This weekend was a big one for farmers and gardeners in north Florida and South Georgia. The New Leaf Market Farm Tour attracts an ever-growing crowd to its 32 participating farms, backyard gardens and dairies. We often spend the entire weekend touring farms right near our home in Monticello. But this year, we were a little behind in our own planting and autumn chores. So we decided to make a morning visit to Just Fruits and Exotics, a teaching orchard and nursery in Crawfordville, Florida. If you’re interested in learning how to grow fruit trees, it’s the place to go. They sell their stock via mail order from their website, www.justfruitsandexotics.com. The site is jam-packed with some of the best growing information I’ve found for almost every type of edible, so drop in and check it out. The nursery carries an amazing array of fruit, along with herbs and vegetables, and a selection of ornamentals for your garden.
One of my favorite things about Just Fruits and Exotics is that they almost always have a tasting table set up. You may sample the delicious and sometimes unusual fruits that are grown right on site. This weekend, the table offered an inviting and intriguing selection of fresh, ripe persimmons, strawberry guava, roasted chestnuts, marinated olives, and dried jujubas. I think I sampled more than my share!
The persimmons were new to me and so outstanding in beauty and maple-jammy flavor, that I brought home a persimmon tree (variety Makawajiro). This gorgeous tree brings wonderful drama to the garden in the fall, with its beautiful shape and bright orange, apple-sized fruit. We also purchased a couple of pineapple guava shrubs that have lovely silvery-blue leaves and produce an excellent fruit that is redolent of strawberry, pineapple and melon. It is extremely nutritious and is reknowned for making excellent jams, chutneys and glazes for meats and poultry. Brandi was kind enough to share some just-picked fruit with me, and the sweet, golden jam that I made this morning is now cooling on the counter. Brandi asked me to make a chutney as well and that is bubbling in the slow cooker along with apples, raisins, onions, garlic, cider vinegar, sugar and spices. It will smell pretty amazing in an hour or two, and I think it will be an excellent accompaniment to the pork tenderlion we’re grilling for dinner this evening. Thanks, Brandi–I’ll share the recipe with you!
Another exciting purchase was an olive tree, a specimen that I’ve been wanting to add to our ever-growing edibles collection. The excellent marinated olives on the tasting table won me over, along with Brandi’s claim that curing and marinating your own olives is as easy as 1-2-3! The Arbequina olive tree has lovely gray-green foliage and the small olives develop into a beautiful purple-burgundy as they ripen on the tree. I really can’t wait until it fruits, but it will be at least a year.
Along with our fruit trees, we made enough room in the trunk to add some ornamentals for our window boxes and containers. I was happy to see that Just Fruits and Exotics carries Proven Winners plants. They are one of my favorite brands for dependable and gorgeous ornamentals. The window boxes are now packed with antique trailing rose Flying Colors (Diascia hybrid), pink and white dianthus, Creeping Jenny and a few pansies. The containers are filled with coleus and Diamond Frost Euphorbia, which has been growing and blooming its airy white flowers since springtime!
Our drive back to Cowlick Cottage took us along the Coastal Highway, which boasts access to beaches, Wakulla Springs, and state parks. We cruised down to the water’s edge and feasted on steaming plates of fresh shrimp and oysters steamed on the grill in garlic butter for lunch. We’ll be back to visit in a few weeks for the Stone Crab Festival. But right now, it’s time to get back home and plant!