Cherimoya, native to South America, grows as a rare fruit in California
The Los Angeles Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers (festivaloffruit.org) hosts an annual conference in which cherimoya and other rare fruits grown in California are featured in lectures.
The cherimoya (also seen as chirimoya) is a deciduous, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 7 m tall. There are flowers produced in small clusters, each flower 23 cm across, with six petals, yellow-brown, often spotted purple at the base. The cherimoya is a fruit with white flesh containing numerous embedded seeds.
The indigenous inhabitants of the Andes say that although the cherimoya cannot stand snow, it does like to see it in the distance. It is cultivated in many places throughout the Americas, including California, where it was introduced in 1871, and Hawaii. Mark Twain called the cherimoya "the most delicious fruit known to men."
In the Mediterranean region, it is cultivated mainly in southern Spain, Madeira, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel. The first planting in Italy was in 1797 and it became a favored crop in the Province of Reggio Calabria. It is also grown in Taiwan and New Zealand. The Moche culture of Peru often depicted cherimoya in their ceramics.
The name cherimoya originates from the Quechua word chirimoya, which means "cold seeds," because the plant grows at high altitudes and the seeds will germinate at higher altitudes. Though sensitive to frost, it must have periods of cool temperatures or the tree will gradually go dormant. It thrives throughout the tropics at altitudes of 1,300 to 2,600 m (4,300 to 8,500 ft).
The fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a sherbet-like texture, which gives it its secondary name, custard apple. Some characterize the flavor as a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. Chirimoya has the consistency of a custard apple and can be used as a substitute for custard apple recipes. Think tarts, pies or crumbles for a sweet treat.