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Taste of the tropics

By Staff | Jun 28, 2013

Longan fruit, jackfruit, sapote fruit, even lychee – not the most common household foods.

However, the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange and the UF/IFAS Lee County Extension Office hope to change that by hosting the fifth annual Taste of Lee event Saturday in downtown Fort Myers.

“We’ve wanted to get a venue where people of Lee County and other counties could taste what the local farmers and their neighbors are growing,” Karen Headlee, with the Lee County Extension Office, said.

Ed Wilson, president of the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange, explained that many people are familiar with apples, oranges, peaches or such, but few know about all the tropical fruits that can be grown locally.

“This is an opportunity for them to come taste what can be grown here,” he said.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Fort Myers, at 1735 Jackson St.

General admission is $2; children ages 12 and under are free. Parking is also free.

There is typically about two dozen vendors each year, with many offering products to buy.

“They have to bring a taste also – something to sample,” Headlee said.

She estimated that there alone will be about five different mangos available to taste.

“There will be plates and plates of mangos, and jackfruit and longan berries,” Headlee said.

“It’s kind of an all-around educational program for tropical fruit in our area,” she said. “The wide variety of tropical fruits we have on display to taste – it’s a lot of fun.”

Wilson agreed.

“For $2, they can do a lot of looking and talking and tasting,” he said.

There will also be products made with the exotic fruit.

Wilson explained that there will be different types of homemade ice cream, including avocado and passion fruit, as well as various fruit salsas and smoothies and baked goods made out of black sapote.

“People are surprised, but it is really good,” he said of the avocado ice cream.

Along with the exotic fruit, there will be locally grown vegetables, herbs, seafood and cheese.

“It’s to expose the general public to what can be harvested here, not only from trees or vegetables, but from the sea,” Wilson said.

Master gardeners will be on hand to answer any questions.

“We have one person that comes and sells fruit trees,” Headlee said.

For the second year in a row, the event will also offer classes to the public. There are classes about herbs, making tea, preserving fruits, growing tropical trees and Florida native edibles scheduled.

“We wanted to make it a little educational,” she said.

There is no registration required, and the classes each take approximately 30 minutes.

Hourly raffles are scheduled, and prizes were provided by the vendors.

“We have tons of free stuff,” Headlee said.

A Carmen Miranda look-alike contest will be held at noon, which is open to both the adults and children. The youth winner wins $25, and the winner of the adult contest will take home $50.

“They just need to show up around noon, dressed up, and the audience votes,” she said.

According to organizers, the event draws between 1,200 and 1,500 people annually.

Wilson explained that many thoroughly enjoy it and become repeat visitors.

“Some come back every year because they like what they taste,” he said.

The Lee County Parks and Recreation Department oversees the Lee County Extension Office.

For information, call (239) 533-7504 or visit: lee.ifas.ufl.edu or www.leeparks.org.

The Lee County Extension Office is at 3406 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers.

The Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange meets at 7 p.m., usually on the first Tuesday of each month.

Membership is $22.50 for the first year and $15 for each additional year.

“We have speakers. Sometimes we bring in people from the other coast to address a topic,” Wilson said. “It’s a how to type of organization. We learn how to grow and care for tropical fruit plants.”

For more information, visit the club’s Web site online at: crfe.org/.