Linda Mark, the Farmers Market Fairy, is every L.A. market's resident produce gossip. Her celebrities are generally the sessile sort -- piles of citrus or stone fruits depending on the season or farmers trapped behind scales and tables helping customers. Her enthusiasm for both is infectious and refreshing. Her big joy these past few weeks has been her discovery of the cherimoya from Rincon Del Mar Ranch at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market.
"After a long citrus season, I am so happy to put these into people's boxes," said Mark. "The response has been huge. People are like, 'wow.'"
Rancho Santa Cecilia out in the balmy hills of Carpinteria has been bringing multiple varieties of cherimoya (and avocados) to the Hollywood market for years. Their longtime farm neighbor, Rincon Del Mar, is a newcomer to the Santa Monica market this year, luring both new and seasoned customers with piles of huge fruit, organized according to type and ripeness. Christine Brown, daughter of Rincon Del Mar's owner, Anthony Brown, will assist with selection, especially for the riper fruits. Their softness makes them very vulnerable to damage so a gentle and practiced hand is a neccesity.
Cherimoyas are a farmers-market-only fruit. Their reptilian scaled skin, shape and ripening patterns make them a hard sell to grocery store customers. But to the brave go the spoils, as cherimoya are one of California's agricultural gems.
They only grow well along the coast where cool ocean breezes nurture the long-growing trees into fruit-bearing maturity. Patience is required, both for the farmer and the eater. It's fruit that requires you to slow down.
The taste is a mouthful of the tropics -- bananas, mangoes and ginger with a hint of pear and pineapple. When fully ripe, cherimoya textures range from slightly gritty to creamy and smooth pudding according to type. Rincon offers four -- the Lisa, Bay, Fino de Jete and Bonita.
If you're purchasing for immediate eating, let Brown select them for you. Firm fruit should be allowed to ripen unrefrigerated on a kitchen countertop. When they're ready, they'll have a heady perfume and a slight give like a ripe avocado. Rincon's cherimoya do tend to be large (some are over two pounds), so if necessary, you can retard the ripening process with refrigeration.
Eating is a simple affair. Slice in half, cup the fruit in one hand and grab a spoon in the other. The ripe flesh is spoonable -- just be sure to flick out the seeds. They're toxic. Thankfully they are also very large and easy to remove. Sprinkle with a little salt and chile for a savory, counterpoint.
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Rincon Del Mar and Rancho Santa Cecilia will be harvesting cherimoya well into June.
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