About a year ago, one of my colleagues sent an email to the office asking if anyone wanted a couple of Fuyu persimmons. He’d received them in his weekly CSA box and neither he nor his wife knew what to do with them. Most of the folks in the office were likewise unfamiliar with the fruit and ignored the offer. But somebody who knew better snapped them up quickly and I was out of luck.
We haven’t been persimmon eaters for long. My first taste of a persimmon came as an amusing shock. Ever game to try something new, I picked an unripe persimmon from a tree in a Florida backyard and took a bite. The puckering, astringent juice of the still hard fruit was revolting and I spit it out the moment it hit my tongue. We don’t grow persimmons in Idaho so this bright orange fruit was an exotic the first time I saw one and I couldn’t resist the temptation to try it. It would be 20 years before I would step out onto that ledge again but mercifully the next taste was sweet and the exquisite fruit was nectar.
Persimmon ripeness is tricky to gauge. The temptation to cut into a piece of fruit that isn’t yet deep, dark orange should be resisted. Even if you’re eating a non-astringent Fuyu variety, you’ll be happier with the flavor if you wait for the firm flesh to ripen to the point of giving a little under pressure. Frustration with persimmons comes in two forms, however: waiting for unripe fruit to reach peak flavor in the first place and then realizing that you’ve let it get to be too ripe. The persimmon pucker is nasty but so too is the extreme sliminess of overripe fruit. Once ripe, they need to be eaten right away. They won’t “wait” for you to find a use for them.
These beautiful Asian Hachiya persimmons have been cultivated in California for over a hundred years. They came from China via Japan, but today they are harvested nearby and arrive in our produce markets in October. The Hachiya is an astringent variety that has to ripen completely before it’s worth eating. Ripe, they are decadently sweet. The texture of the flesh is a little gelatinous. Some of the fruit can be a little fibrous. The flesh can be scooped out of the thick skin surrounding it. Just cut around the tough stem end to expose the inside of the fruit and scoop it out with a spoon. Serve persimmons at breakfast with yogurt and nuts or add them to your dinner salad. They’re amazing with cheese!
Edible varieties native to America grow in the eastern states. They’re much smaller than the Asian varieties at just an inch or so in diameter. Long a native food source, they aren’t commercially available except in the form of nursery grown trees. While you won’t find them in your local grocery, they’re commonly eaten where they grow.
We haven’t tried any of the thousands of persimmon pudding recipes out there, but we’re curious and look forward to giving it a try this fall. The fruit is incredibly versatile in its many uses as a moist binding agent in baked treats like cookies, cakes and quick breads. If you happen to be in Mitchell, Indiana (it could happen) next September, you’ll be able to hit the town’s Annual Persimmon Festival and check out the winners of the persimmon pudding recipe contest. We aren’t likely to make it, but we’re anxious to experiment with the persimmons we’ve picked up this year. We’ll be sure to bring updates on the results.