Waitakere Writerss

Bringing in a new plant? Really …?

No I’m not kidding. It was during the ‘70’s when the DSIR, the department of scientific and industrial research had brought in a new fruit from Ecuador, the Babaco, a subtropical species of the papaya family and unlike the mountain paw paw to which it was closely related it was 5x the size, had no seeds and an edible skin seemed to be an unbelievable phenomena, the powerful enzyme the fruit contained, was useful as a meat tenderizer and also prevented a headache if taken after heavy alcohol consumption.

As this fruit was a sterile hybrid it could only be propagated from live cuttings, which the local growers used to multiply the plant, one reason why this fruit was only grown in Ecuador. Another reason that the plant remained only in Ecuador was the fear of undesirable pathogens entering other countries carried by live plant material as well as applying skilled techniques to propagate the plant from cuttings.

When my husband Dick Endt and I set out to establish this new fruit crop in New Zealand we faced quite daunting obstacles, for one we could not speak Spanish, knew no-one in Ecuador, had no money or time and were committed to be with our three children.

In spite of all this we managed to overcome all these hurdles and found ourselves in this strange Spanish speaking country, with a bilingual companion our commitments left in the capable hands of family and friends. Many trials and tribulations later we managed to establish a stock block with fruiting Babaco plants.

The next stage began with the marketing — an unknown fruit — a huge challenge!

I decided to create new recipes and together with my daughter’s explanatory pen drawings we packed these pamphlets into the Tamarillo boxes pasting newly designed labels on these before sending them to the auction market.

This was a start but as our crop increased we planned to have a seminar. This was a new idea, not often employed. I presold 100 tickets and busied myself creating and publishing a recipe book, illustrated by our daughter Monique, a commercial cook was engaged to make up some of the recipes which we planned to display on the Kiwifruit grader in our packing shed. Dick had a 1000 potted Babaco pants for sale plus I had requested some help from our family and overseas friends who happened to be staying with us. We could not believe how many people came instead of the expected 100 it ended up with 400, an overwhelming success.

A year later we founded the Babaco Association and together with the female members we staged promotions in all the supermarkets using expensive designed packaging which was discarded by the produce managers staff. It was my mistake for not discussing the project with the produce managers, but you would have thought some common sense would have prevailed. A project for bottled juice was curtailed due to lack of finance during the 1987 financial crash, leaving us with 50 tonnes of frozen Babaco fruit in the freezers which we ended up dumping, then negative TV footage supplied by a couple of disgruntled growers became the final straw.

I was a sad end to a promising project.


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