Deliciousness Itself

Sample a sweet, custardy cherimoya.

photo: Getty Images
>> Where to Buy
Locally grown cherimoyas are available at the Saturday Kapi‘olani Community College Farmers Market. California-grown cherimoyas can be found in supermarkets.

It’s a rather strange-looking fruit, like something out of a primeval forest. But judging a fruit by its exterior is folly, especially when you’re looking at a cherimoya. This heart shaped, scaly skinned fruit can mean pure exotic bliss. Inside is smooth, cream-colored, custardy flesh that hints at the flavors of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, banana and lemon. Originally from the Andean valleys of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, the cherimoya is one of the prized fruits of the winter season.

The fruit takes quite a bit of effort to produce; each flower that will potentially produce a fruit has to be hand pollinated.

Noel Hashimoto, of Kula, Maui, is a cherimoya grower, and from May through September he’s often on a ladder, pollinating flowers. Hashimoto, who works for the United States Department of Agriculture, comes home and heads into his 1-acre orchard to tend his trees, most of which were planted by his father a half century ago. He pollinates 10 to 20 flowers a day, which takes about an hour.

“It’s hard to get the pollen,” says Hashimoto. You see, cherimoya flowers open first as female flowers, then later as male flowers. Male pollen has to be collected, then applied to the female when the female is receptive. “I like to use fresh pollen gathered in the afternoon, so that’s when I usually pollinate. I can store the pollen until the next day, but it may not take as well.”

The cherimoya tree can grow up to 30 feet high, but Hashimoto keeps his trees trimmed at about eight feet so he can reach the flowers. Once the flower is pollinated, fruit will start to grow. It takes four to five months for the fruit to be ready to harvest.

Like an avocado, a cherimoya should be picked when mature and firm, but not ripe. In a few days, the fruit will ripen at room temperature, giving to soft pressure. Once ripe, the fruit should be refrigerated and then eaten within a few days. To serve, cut the chilled fruit open and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, discarding the dark seeds within. You can also blend the fruit to create a refreshing juice or to use as a base for sorbet.

Because cherimoyas are so labor intensive—they also need to be individually hand picked—they can be costly. But you will succumb to their sweet, juicy flavor and silky texture, which Mark Twain once called “deliciousness itself.”

Cherimoya Sorbet

3 to 4 cherimoyas
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lime juice

Measure sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and cool.

Peel cherimoya and remove seeds.

Place in a food processor or blender and purée until very smooth. Strain through a medium mesh strainer. There should be about three cups.

Combine purée with sugar syrup and lime juice. Refrigerate until cold.

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.