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Mango Cafe at the Fruit and Spice Park

Recently, farmer Margie Pikarsky and her husband Nick, daughter Rachel and my friend John DeFaro joined me for lunch at the Mango Cafe, located at the Fruit and Spice Park. The Cafe is by the park’s main entrance, inside a rustic wooden house. We were there for the fruit sampler, made fresh daily from whatever fruits are ripe that day in the park. Talk about extreme locavore! But the sampler was sold out so we had to console ourselves with other fresh, local delicacies like Florida lobster roll, shrimp tacos, and mango-passionfruit shakes.

John DeFaro and Margie Pikarsky dig in to lunch. On the wall behind is a picture of the Redland District Band of 1913, and a Redland District tour guide from the 1930s.

The wooden house is not as old as it looks. It’s a reproduction. The original was built in 1902 by pioneer settler John Bauer, and got destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The replica was rebuilt with FEMA funds and completed in 2002. Inside the house (where the original living and dining rooms would have been), framed old photos and maps lined the walls. Over by the front door was a map with charred edges. It’s the original planting guide that had been saved from a fire. By our table was a series of pictures of the first land survey for the park in 1944, the year the park opened. Sixty eight years ago the land was almost completely barren, except for a scattering of royal palms and Australian pines. Big difference between then and now!

Now the 37 acre county park is lush with over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts, some you may have heard of, and many you might not have. Tram tours will take you around, and the guide will fill you in about the plants and the history of the park. Where else in Miami would you find 150 varieties of mangos, 75 varieties of bananas, crimson gak fruit, sensitive cacao growing sheltered in a heated greenhouse, or annatto to stain your fingertips bright orange?

Park manager Chris Rollins

Fruit and Spice Park is also the site for many events and festivals throughout the year. Coming up this month is the Redland Heritage Festival, which will feature historical exhibits, local arts and crafts, and an Everglades reptile show. At one Heritage Festival a few years ago, I remember admiring a collection of vintage tractors, and at another sampling a variety of mangoes. Coming up later in the year, the park will also host the Asian Culture festival, the Redland International Orchid Show, and summer’s Mango Mania.

If you haven’t been to the park, go! It’s nothing you’ve seen before. If you haven’t gone in a while, go again. They’ve added an herb garden and a large pond edged with many varieties of bamboo. The place changes as different plants bloom and bear at different times of the year. Word to the curious — please don’t pick fruits off trees, but you may taste what has fallen to the ground. Most plants or fruits are safe to nibble, unless a sign warns otherwise.

37th Annual Redland Heritage Festival
January 21 and 22, 2012 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission $8 (children 11 and under are free)

Fruit and Spice Park
24801 SW 187 Ave. Homestead FL
305-247-5727

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