Friday, December 7, 2012 at 7:19 a.m.
Although there are literally hundreds of varieties, one of the more versatile is known as a Hawaiian apple banana for its sweet-tart taste, similar to that of an apple.
But where can you find them here in South Florida? Typically found at your local specialty or Asian market, if you buy any in the area, they may be from the Patal family's Yagnapurus Farm.
Over a canal, down a winding, narrow dirt path and past an old, iron gate in the backwoods of Loxahatchee you'll find Yagnapurus Farm.
Well, if you're lucky you'll find it. With nothing but GPS you'll wind up clear across town (the address often diverts customers to another address a few miles north), or debating whether or not you'll go down the near-hidden path that leads into a seeming uninhabited property.
However, once inside the 20-acre tropical fruit farm you will find the warm, smiling faces of the Patal family, who recently bought the farm in March. Here, they offer the bounty of the farm's main crop: lychee -- but also seasonally available pomelos, jack fruit, kaffir limes and -- harvested year round -- Thai bananas.
The Patal family, originally from India, moved to South Florida in the early 1990s, where they settled in Coconut Creek. By day, owner Nibodh Patal is a pharmacist, and his wife Tejal a physical therapist. Little did she know that, one day, she and her family would be living in Loxahatchee, tending to over 1,000 lychee trees and about 900 Thai banana plants.
"This is all new to me. I have no experience with farming, pruning, irrigation, or sprinklers -- but I'm learning," Tejal told Clean Plate Charlie. "This is my husband's thing. He grew up on a farm."
The Patals bought the farm from its founder, Croatian-born Danica Bosnjak, who opened the wholesale and retail Milan Farm named after her late husband in 2001 after planting each of the farm's lychee trees. She sold the farm to the Patals earlier this year, a family that -- like Bosnjak -- had a passion for farming exotic fruits.
"I grew up on a farm in India, where my father grew pomegranate and guava for close to 60 years," said Nibodh. "We don't do this for profit. This is just something we love to do."
Today it is Nibodh's father -- Sharduhl Patal -- who runs the show. While the entire family, including daughter Shreya and son Parth, help to manage the work, at close to 80-years-old it is not unusual to find their grandfather walking the grounds daily, trimming trees and helping with the harvesting.
The farm's main crop, the lychee, are just one of about 15 tropical fruits gorwn in Florida, on a list alongside the more mundane mangoes, coconuts, guava and papays, or exotic finds like jack fruit, starfruit, jaboticaba, dragonfruit, Surinam cherries, sapotes and sapodilla.
At Yagnapurus, lychees are harvested annually during season, which ranges from May to early July, with each tree capable of yielding anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of fruit during a good harvest. Last year was not so prolific, according to the Patals, and the harvest season lasted just two weeks.
Thai bananas are available year-round, however, sold in 30-pound boxes at $25 to $27 per box. The banana flowers, stems and leaves are also sold per pound. To place an order, simply call the farm, and schedule a pick-up time. Produce is harvested fresh, packaged and delivered same-day for both local and national deliveries that inlcude area wholesale retailers, restaurants, grocery stores and fresh food markets.
Shorter and tougher than conventional bananas, all parts of the plant are sold and eaten, including the stems, leaves and flowers, which are used in number of Caribbean, African, Burmese and Thai dishes. The bananas themselves are eaten in each of their various stages of ripeness, from green all the way to black.
"Even if they turn black, they are still good -- and you can keep them in your house up to a month and they don't go bad," said Streya. "Here, we wait for them to get black, because that's when they taste best. They don't get mushy or slimy like [conventional] bananas."
Interested in placing an order? The farm delivers across Palm Beach County from Palm Beach Gardens south to Boynton Beach. Fruit is also available for pick-up at the farm. During lychee season, customers can purchase any of three varieties -- Hap Ip, Mauritius and Brewster -- in 10, 25 and 30-pound boxes for $3 to $8 per pound, depending on variety.
For more information, call Tejal Patal at 561-784-7860 for placing orders. A website for online orders will be available soon. Yagnapurus Farms is located at 6450 190th St. North in Loxahatchee.