Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mark Twain: “The Cherimoya is Deliciousness Itself.”

“We had an abundance of mangoes, papaias and bananas here, but the pride of the islands, the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya, was not in season. It has a soft pulp, like a pawpaw, and is eaten with a spoon.”  (Mark Twain, The Sacramento Daily Union, October 25, 1866, Kilauea, June, 1866.)

Ever since I read this quote by Mark Twain almost one year ago (see Monkey Pod Tree) I had been searching out the cherimoya.  We spent this past weekend in the Waipio Valley on the Big Island, considered one of the ten most beautiful valleys in the world, and home to the steepest county road in the nation, at a fund raiser for the Slow Food Organization -- and to my great pleasure, I was given two cherimoyas.

The taste has been said to be indescribable, or a mixture of banana and pineapple, but to me it seemed slightly pear-like in its flavor.  The texture was of custard.  And, yes it was magnificent!

Even Purdue University had this to say, “Certainly the most esteemed of the fruits of the genus family annonaceae, also called the custard apple family, is the cherimoya.”

The family is comprised of flowering plants consisting of trees, shrubs or rarely lianas (vines).  With about 2300 to 2500 species and more than 130 genera, it is the largest family in Magnoliales (yes, like the magnolia tree). The family is concentrated in the tropics, with a few species found intemperate regions like the paw-paw in the Midwest of the U.S. which is the largest edible fruit native to America.

The cherimoya is believed indigenous to the interandean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia.   In 1790 the cherimoya was introduced into Hawaii by Don Francisco de Paulo Marin. It is still grown in the islands and naturalized in dry upland forests.  http://www.hort.purdue.edu

The flesh of the ripe cherimoya is most commonly eaten out of-hand or scooped with a spoon from the cut open fruit. It really needs no embellishment but some people in Mexico like to add a few drops of lime juice. The skin and seeds are not to be eaten.  Occasionally it is seeded and added to fruit salads or used for making sherbet or ice cream.  The seeds are often crushed and used as an insecticide.

I had read that it was probably apocryphal that Mark Twain really said on tasting his first cherimoya that it was “deliciousness itself,” but entering in Google the words “Mark Twain” and “deliciousness itself” yielded 916 results, and then on page two, I found it!

“We had an abundance of fruit in Honolulu, of course. Oranges, pine-apples, bananas, strawberries, lemons, limes, mangoes, guavas, melons, and a rare and curious luxury called the cherimoya, which is deliciousness itself.”  (Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872)

Two famous botanists from the middle of the 19th century had this to say about the cherimoya.

Thaddaeus Haenke, geographer and explorer in South America, called it a "masterpiece of nature.”

And, the famous fruit expert and botanist, Dr. Berthold Carl Seemann, who traveled widely and collected and described plants from the Pacific and South America. said, “The pinapple, the mangosteen and cherimoyas are considered the finest fruits in the world, and I have tasted them in the places where they are said to be at their best and reach their highest perfection--the pinapple in Milagro (Ecuador), the cherimoya on the slopes of the Andes and the mangosteen in the Indian Archipelago."  Dr. Seemann's unhesitating choice was reported to be, of course, the cherimoya.

I am not aware of any Hawaiian cherimoya mail order farms, but you can buy them from California growers.  One example is http://www.rain.org.  You indeed owe it to yourself!

1 comment:

  1. Wea, we had a huge cherimoya growing in the middle patio of the house where I grew up in my hometown of Cienfuegos in Cuba. We had gorgeous cherimoyas and my mother would make milk shakes and ice cream with it... I love them and miss them. Although they do grow here, you don't see them too much....another smaller tree in the same family we had in our back patio was what we call anon. The anon has the bumpy skin and the cherimoya the smooth skin, but the taste of the pulp is similar....although cherimoya is better...!


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