FEIJOA: A story of Obsession and Belonging With Kate Evans

Jacqui chats to local Kate Evans about the launch of her first book.

Tell us about  FEIJOA: A story of Obsession and Belonging

FEIJOA is the wild true story of how feijoas became the unofficial national fruit of New Zealand, despite hailing from South America, an ocean and a continent away. You’ll meet feijoa obsessives in Colombia, California, France and Golden Bay, and learn about all the different kinds of relationships people have with plants. There are recipes, songs, stories, science and indigenous knowledge from Brazil, Uruguay and Aotearoa. 

What propelled you to write about the subject?

I lived overseas for 12 years, mainly in Australia, but other countries too. Whenever I managed to get my hands on a feijoa, it seemed to magically transport me to my parents’ orchard in Leigh, where I grew up. When my Aussie partner and I moved to Auckland right before I turned 30, I was super excited for feijoa season. But having spent a lot of time in South America, I thought, “that’s funny… Why do we think they’re such a New Zealand thing, when they’re not even from here?” 

The American writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov wrote that the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…” Though I’m not a scientist, that question was certainly the catalyst for a whole bunch of new discoveries for me, too. 

The other thing that separates feijoas from other fruits is the way they are so often gifted–among friends, work colleagues, neighbours and strangers. They forge relationships in a way few other foods do. In the book I tried to get to the bottom of why that is, what they mean to us, how they’ve changed us–and how we’ve changed them.  

Can you describe the process? How long have you spent on the project?

The book basically took my entire thirties to complete. I got pregnant with my first child (Amalia) the same year I started researching the book and then we had another one (Indigo) two years later. Because my day job as a freelance journalist is so similar to the process of book-writing, I found I couldn’t work on it in the evenings after writing all day (and I’m a troll in the mornings so that was out, too.) I ended up taking a month or two off work each year to do research trips and write a few chapters–none of which I could have done without my partner Sam!

At various stages I pitched the book to different publishers and received many rejections. But I couldn’t let go of the idea, and in 2019 I got funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and Creative New Zealand which paid for the field trips to South America and Europe. Finally, in 2022, after I’d written a draft of almost the entire book, I got an offer from Moa Press, a new NZ imprint of international publishers Hachette. They’ve been amazing. We spent about a year polishing the manuscript and working on the cover, design, and other things…and now I’m 40 and it’s here at last, a real book! 

Have you included your Raglan connection?

One of the things the publishers wanted me to do was make the book more personal, so there is a little of me, my family and our lives here in Whāingaroa in the book. Karioi is in there, and the pīpīwharauroa that arrive each year in our garden. The epic feijoa tree behind the HQ co-working space also gets a special mention. 

This is your first book. Is it something you have always wanted to do? What is your background with writing ?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer but for a long time I don’t think I allowed myself to believe that a whole book was something I could pull off! I started out working in TV which is quite a different sort of writing. But then I shifted over to magazines and science writing and have been working as a professional print journalist for nearly a decade now. I’m glad the book took so long, because I’m a much better writer now than I was when I began it! 

When is it out and how can locals pick one up? 

FEIJOA comes out on February 27, just in time for feijoa season (though it seems to be running later this year than the last few!) Locals can pick up a copy at Zinnia — which has an amazing range of books — or online. 

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