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In Season: Cherimoyas

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Flickr: esimpraim

Some consider the cherimoya one of the most delicious fruits available, but its commercial production is limited by a short growing season and shelf life. The cherimoya is native to the valleys of Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia, spreading to Chile and Brazil during ancient times. The United States Department of Agriculture imported cherimoya seeds from the Madeira Islands in 1907. Seeds from Mexico were planted in California in 1871, leading to small commercial orchards in the1940s. When it come to cherimoyas, you have to strike when the fruit is ripe—March through May.

Cherimoya varieties, recipes, tips, and ideas after the jump.

The cherimoya tree bears fragrant flowers that form in small groups along the branches. A single flower first opens as female for only 36 hours, followed by a male stage lasting another 36 hours. However these flowers are almost never pollinated by their own pollen, so they must be quickly and carefully hand-pollinated with collected male pollen.

Once pollinated, the flowers will bloom from late winter to early summer, followed by the fruit, which ripens from October to May. The cherimoya fruits are large, four to eight inches long and weighing up to five pounds, with flavors reminiscent of mango, banana, and pineapple, with a creamy custard consistency.

There are many varieties of this ancient fruit, differing in the smoothness of skin, size, number of seeds, and depressions in the skin. Perhaps the most popular is the White variety, which has fewer seeds, a firmer texture, and sweet and juicy taste. The Booth variety tends to ripen a little later than others (late March) and carries a strong papaya flavor. The Pierce variety is considered one of the tastiest, due to its extra-creamy texture and peachy taste, while the Selma variety is characterized by distinctive red-flesh and hints of raspberry flavor.

When buying cherimoyas, choose firm slightly under ripened fruits that feel heavy for their size. Store out of direct sunlight and allow to ripen at room temperature for a couple of days or until they feel ripe like an avocado, then wait one more day. The skin may turn brown, but this doesn't affect the flesh. Once ripe, cherimoyas can be refrigerated for up to four days wrapped in a paper towel.

To eat a cherimoya, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the velvety spoonfuls, peel and cut into cubes for salads, or puree and use in pastries or tarts. Make sure to remove the large black seeds which are inedible. Now is the perfect time to explore and experiment with the seasonal cherimoya, so we've compiled some recipes to get your started.

Recipes

How do you like to enjoy cherimoyas?

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