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Spring in Santiago is heralded by the arrival of fruit. Real fruit. Fruit that stains your hands and makes you jump up and down and think about juice and borgoña (wine plus fruit combo). Trade in apples and watery pears, bananas imported from Ecuador, tangerines and giant thick-skinned oranges. Replace them with strawberries, cherries, and the nubbly, heavy in your hand chirimoya, also spelled cherimoya, but apparently only in English (thanks Fabian).

Cherimoya tastes nothing like breadfruit, though they both scoop out in strange little white fleshy sections. Cherimoya is what would happen if a pear and custard had a baby, and some dark brown seeds magically appeared. It tastes a little like soursop (guanábana), if you’ve ever had the pleasure. In El Salvador it’s called anona, and in Brazil a very similar fruit is graviola (which is really fun to say). It’s delicious by itself, and shows up in icecream, juice and yogurt around here. In the English-speaking Carribean it’s called custard apple, though I’ve never actually heard anyone say it.

In the mid-90’s I lived in Ecuador in the highland colonial town of Cuenca, and one day I took a longish busride with two European girls I knew, whereupon we sat atop the bus for the whole trip, whipped by the wind and assaulted by the sun. Our goal was a market town somewhere or another, at a lower altitude. There’d been a landslide, so our bus had to take a much longer route than expected. I remember only two things from the trip: A guy jumping onto the ladder and up the bus (schoolbus) as kind of a freeloader and almost falling back off when he saw three gringas perched atop his ride, and the fact that I bought a bag of chirimoyas, which I ate long past when they were not just ripe, but possibly spoiling. That was the last time I had a good one, until I moved to Chile. I bought a small, badly-ripened one for about five dollars at Dean and Deluca once, but it wasn’t even close.

Cherimoyas are luscious, delicious, soft, creamy, custardy. And some seem to think they are improved with the addition of orange. To wit:

I like to think of the chirimoya as being happy enough on its own, but for some reason, if you squeeze a little orange into the mix, you get the flavor “chirimoya alegre” (happy cherimoya). Pictured here is a basket at the apiopalta stand at the Paula gourmet fair the other week at Parque Bicentenario. What does it say? Cherimoya alegre para armar (build your own happy chirimoya).

So you know, have a nice day. And happy chirimoya!