Now, however, kiwis are making a comeback. It's generally accepted that we should forget about serving it with a julienne of this or a coulis of that and eat it simply. We should just slice the top off and serve it like a boiled egg, or bung it in bits into a fruit salad. The fruit may no longer be the epitome of cool but the fact is that in the last four years sales of it have increased by more than 50 per cent.
The Chinese gooseberry was initially grown in the Yangtze Valley. It was only at the turn of the century that vines were brought to New Zealand and it was discovered that the soil and climate were perfect for growing the fruit commercially.
Exports were insignificant until the Sixties, when a canny marketing executive renamed it "kiwi" because of its supposed similarity to the eggs of the native New Zealand bird. The fruit was aggressively marketed, and now more than 60 million trays are exported from the country every year, from June to late December. (The rest of the time the fruit are supplied mainly by Chile, Italy and North America.)
In New Zealand the primary growing area is the Bay of Plenty on the North Island. The small town of Te Puke, south east of Tauranga, is known as the kiwi capital of the world. Here, in the rich rural belt flanked by Papmoa Hills, the fertile soil produces the fruit in abundance. Not to miss a trick, growers have even created a horticultural theme park called Kiwifruit Country. Visitors can ride "kiwikarts" (a sort of bus-cum-train) on a guided tour of the orchards and climb up a viewing tower shaped like a giant slice of the fruit.
Like pears, kiwi fruit are picked when they are hard. Harvesting is by hand and the pickers wear cotton gloves to make sure that the fruit isn't bruised, or the protective covering of hair rubbed off. Provided they are kept cool, the fruit can then last for months, until warm air triggers the ripening process.
Kiwifruit Country (00 64 7 573 6340) is on the main Rotorua to Tauranga Highway. It is open daily. As well as the tour and the tower experience, you can sample fruit wines and other specialities in the restaurant.
New Zealand fruit (they're the ones with stickers saying Zespri) arrive in supermarkets in Britain over the next few weeks.
A recent study by the Department of Food and Science and Nutrition at Rutgens University in New Jersey, US, found that gram for gram, kiwi fruit has more nutrients than any other popular fruit, followed by mango and papaya.