Fifty years ago almost no one in the United States had heard of, much less tasted, kiwis—the strange-looking orbs that were then called Chinese gooseberries. But in the 1960s, Frieda Caplan, a determined produce distributor, brought the first big batch into Southern California.

The fuzzy fruits turned out to be a tough sell because at that time, "nobody had an understanding of anything unusual," Caplan says. "It took four months to sell the first 2,400 pounds we got." Thanks to a miraculously long shelf life, the kiwis were still good. Caplan then partnered with a local restaurant to make colorful, flavorful tarts topped with slices of the bright green flesh and offered samples to her prospective produce buyers. With their tangy taste and natural beauty, the gooseberries became an immediate hit. As a final strategy, Caplan renamed the New Zealand-grown crop "kiwifruit" because of its resemblance to that country's beloved bird. Voilà! A produce star was born.