Holiday Special: Cherimoya Cream Pie
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Cherimoya—even the name is fun to say! This high-altitude tropical fruit can be found in most well-stocked, high-end grocery outlets, sometimes marketed as a custard apple, which is a good hint to this fruit’s texture. While the cherimoya is not a common “lunchbox” fruit, the holiday season deserves a special occasion ingredient and recipe to get your young sous chefs into the spirit. Plus, it’s a chance for the kids to be exposed to an exotic delicacy while learning the basics of cream pie making! While this dish is a great way for your kitchen helpers to contribute to the holiday season’s celebrations, it’s also great in the summer using nectarines and peaches. But December is the month of dietary extravagance— so keep it healthy but make it extraordinary.
To that end, this recipe also comes equipped with a healthier graham cracker crust recipe over the traditional sugared formula that your kitchen assistants will hopefully adopt as their own going forward. It’s not the Graham crackers that are bad for you; it’s the cup of white or brown sugar that seems to be standard in every graham crust recipe I could find on the ‘net. The graham crackers are made from coarsely ground hard red wheat— one of the least processed wheat flours on the market. So, what’s the secret to making a healthy crust without sugar? Just omit it! According to the ingredients on the package, the crackers have already been sweetened during the manufacturing process, so adding more sugar serves no purpose except to increase empty calorie count.
The original recipe for the filling calls for a half-cup of sugar, which I’ve omitted as a completely superfluous ingredient (I will never understand why this country insists on adding sugar to naturally sweet (or even sour) fresh fruits!)—adding sugar to any fruit changes that healthy gift from Ma Nature into just another sugar-coated junk food! Cherimoya has a strong, sweet flavor. Even Mark Twain was a fan of the fruit, calling it “the most delicious fruit known to man,” thanks to its very sweet taste. Its flavor has been described as a mix of pineapple, strawberry and banana flavors; now, why would anyone add sugar to that flavor-filled combination? Adding refined sugar to naturally sweet food is a contributing factor to childhood obesity—of which America has the highest rate compared to other countries.
Turning Graham crackers into a tasty crust is a simple procedure of first mixing the crumbs with butter, vegetable spread or oil until a “sticky” mixture of crumbs is formed. The mixture is then poured into a pie pan and, using hands, waxed paper or an empty measuring cup, the kids can have fun spreading and pressing the mix into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. To bake or refrigerate the crust separately seems to be a matter of opinion. Some suggest baking the crust separately before filling, while other recipes say to chill overnight without baking. Keep it simple, especially for a novice— place the uncooked crust in the refrigerator while making the filling, then simply pour the filling in and bake the whole pie at once. Easy peasy!
The filling is an easy, one-bowl construct, but it has a few basic culinary lessons for young kitchen helpers. Like, separating the yolks from the whites as well as beating those whites into foamy peaks. The handling of those beaten egg whites requires timing and a bit of culinary patience. That is, the whites must be used immediately before they settle and then gently folded several times into the filling mix – not stirred – until the white streaks are gone.
The Cherimoya is more than just a sweet tropical fruit; it contains a range of nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Only eat the interior pulp of cherimoya, discarding the skin and the seeds, which should never be crushed. The seeds are toxic and have even been used to create insecticides when crushed—avoid contact with your eyes. A supervising adult needs to closely oversee the seeding of this fruit and double-check that no seeds are missed before the fruit is pureed as one shatter seed will make the filling inedible. Still, the unique flavor of this fruit is something very special – garnish with fresh red raspberries for the holiday season!
8 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable spread or vegetable oil
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 cups Cherimoya fruit (about 4 fruits), seeded and pureed <1>**
1 can evaporated milk (14 ounces)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
Fresh Raspberries for garnish
What the supervising adult should do:
Double and triple-check the seeding of the cherimoya! One seed pureed into the filling will ruin it. Bake at 375F until a knife inserted comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes or until the top is a light golden brown.
What the kids can do
Crust: Use a food processor or blender to turn graham crackers into crumbs. Then combine with melted butter until all the crumbs have been moistened and clump together. Pour the now-sticky crumbs into a greased 9-inch pie dish and press down very firmly with your hands or a sheet of wax paper to spread and cover the bottom and up the sides— refrigerate about 30 minutes before adding the filling.
Cut each cherimoya into quarters, then scoop and scrape the fruit out with a serrated spoon (you can easily remove the seeds with clean hands). Measure out 4 cups of fruit and then puree until smooth in a food processor or blender. Be sure to remove every seed before the puree – the supervising adult should double-check.
Filling: Separate egg yolks from egg whites. Then whisk together all the filling ingredients, except the egg whites, in a large bowl.
Beat egg whites just until soft peaks form with a hand or electric mixer. Then immediately fold beaten egg whites into the filling mixture. Do not stir – instead, keep gently folding until no white streaks remain. Then pour the mixture into the pie shell and hand it off to a supervising adult for baking.
Once the pie is cooked, allow to cool before topping with fresh red raspberries— ‘tis the season!