Although the first kiwis didn't arrive in the United States until relatively recently, they've been cultivated in China for nearly seven hundred years. This small, brown-skinned fruit was prized by the great khans for its flavor and brilliant emerald green flesh. Kiwis have a mild, sweet-tart, strawberry-pineapple flavor and a texture something like a firm peach, with tiny, crunchy, edible seeds about the size and texture of poppyseeds.
Called Chinese gooseberries in an earlier day, kiwis were introduced here in 1904 but received no agricultural testing until 1935. The first commercial planting didn't occur for another twenty-five years, when a man named Smith was asked to plant some kiwi vines next to his grapevines. Smith passed seeds along to George Tanimoto in Gridley, California, who produced a crop of 1,200 pounds in 1970. Although kiwis imported from New Zealand were served in 1961 at Trader Vic's in San Francisco, U.S. growers and consumers were still catching up. It wasn't until the 1980s that kiwi fruit became widely popular. The Packer, a newspaper for the produce industry, pronounced it the hot produce of 1984 - eighty years after kiwis first showed up, they took off. Today, California produces about 95 percent of what we consume in the United States, with imports from New Zealand available when California kiwis are out of season.
Although the rest of the world has been slow to catch on, the Chinese gooseberry is now grown in Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Israel, India, South Africa, Russia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. At our market, they're as popular as oranges.
Available year round: from New Zealand, May through November; from California, October through May; from Chile, April through October.
A ripe kiwi will give to gentle pressure from your thumb. To hasten the ripening process, put the kiwis in a paper bag with an apple or a banana and let stand at room temperature; in one to three days they'll be ripe.
Kiwis are a very undemanding fruit. A ripe kiwi will stay good for several days in your fruit bowl at room temperature. In the refrigerator it will keep as long as four weeks. An unripe kiwi will ripen nicely at room temperature, or you can refrigerate it to retard ripening. An unripe kiwi may stay good in the refrigerator for months. When you're ready for it, bring it out and allow it to ripen.
Contrary to popular perception, you don't have to peel a kiwi - just wash it. The thin brown skin does not taste bitter, and it hold the fruit together for eating out of hand.
Kiwis have a beautiful, bright green flesh that looks great when combined with blueberries, oranges, and other fruits. They're terrific pureed - use the puree to sweeten strawberries or raspberries, drizzle it over ice cream, or put it in ice cube trays, freeze, and eat like sorbet (there's no need to add sugar).
Kiwi Chiffon Pudding
Other recipes from Produce Pete.