25 Mar 2022

Choice Cherimoyas

From Country Life, 9:40 pm on 25 March 2022

Rich and Jose van Alphen say people either love or hate cherimoyas. They've been growing the large green fruit organically for more than 30 years.


Cherimoya Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

It's difficult to dodge cyclones at the van Alphen's property near Houhoura in the Far North.

The organic cherimoya and garlic growers live bang in the middle of the skinniest part of the Northland Peninsula, less than seven kilometres from each coast.

In 2006, Cyclone Wati snapped off each of their 1,000 laden banana trees at knee height.   

A few years ago the couple, who live off-grid and rely on solar power, happily refrigerated neighbours' food when a wild storm not only took out trees but also the power supply for seven days.

And earlier this month Cyclone Dovi slammed into their trees, breaking branches and leaving the orchard floor littered with hundreds of cherimoyas.

"But that's horticulture," Rich says.

A native of South America, the cherimoya is a close cousin of the custard apple.

"You either love them or hate them," Jose says. "They are one of those fruit, it's like people with feijoas and they don't like the grittiness, the cherimoyas got a bit of that grittiness as well."

Jose van Alphen

Jose van Alphen Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Jose and Rich have 200 trees, some of them up to 9 metres tall and each week during the six-month harvest, they climb into them to select fruit mature enough to be carefully packed and sent to Auckland.

A tap will loosen the seeds and if the fruit rattles, it's ready.

Cherimoyas are thin-skinned, have a short shelf life and need refrigeration.

"If you don't know how to handle them it can be a bit of a nightmare," Rich says.

They are also the fruit of choice for any local possums and rosellas.

During the season Jose and Rich sell between 400 and 500 kilogrammes of cherimoyas a week to Ceres Organics.

Jose's preferred way to eat cherimoyas is to scoop the sweet flesh out with a spoon.

They can also be used in icecreams and yogurts and, for the past three years, a Northland brewery has used them to make craft beer.

Jose and Rich van Alphen

Jose and Rich van Alphen Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Cherimoya flower

Cherimoya flower Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Rich van Alphen

Rich van Alphen Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles