Over the past few years, I have become more and more aware of an exotic fruit rather common in the Province of Reggio Calabria. In Italian, this unusual, light-green fruit that ripens in the fall is called annona from the Latin Annona cherimola. In English, it is known as the cherimoya (also chirimoya, chirimuya) or custard apple.
WHAT IS THE ANNONA CHERIMOLA?
Native to South America, specifically Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the Annona cherimola is a tropical plant that has spread to many other parts of the world. The fruit’s roundish shape, tapered at the end, is distinguished by a surface articulated by many small sections in a pattern, almost like scales. The greenish exterior protects a soft, whitish, edible flesh, punctuated with numerous, inedible black seeds.
The cherimoya is creamy and sweet, with a pleasing, unique flavor, somewhat similar to other tropical fruits. The delicate taste could be described as a reminiscent mix of pineapple, banana, vanilla and strawberry. However, the fruit must be eaten at the right maturation as it can get pungent and turn sour if overripe. The cherimoya is rich in vitamins and fiber, and one piece weighs from a half to several pounds. As an after-dinner treat, a cherimoya may serve four people.
THE ANNONA OR CHERIMOYA IN CALABRIA
In Europe, the annona or cherimoya has been cultivated in Spain and Portugal for over two hundred years. In Italy, the annona is a rare, exotic fruit except in the Province of Reggio Calabria, where it flourishes in the coastal area between the towns of Bagnara and Gioiosa Ionica.
During the fall, crates of annone can be found at fruit stands throughout the southern tip of the Italian peninsula. Additionally, several enterprising Calabrians have used the fruit to make preserves, gelato, sorbet and pastries.
THE ANNONA OR CHERIMOYA IN SEASON
The delicate nature of the ripe fruit doesn’t allow for its conservation after maturity, so the annona will not be found outside its autumn season. In fact, Mark Twain lamented of this in one of his letters from Hawaii published in the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866: “We had an abundance of mangoes, papayas 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.”
Slicing open the sweet, creamy fruit and eating it with a spoon is indeed the way to go. It’s a bit custard-like and goes down smooth, thus the custard apple name.
So if you find yourself in the Province of Reggio Calabria in autumn, give the annona a try. You will be pleasantly surprised. And while at the fruttivendolo (fruit seller), don’t miss the cacchi or lotta (persimmon), as well as other fruits, such as varieties of apple, pear, and even peach and plum, delightful taste sensations in the fall. And all year round, an annona confettura (cherimoya preserves) spread on toast makes for a delicious snack.
Read more about Calabria’s exotic fruit in my blogposts: Calabria’s Incredible Bergamot and Santa Maria del Cedro and the Precious Diamante Citron.
And for an in-depth look at the beautiful land in the toe of the boot, check out Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.
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