted to eat fruit that falls to the ground, which is what fruit does when it's ripe, contrary to popular belief.  And you are not allowed to take fruit off the property.  It's fine to find it, carry it around, and eat it while there.  But you are not allowed to take it home.

I knew the rules and packed plastic utensils in my purse.  They proved so handy.  What I did not anticipate was how disgusting we all were at the end.  The sweat, dirt, and fruit juice combination left us all dreaming of a bath.  Next time I will bring an entire pack of baby wipes.  Live and learn.

We spotted Jackfruit all over the place.  On the tree and unripe, as well as off the tree and overripe.  

The Fruit and Spice park includes 70 varieties of bananas.  Not 70 banana plants {they're a plant, not a tree}, but 70 different kinds of banana plants.  

Hold please while I shimmy up my soapbox for a moment.  Guess how many varieties are represented in the average grocery store?  Guess.  Did you guess?  

If you said more than one, you're incorrect.  

One variety, the Cavendish Banana, is what you see in almost every grocery store.  Be it a non organic or organic banana.  And 100% of those, that's right, both non organic and organic, are gassed in order to ripen them.  They're picked so early and then gassed to manipulate when they ripen.

And those Cavendish bananas are in no way, shape, or form in your grocery store because of flavor.  Actually nothing is in your produce department because of flavor.  Not one thing.  They are there because they check all the boxes of shipping and aesthetics.  They look nice.  

Scooting off my soapbox...

Bestie Florida isn't the biggest banana fan but we were all blown away by the amazing flavors we tasted.  I'd love to taste more {she doesn't know that I've also had my heart set on going to a banana specific park for years too} to get a feel for the different flavor profiles.

I took a lot of photos, thinking I would remember everything, but in the weeks that have passed, I sadly don't.  Hopefully we'll go back again so I can get a better feel for the different fruits.  I think this is perhaps a Canistel fruit, which is also known as an egg fruit. 

Above though was definitely a Sapote tree of some sort.  Perhaps Mamey Sapote, my new favorite fruit?  Hard to tell.  It was one of the fruits listed below.

I knew Jackfruits were huge.  But was just blown away seeing them in person.

For those who asked me on Instagram, this is not Durian.  Which is known in a lot of places as Stinky Cheese Fruit or Stinky Feet Fruit.  This is not that.  It's in the same family, I believe, but not the same.  

Jackfruit though, is amazing.  It grows up to 100 lbs and hangs onto the side of the tree.  Zoom in to see the bumpy, almost spiky, texture.  It's the largest edible tree fruit.

Above and below is a Sausage Tree.  It's an African species that fruits all year round.  The flowers are nocturnal and pollinated by bats in Africa.  In Florida though, they're typically pollinated by hand.  Sausage fruits are not edible.  They are however, giggle inducing.

The Sausage Tree flowers are just as wild looking as the fruit!

I was delighted at how the kids got so into foraging for new fruits!  We all jumped into the experience and rooted around on the ground for new things to taste.  It was a wild and free day and I felt about seven years old again!

Have you ever tasted fresh tamarind?  It's pretty common in South Florida in drinks or dried or in candy, but this was my very first time tasting it fresh.  If you're unfamiliar, it has a very sweet/tart taste to it.  I love it, but it's probably a bit of acquired taste.

Goddaughter E is holding the holy grail of bananas.  It was the sweetest, creamiest, most delicious banana any of us had experienced.  But we have no idea what variety it was.  Sad but true tales of foraging.  We loved it though!

Above is the worst photo that I regret not staging better of the best fruit I tasted all day.  One of my new favorite fruits, actually.  The Mamey Sapote.  It's known as the Pumpkin Pie Fruit but both Bestie Florida and I thought it tasted like sweet roasted sweet potato.  Either way, it was flipping amazing!  The texture, color, and flavor were delicious. 

But an amusing note is that when I found this, I quickly realized my plastic cutlery were not going to open it.  So I threw it down on the ground to get it open.  I can't stress enough how the five of us {three adults and two kiddos} embraced this out of the box experience.  We had a ball!

Wildlife.  We've all seen bigger but I thought y'all might not be used to seeing Iguanas so I snapped a few pics.  They're such a ridiculously invasive species but there's also something cool about looking at a dinosaur up close.

As much as I enjoy lychees and longans {we were able to try them that day but I've also had them many times in the past as they are common in Chinese dishes}, you don't get a lot of bang for your buck.  But it was fun to taste them fresh from the tree all the same.

No idea what this yellow flower is but it was so unique.  Can you see how many flowers are on the same stem?  I've never seen anything like it.

I really only have two complaints about the Fruit and Spice Park.  The first is that there aren't water fountains or water stations of any kind scattered about.  We brought water bottles with us but could have easily consumed more.  The second is that not everything is labeled.  Some things are easy to figure out, but then you can go rows of trees and not spot a single sign to tell you what you're looking at.  

I loved this Tropical Asian greenhouse.  Not only was it awesome to see so many varieties but I thought the dome of the greenhouse itself was lovely.  

We were sadly there at the end of mango season.  There were tons of mangoes on the ground, but even with five sets of eyes, we never found one that was edible   Oh well, next time.  I ate about one mango a day on my trip, so it's not as if I was short on mangoes.  It would have been fun to taste test other varieties though!

I forget what these are called.  Wax Apple, maybe?  Maybe not?  We had mixed reviews.  Little Sister liked it, I was meh on it.  They were plentiful though.  And pretty.

The property at the Fruit and Spice Park is stunning.  Laid out really well, easy to walk around, and lots of space to explore.  

Sadly, we never found a ripe Jackfruit for Godson J to taste at the park.  So we did a quick Google search and headed Robert Is Here Fruit and Farm Stand.  This place is famous and if you are ever in the Miami, Homestead, or Keys areas, you need to go experience the rare and exotic fruity wonders.

By this point though, we were all on our last legs.  We had an amazing time at Fruit and Spice Park but were hot, sticky, and exhausted.  All I really wanted was to get J his Jackfruit and myself a giant iced coffee.  They sadly had no coffee.  How one can be this close to Little Havana and not offer some sort of coffee is beyond me, but they had just about every variety of rare fruit one could imagine so I shall forgive them.  We got the Jackfruit and headed home.  We were soooo far south at this point and all needed some AC and a shower.

The verdict on the Jackfruit was mixed.  No one hated it.  {How's that for a glowing review?}. I have seen so many videos of people praising the deliciousness of Jackfruit that I expected to love it.  I'm a fruit person so it's rare I don't get excited about things.  But it was just sort of okay for me.  Actually, I think that's how we all felt.  It wasn't as sweet as I expected.  It wasn't the flavor I expected.  It wasn't the texture I expected.  It was just okay.  I don't think I would buy it again, to be honest.  There are a lot of other things I loved a whole heck of a lot more.  I'm glad we all tried it but don't need to run out to try it again.  

All in all, our day at the Fruit and Spice Park was outstanding.  I loved the park, I loved my time with my favorite people, I loved feeling so free to wander around and get dirty, and I loved that we all had this first time experience together.  It was an adventure I would do all over again in a heartbeat!


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