The soft, dragon-like skin coating the cherimoya makes it look more like a fruit out of a fairy tale than one found along roadsides stretching down the western coast of South America. The thick-skinned fruit has such a soft, custardy heart, that rarely does it face more than a spoon or a few drops of citrus before finding its refreshing way into the mouths and stomachs of satisfied eaters.
While delightful in its simplicity, the creaminess of cherimoya also makes it a welcome addition to milkshakes and sherbets, and a refreshing infusion with water and citrus. Its tropical flavor can be compared to a blend of pineapple, banana, and papaya, though those who have tried soursop (also known as custard apple or guanabana) will be clued in to its bright, tropical flavor and luxurious texture. The first step in any preparation, however, is removing the cherimoya’s shiny black seeds, which can be toxic.
Indigenous to the Andean valleys around Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia, and once enjoyed by the Incas, cherimoya has been consumed for centuries. But for many modern farmers, this sweet treat plays hard to grow. In most regions outside its native habitat, cherimoya must be hand-pollinated. About a month after the tree loses its leaves and new foliage and flowers begin to grow, farmers must collect pollen from male blossoms and transfer the grains, using a paint brush, directly to the female flowers. The work pays off, however: Hand-pollinated flowers tend to form bigger, rounder fruits and have allowed some regions to successfully cultivate the cherimoya.
That said, the manual labor required to bring cherimoya to fruition means that it remains an infrequent find outside of its native tropics. However, even the adventure-chasing Mark Twain describes the “rare and curious” cherimoya as “deliciousness itself,” and a luxury well worth the pursuit.