By Barbara Kobsar
The kiwifruit harvest is short and sweet. Sophisticated procedures for measuring starch content before picking and temperature controlled storage units ensure a ready supply of kiwifruit until late spring. California holds the distinction of producing 95 percent of the nation’s kiwifruit.
This fruit, which originated in China, was originally referred to in the West as Chinese gooseberry because early botanists associated its sweet-tart flavor to that of a gooseberry. When production began in New Zealand in the early 1900s, it was renamed kiwifruit for its resemblance to the fuzzy brown kiwi bird, the country’s national symbol.
When the kiwifruit was introduced to Southern California in the early 1960s, it was a costly gourmet fruit waiting to find a niche. But each season has found new kiwifruit aficionados, and with expanding production, kiwi is one of only a few fruits that are less costly today than when first marketed.
The fact that kiwifruit are actually berries makes them nutritionally different from tree fruits such as peaches. The multitude of tiny seeds embedded in this fruit’s flesh are nutrition-packed. Ounce for ounce, a kiwifruit contains as much potassium as a banana. In vitamin C, it provides four times the punch of a grapefruit and twice that of an orange.
The kiwifruit’s edible (but rather fuzzy) brown covering hides bright green flesh with a strawberry-lime-pineapple flavor that tingles the taste buds with every bite. Cut it nearly in half crosswise and fit the halves neatly into egg cups for easy scooping. A big advantage with kiwifruit is that slices do not turn brown when exposed to the air so you can use them to decorate salads, entrees, and side dishes early in your meal preparation.
You might be lucky enough to spot some joined kiwifruit (called fans) when shopping at the farmers’ market, and although these odd gems are considered seconds in the commercial market, they offer the same flavor and nutritional value, and are usually a good buy.
Buying kiwifruit that are just slightly firm is a good idea, because they are less likely to bruise in your shopping basket. Leave them to sit a couple days at room temperature and they will begin to yield to gentle palm pressure. If a fruit is not softening fast enough, place it in a loosely sealed paper bag with an apple or banana to give it that ethylene gas bath that helps fruit ripen. Firm fruit keeps for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator in a loosely closed plastic bag; ripe fruit keeps for 5-7 days.
LOCALLY GROWN KIWIFRUIT
East Bay landowners have experimented with growing kiwifruit, but the trees need a winter freeze to produce fruit. Fortunately, Central Valley growers are finding a ready nearby market for kiwifruit, so expect to see more and more local product coming from nearby orchards. At this time of year, kiwifruit arrive by the box every Sunday at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market. Farmer Brian Shigley helps customers select fruit, pointing out a few that are ready-to-eat and others that will take a few days to reach perfection.
Shigley is part of Old Herold Ranch, a family farm located in the foothills below Auburn and about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento. Shigley’s father, Doug Shigley, developed an interest in growing kiwifruit after a 15-degree freeze in the early 1980s wiped out his orange orchard. He went shopping for the biggest kiwifruit he could find, propagated the seed, and then whip-grafted each of the small plants onto a parent kiwifruit vine. It was a success and a bonus for farmers’ market shoppers looking for local produce.