Kiwi: The Down Under Wonder
Kiwifruits aren’t much to look at, but beneath the brown furry skin of this egg-shape berry lies succulent, translucent, emerald-green flesh with an irresistible flavor that hints of melon, strawberry, banana, and citrus. The fruit is high in fiber and low in calories; has twice the vitamin C of oranges; and contains more potassium than bananas.
A native of southwestern China, kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) arrived in New Zealand in 1906. Then known as the Chinese gooseberry, it was grown as an ornamental for its attractive fan-shape leaves, fragrant white flowers, and twining habit. As a taste developed for the fuzzy fruits, New Zealand became the largest producer of Chinese gooseberries. In the 1950s, as a marketing tactic, its name was changed to kiwifruit after the country’s comical, flightless, bird.
Kiwifruit is easy to grow, but requires a long growing season of 225 frost-free days in order for the fruit to ripen. Hardy kiwis (A. arguta, A. kolomikta) are cold tolerant to several degrees below zero and need only 130 days to ripen. They have grape-size fruit with a smooth, usually green, skin that doesn’t require peeling. ‘Arctic Beauty’ (a cultivar of A. kolomikta) is an extremely hardy kiwi that will grow to Zone 3 and survive winter temperatures to –40°F (–40°C). Like other kiwis, ‘Arctic Beauty’ is dioecious and requires a male plant to pollinate the female. One male will suffice for four to five females but the male plant is so colorful, you may want to grow more. Its foliage is a dazzling mix of hot pink, emerald green, and white.
Kiwis will grow in full sun or partial shade in almost any garden soil as long as it is well drained. Each vine may produce up to 100 pounds of fruit, so grow them on a sturdy arbor or on wires. Harvest fuzzy kiwifruits when the skin turns brown and seeds are black; pick hardy kiwis just before they are fully ripe. After picking, let kiwis sit a few days at room temperature to soften and sweeten.
Kiwis are great eaten out of hand, sliced up in salads, or cooked in a stir-fry. They are a natural for making an upside-down cake, which is no surprise for this treat from Down Under.