Cherimoyas (chirimoyas in Spanish) are strange to look at. They’re bulbous and round, vaguely heart-shaped, and could easily take two hands to hold. The pale green fruit has a surface that is somewhere between bumpy and faceted, which at times make it look positively Paleolithic. Inside it's creamy white, dotted with dime-sized blackish brown seeds (inedible), and smells mildly fragrant. But the taste is something else.
Depending on who you ask, cherimoya tastes like a creamy version of pear or like a muted strawberry, mixed with banana. One person told me it tasted like Juicyfruit gum, and another, slightly coconutty. If you’ve eaten guanábana (soursop in English, graviola in Portuguese), you have a hint of what cherimoya tastes like, though the latter is sweeter, with more banana and less pear.
You can easily spoon out the cherimoya’s smooth flesh and eat it plain, which would be in line with some of its popular names, from “custard apple” to “the ice cream fruit.” But in Chile we scoop the cherimoya out of its skin and add orange juice, which moves this creamy fruit squarely into dessert territory.
Orange juice squeezed over peeled cherimoya pulls together contrasts. Slightly acid mixes with slightly sweet, and the liquid of the orange juice combines well with the smooth flesh of the cherimoya. I like to think of it as the closest thing to a naturally occurring Creamsicle, the orange bright and slightly tart, and the cherimoya smooth and almost milky.
Cherimoyas are native to the highlands of South America, in Peru and Ecuador, but also grow well in Chile, which has cornered the market on exports to the United States. The fruit also grows well at higher elevations in southern California, and is grown in Florida as well. Cherimoyas, whose name partially comes from the Quechua for “cold” or “refreshing,” thrive in cool temperatures, but do not tolerate frost.
Larger cherimoyas have better developed flavor than smaller ones, and they’re ripe when they’ve turned slightly brown, and yield to gentle pressure, similar to a ripe avocado. Pick up cherimoyas at farmer’s markets in California or Florida, or at Latin American or gourmet markets. In winter they’ll be flying in from Chile, whereas in late spring and summer, they’re more likely to be locally grown. If you can’t find cherimoyas in your local market, try the online exotic fruit website Melissa’s.