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Farmers' Market Desserts
By Jennie Schacht

Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables:
A Commonsense Guide

By Elizabeth Ann Schneider



Try a Cherimoya and 
You'll Be Hooked for Life

John Wooten is a typical cherimoya grower. He's convinced everyone would be smitten with the Peruvian fruit, which looks like a prehistoric pine cone, if only they would give it a chance.

"Once people get a taste of a cherimoya that is properly ripened, they're hooked," says Wooten, who farms in Camarillo and sells his produce at farmers markets in Ventura County. Cherimoyas, which are at the peak of their harvest this time of year, are "the most uniquely delicious fruit in the world."

Enthusiasts have been saying the same thing ever since the cherimoya was introduced in the Santa Barbara area in the 1860s. 

Cherimoya from the March 10, 2010 farmers market
 in Santa Barbara
, Calif., photographed
 in the Santa Ynez Valley

It is "one of the three finest fruits in the world" (up there with the pineapple and the mangosteen), according to a contributor to a 1912 issue of the Pomona College Journal of Economic Botany. "Not one out of a hundred on first tasting a fully ripe cherimoya would be other than delighted."

Despite decades of these entreaties, most Californians apparently still haven't sampled the fruit. There are only 800 or so acres of cherimoyas in the state, says Ben Faber, a cooperative extension agent in Ventura. But that is 10 times more acreage than in the 1970s.

The fruit may, at last, be catching on. "A few years ago, it was rare to find anyone who was interested in cherimoyas," says Wooten. "Now there's a small but devoted group of customers."

At their best, cherimoyas have the consistency of ice cream with an apple-banana taste. The trick is finding one that's perfectly ripe. Elizabeth Schneider, in Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables, offers these rules of thumb: the fruit should feel as soft as "an almost ripe avocado, not more"; it must have a "little give" but can't be "squishy soft."

Once ripe, they can be refrigerated for several days. Indeed, many authorities (though not Wooten) recommend consuming them when they are ice cold, a condition in which aficionados say cherimoyas are similar to but better than sherbet.

You'll notice cherimoyas have lots of big, fat seeds. But take heart. Once consumer support for the fruit reaches a critical mass, Faber says plant breeders will zero in on a seedless variety.

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef