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Meet The Cherimoya, Golden Valley, Minnesota, March 2010, all photos © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


For me, grocery shopping will forever be a chore. Instead of rolling down the aisles with a wire cart, you might find me snooping around the deli section or hiding over by the Redbox machine. Last week was different. An ordinary trip to our local, and newly remodeled, Byerly’s (which opened in 1968 as the largest supermarket in Minnesota) sent me running to the fruit and veggie aisle. Waves of sea, grass, and olive greens chased the crimson, rufous, and cherry reds that lined the shelves in a visual feast. I admit, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food. Especially, exotic fruits and vegetables. But then, exotic depends on your point of view.

When Liz plucked this armadillo shelled brown fruit off the shelf and pointed to its scale-like skin, I had to know more. Standing right there, next to the bananas and golden grape tomatoes, she Googled cherimoya on her BlackBerry. Names like soursop, custard apple, and strangealiendeathfruit popped up, along with a quote from Mark Twain describing the cherimoya as deliciousness itself. What? A literary fruit? I was hooked.

The cherimoya is believed to be indigenous to the inter-Andean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. Its cultivation spread in ancient times to Chile and Brazil. And though some think the cherimoya comes from Peru, others insist that the fruit was unknown in that region until seeds were sent by P. Bernabe Cobo from Guatemala in 1629, and that representations of the cherimoya on ancient Peruvian pottery are actually images of the soursop.

Wherever its origins, the cherimoya is the fruit that spread round the world. It is commonly grown and naturalized in temperate areas of Costa Rica and other countries of Central America. In 1757, it was carried to Spain where it remained a dooryard tree until the 1940’s and 50’s when it gained importance in the Province of Granada as a replacement for orange trees that succumbed to disease.

In 1785, the cherimoya traveled to Jamaica, then Haiti, and in 1790 to Hawaii by way of Don Francisco de Paulo Marin. The first planting in Italy was in 1797 where it became a favored crop in the Province of Reggio Calabria, before making its way to Madeira in 1897, then the Canary Islands, Algiers, Egypt, Libya, and Somalia.

The  U.S. was a late bloomer. Seeds from Mexico were planted in California in 1871. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture imported cherimoya seeds from Madeira in 1907. Though the trees have not done well in Florida, California had 9,000 trees in 1936, many of them killed by a 1937 freeze. Several small commercial orchards were established in the 1940’s, and, at present, there may be less than 100 acres in the milder parts of San Diego County, making this a rare fruit in this country.


The Wave, The Tomatillo, My Favorite Byerly’s, Golden Grape Tomatoes, Visual Feast, Golden Valley, Minnesota, March 2010, all photos © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Strange fruit. Because we didn’t know enough about the cherimoya to know if it was ripe or not, I still haven’t tasted one. Now I know that a ripe cherimoya will usually be dark green (though this is dependent on the variety), have a loosening stem, and give to the touch in much the same way as an avocado. The flavor is described as a mixture of mango, papaya, bananas and coconut. And the inside ranges in color from light green, to off white, to pink.

Yes, pink — from a tree that originated as a seedling, owned by a California man named Mr. Stevenson. Rumors suggest the pink cherimoya originates from very high elevations in the Andes. I’d like to pick up a cherimoya the next time I’m at Byerly’s. How adventurous are your taste buds? Have you ever tasted the cherimoya, tomatillo, or mangosteen? Tell us about your taste experiences with (what are considered this country) exotic fruits and vegetables.


Resources:

The Cherimoya, Jewel of the Incas – at CloudForest Fruits

Cherimoya – at NewCROP, Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University

The Fruit Mark Twain & I Both Love – at the Grocery Fiend

Manual of Tropical & Subtropical Fruits: Excluding the Banana, Coconut, Pineapple, Citrus Fruits, Olive & Fig by Wilson Popenoe, Agricultural Explorer – Harvard University Library, published by the Macmillan Company, 1920

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