Of the traditional winter fruits of California, the cherimoya is increasingly sharing space in the fruit bowl. While generally considered a native of Central and South America, the cherimoya exemplifies the sometimes spoiled spirit of a native Californian – it likes cool weather, but not too cool. Warm weather, too, but not too warm. It likes a good cleansing rain but can't stand being soggy, but the flip side is that it really can't tolerate the extreme weather of the desert for too long either. But, given a gently breezy, coastal hillside where its slow growing roots can take their time to establish themselves, the cherimoya does exceptionally well. And last time we checked, we still have a lot of those gently breezy coastal hillsides.
Like the sapote, the cherimoya has a dense and creamy fruit flesh dotted with large black seeds. When ripe, it's spoonable and juicy with a very tropical flavor of banana, mango, and papaya. There are over a dozen cultivars of the cherimoya grown in California – The Dr. White being one of the most common, the pink-fleshed Selma being less available, and the charmingly named El Bumpo, which is so soft that you can't generally find it in the markets – but only a few savvy growers will be able to tell you the difference. Most cherimoya generally look the same: heart-shaped and mossy green, with either a smooth scale pattern or a more sinister looking conical, tooth-like bumpiness. Regardless, if you want a ripe cherimoya that's ready to eat, choose fruit that has a slight give to it, like a ripe avocado, with a dark, mossy green skin that looks dusted with black. Harder fruits will ripen up well in the fruit bowl, but eat them as soon as they're ripe. The window between tasty and fermented is short, thanks to its abundance of sugar. The best way to enjoy them is as nature gives them to us. Just avoid eating the skin or the seeds.