The Fruit Artist: Fritz Barberousse
The Fruit Artist: Fritz Barberousse
Fritz Barberousse stabs a bayonet high into a tree limb, clips into the foliage, and lowers another fresh subtropical wonder into the back of a golf cart on a misty trail at Fruit and Spice Park in the Redland.
The award-winning volunteer is collecting ripe fruit on 37 acres of parkland to create a mosaic of epic proportions. He is amped to show off the work during a busy festival and with the sun glinting off the wineberry tints on his shades, ready for action.
It all started when Barberousse was 8 years old, planting seedlings in his family’s yard in Gonaives, Haiti. After leaving Haiti, he lived in Chicago and then moved to South Florida in 1985. During a visit to Greynolds Park, he was walking alongside the pond, saw a fruit and picked it up. “It reminded me of soursop. I broke it open and tasted it – it was horrible,” he recalls. But he was curious about the fruit, and took it down to the Extension office in Homestead to find out what it was. They sent him up 187th Avenue to Fruit and Spice Park, where Chris Rollins told him it was an Annona glabra – pond apple – edible, but not as delicious as soursop or other members of the Annonaceae family. Oh – Rollins mentioned – we have a club.
“And that’s how I ended up at the Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Society,” says Barberousse.
Teaching and Sharing
A former teacher who taught biology, chemistry and medical technology at Edison High for 19 years and at Braddock High for six years, Barberousse now creates tropical fruit displays for all the major festivals at Fruit and Spice Park, including the Redland Heritage Festival, the Asian Arts Festival, the Redland Summer Fruit Festival, and GrowFest; and events at the Deering Estate at Cutler and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Barberousse does not have a ready answer when asked what his favorite fruit is. After a long pause, he says: “Mango – Glenn – it has no fiber, it’s sweet and juicy … Starch, very small, reminds me of turpentine, very fibrous but delicious …” Then he rattles off more favorites: Bombay, Florigon, Pickering, Okrong, Dot, Carrie, Po Pyu Kalay aka Lemon Meringue, Rosa from Nicaragua, Carabao … From there, he moves on to jackfruit (‘Borneo Red’ is a favorite), and onto the sugar apples.
There are too many favorites to name. It’s clear Barberousse loves his tropical fruits, and loves sharing that passion with everyone who’s there to listen and learn.
The Artist at Work
A few days before each display, Fritz Barberousse starts harvesting fruits from the 37-acre botanical garden, a time-consuming task that varies from season to season, using the fruits and nuts to build his mosaic of color, shape and texture. “I set it up in such a way that the different colors interact with each other like a work of art,” he says. The table attracts people asking about the fruits and where they come from, and Barberousse the teacher is there with answers. “We have many ethnicities, people come from different countries, they taste something that they remember from 40 years ago,” he says.
While most of the fruits at Fruit and Spice Park are not endemic to South Florida, originating in Asia and South and Central America, they can be grown in backyards here, he says. Barberousse is not the first person to create fruit displays; Mary Heinlein, the park's superintendent in the 1940s and 1950s, created large fresh fruit centerpieces and put on displays at the Metropolitan Miami Flower Show and the Youth Fair. Photos of her creations are on display at the Mango Cafe at the park.