It feels a little early to be sorting through some of the subtropical lovelies from Rancho Santa Cecilia (Carpinteria). Along with their multiple varieties of avocados, guavas, and sapote, we've been enjoying a parade of cherimoya varieties. We usually associate March with a mouthful of the banana and mango flavors of the cherimoya. And most of the fruit you buy now will take a few days, if not a full week, to reach that velvety, spoonable stage.
Cherimoya trees are native to more temperate climes along the northern Andes in South America. They also thrive along our hilly coastlines, most within a few hours drive of Los Angeles. Thankfully, Rancho Santa Cecilia makes the trip for you, and you can find them every Sunday at the Hollywood market, just north of Selma on the west side of Ivar. They'll have the fruit well into early summer. But which variety to choose? In South America, they name cherimoya varieties by the type of skin, starting the long list with lisa for smooth and ending with tuberculada for fruit with warty, dinosaur-scale like bumps. What lies underneath that skin, bumpy or otherwise, is what we're actually interested in, which you can discover after the jump.
The Selma, a slightly bumpy, pink-fleshed variety, has the distinction of being one of the more prized cherimoyas for flavor while also being the most annoying to eat. It has the most, and largest seeds of any cherimoya variety, as well as a slightly stunted growth pattern, yielding oddly-shaped handfuls of compact fruit. It's the rose blushed flesh that keeps the Selma from being plowed under. You come back for the explosion of flavor, heavy with notes of papaya and raspberries. It has a sharp, citric and tropical musky aroma somewhat like guava, and once you get past those giant, lacquered seeds, the flesh is soft and buttery like a ripe avocado.
The White cherimoya is the persimmon of the tropical fruit world. It can grow very large — up to four pounds for one fruit — and is sweet like homemade hard candy, saturated with glucose and nearly syrupy in texture. It's also one of the more common varieties grown in Southern California in part because it produces exceedingly well, yielding an abundance of fruit even after cold winters. As named, the flesh is a bright white, has a nice, smooth oblong shape, and has fewer seeds to avoid than the Selma. If you've never enjoyed cherimoyas before, this is a good place to start your tasting. While sweet, it is also very mild and unoffensive to sensitive palates.
The Bay cherimoya has much in common with the White and is practically indistinguishable except for one thing — it has the distinctive smell and taste of anise. The sample we tried had the slight peppery zing of sweet basil coupled with lemons and bananas. The flesh has a slight grit to it, but it's not unpleasant or distracting. In fact the Bay cherimoya is one of the more balanced varieties you'll try.
Rancho Santa Cecilia also currently has the Booth cherimoya, an impresa variety with a thin leathery skin with fingertip-like impressions. It's buttery and a little musky like a ripe papaya and a little less acidic than other cherimoya. Of all the varieties, the Booth absolutely adores growing in Carpinteria, so Rancho Santa Cecilia has an abundance. It also has the distinction of being developed in Hollywood in the 1920s by A.F. Booth. Who says you can't go home again?
There are several other cultivars of cherimoya that will be coming into season as spring arrives, some developed here specifically for California cultivation and a few South American varieties. It's good to try a few side by side for comparison as the flavor profile can shift dramatically from tangy and acidic to custardy and nearly bland.