Cherimoya: The 'Aristocrat of Fruit' : Exotic: Because it must be hand-pollinated and cannot be produced easily, it is very expensive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cherimoya, a subtropical fruit originally from the highlands of Ecuador and Peru, has been grown in Southern California for more than a century but has been only recently available to consumers.

The mature crop appears from December through May in gourmet food markets and variety grocery stores. Because the cherimoya produces little fruit naturally and the flowers must be hand-pollinated, the fruit is especially expensive, even in season ($7 per pound). Those lucky enough to have a back yard tree have their pick of the "aristocrat of fruit," as it is called by aficionados.

Mark Twain hailed the cherimoya as "deliciousness itself," and Baron Alexander von Humbolt, a German scientist and explorer, was said to have thought the cherimoya worth a trip across the Atlantic.

The fruit, with its green warty skin, as exotic as something out of science fiction, can deceive those who are not acquainted with its creamy, custard-like white flesh and tantalizing, juicy-sweet flavor, hinting of flavors of pineapple, papaya and pear.

Cherimoyas have about 94 calories per one-third-pound serving and are high in niacin, phosphorus and thiamine.

You can leave cherimoyas on the counter to form a brownish green skin or until they yield to gentle pressure, both indicate ripeness. Once ripe, however, the fruit should be refrigerated and eaten within the week.

And just how does one eat it?

Cut the fruit in half and spoon out the flesh as you would papaya or avocado, making sure to remove the seeds embedded into the crevices.

Cherimoyas also can be sliced or cubed and added raw to fruit bowls, salads or sauces. Some hosts serve cherimoya sliced and splashed with orange juice and sprinkled with coconut.

The fruit can be made into a drink by mixing the flesh in a blender with some water or fruit juice and may be sweetened with honey or sugar. The pulp may also be teamed with banana, pineapple or other tropical fruit flavors for an interesting shake.

CHERIMOYA FRUIT SALAD DRESSING

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cherimoya puree

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Blend together yogurt, mayonnaise, cherimoya puree, sugar and lemon juice. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Note: Use as dressing for fruit salad.

CHERIMOYA SAUCE FOR MEAT OR FISH

2 shallots, minced

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fish, beef or chicken stock

1 cherimoya, pulp removed and pureed (about 1 1/3 cups)

Salt, pepper

Saute shallots in butter. Add wine and cook until reduced to glaze. Add stock and cook until slightly reduced. Stir in cherimoya puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat over low heat until slightly reduced and thickened. Press through sieve. Makes 2 cups.

Note: Serve over fish, beef, pork or poultry or game.

TROPICAL CHERIMOYA TRIFLE

2 (3-ounce) packages ladyfingers

Orange flavored liqueur

3 cherimoyas, pulp removed and pureed (about 4 cups)

1/2 cup raspberry or currant jam

1 large banana, thinly sliced

Whipped cream

Split ladyfingers. Layer 1/2 of ladyfinger halves in bottom and upsides of 2-quart serving bowl. Sprinkle lightly with liqueur.

Spread 1/3 of cherimoya pulp over bottom layer. Swirl 1/3 raspberry jam into cherimoya pulp. Top with 1/3 of sliced bananas. Layer 1/2 of remaining ladyfingers. Sprinkle lightly with liqueur. Top with 1/3 cherimoya sauce, raspberry jam and bananas.

Cover with remaining ladyfingers. Top with remaining cherimoya sauce, raspberry and bananas. Garnish with whipped cream.

Refrigerate and serve within 1 day. (Prolonged standing will cause fruit to weep.) Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Garnish with raspberries and banana slices, if desired.

CHERIMOYA FRUIT BREAD

1 3/4 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 cup cherimoya puree

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds

Combine flour, baking powder, soda, sugars and salt in bowl. In separate bowl combine shortening, eggs, milk, cherimoya puree and vanilla, blending well.

Mix cherimoya mixture into flour mixture, incorporating well. Do not overmix. Fold in nuts. Turn into greased 9-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees 50 to 60 minutes or until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean. Bread will crack slightly on top. Makes 1 (9-inch) loaf.

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