Christmas Miracle: Cherimoya Growing in my Garden!
Whether you call it cherimoya, custard apple, soursop or sitaphal, when ripe this fruit is unlike anything you've ever had before. To be precise, each is a separate species in the same genus, but in reality the flavors are very similar. The best I can say is that it is a combination of banana and bubblegum. The fruit grows in Southeast Asia and the Subcontinent. It can be round or have a heart shape. Inside the skin is flaky, juicy white flesh studded with large black seeds.
When we were first planting our small orchard, my husband Lulu did some research on the different types of plants we could grow in our climate. California is blessed with wonderful weather, which makes it perfect for many types of fruit. We both grew up with fond memories of Asian tropical fruit, so Lulu was thrilled when he found out from the California Rare Fruit Growers Association that people have had success growing cherimoya in the Bay Area.
It just so happened that the year he planted the tree experienced the coldest weather in 30+ years. It nearly killed the tree outright, but in the end Lulu was able to nurse a single sprout from the base of the tree into a brand new trunk. Five years later though, and still no fruit. In the late summer we were thrilled to see about 6 small fruits growing on the tree with their characteristic petal-like exterior.
Given that it was so late in the season, we didn't really hold out much hope to actually be able to harvest any ripe ones. But by November, several full-sized fruit adorned the tree. They were still hard last week, but one broke off a branch and fell to the ground. Rather than let it rot, I brought it inside and let it ripen on our table. Four days later, it was so soft you could literally stick your finger through the fruit. And the flavor and texture rivaled anything that Lulu or I could recall from our childhoods.
You could say that this was our very own Christmas miracle. Normally I share recipes, but why mess with an exotic, fresh ingredient this precious? If the tree produces more next year, I'll definitely come up with some recipe ideas. And if you've never tried cherimoya before and are now dying to, I believe some Asian supermarkets carry packs of imported frozen ones. But be warned, it's not the same. Not even close. I would suggest trying something like Sun Tropics soursop nectar to experience the flavor. Or, you could always take a trip to Vietnam!