Falling For Persimmons

Persimmons i

Don't confuse the Hachiya (center) with the Fuyu (left), or your persimmon-eating experience might be memorable for the wrong reasons. Hachiyas are nearly inedible unless very ripe, while Fuyus can be eaten hard or soft. Susan Russo for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Susan Russo for NPR
Persimmons

Don't confuse the Hachiya (center) with the Fuyu (left), or your persimmon-eating experience might be memorable for the wrong reasons. Hachiyas are nearly inedible unless very ripe, while Fuyus can be eaten hard or soft.

Susan Russo for NPR

Thanksgiving Must-Haves

Do you have special recipes and food traditions for the holidays? What one dish must be on your Thanksgiving table? Share your best holiday food stories with Kitchen Window and the NPR Community here.

About The Author

Susan Russo is a food writer in San Diego. She publishes stories, recipes and photos on her cooking blog, Food Blogga. When she isn't writing about her Italian family back in Rhode Island or life with her husband in Southern California, she can be found milling around a local farmers market buying a lot more food than two people could possibly eat.

Rarely does San Diego disappoint when it comes to weather or produce. Autumn, however, might be the exception.

A New England girl at heart, I expect autumn to be full of crisp days and crisp apples. Fall in San Diego, however, means temperatures in the 80s, dry, dusty winds and a rather uninspiring collection of apples. Just when I was about to write off the entire season in San Diego, I discovered persimmons, which arrive in late October and last through December.

It was a few years ago when I first spotted persimmons at a local farmers market — shiny, pumpkin-colored fruit with exotic names like Hachiya and Fuyu. A farmer handed me a wedge of a Fuyu to try. When I bit into it, its firm flesh snapped with crispness; it tasted a little like an apricot dusted with cinnamon. I was smitten.

Intrigued, I asked for a sample of the Hachiya persimmon. He put both hands up and sputtered, "Oh, no! You can't eat a Hachiya like this." He picked up a deep orange, heart-shaped fruit, gave it a squeeze and said, "See, this is still hard. That means it's unripe." Then, pointing to a handwritten sign on his table that read "Fuyus eaten hard. Hachiyas eaten VERY, VERY soft," he added emphatically, "You cannot eat these until they're very, very soft first."

A few days later, in a typical act of impatience, I bit into my almost-ripe Hachiya. Immediately, all of the moisture was wicked from my mouth. I could barely swallow. It was then that I recalled the farmer's advice, "very, very soft first." This is one fruit where patience really does matter.

Hachiya persimmons have high levels of tannins; when unripe, they taste like a super-green banana. Fuyu persimmons, in contrast, do not have this quirky ripeness issue, so they can be eaten either hard or soft. If you confuse them (or have patience issues), your persimmon-eating experience might be memorable for the wrong reasons.

Persimmons are of the genus Diospyros, which in Greek means "divine food" or "fruit of the gods." Though prized in many parts of the world — they are considered Japan's national fruit — persimmons remain a mystery to many in the United States. This may have to do with their bumpy start in America.

The first persimmons eaten here were grown in Virginia, hence their scientific name Diospyros virginiana. These wild persimmons were smaller and seedier than today's and perplexed many early settlers. In 1612, William Strachey wrote in Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania: "They have a plum which they call Persimmons. ... When they are not fully ripe, they are harsh and choky, and fur a man's mouth like alum, howbeit being taken fully ripe it is a reasonable pleasant fruit, somewhat luscious." Mr. Strachey would have benefited from the farmer's sign.

Fortunately, Native Americans, who were familiar with persimmons, taught the colonists about this unusual fruit. They introduced them to persimmon pudding and persimmon bread, which became popular desserts in early America and remain so today. In fact, our word for "persimmon" comes from the Algonquin putchamin or pesssemin. While most of the world refers to the fruit as kaki, its Japanese name, Americans have stuck with "persimmon."

It wasn't until the mid-19th century, when Cmdr. Matthew C. Perry introduced a sweeter Japanese persimmon, that the fruit became more widely popular in the U.S. These Asian persimmons, varieties of Diospyros kaki, are native to China but are most closely associated with Japan, where breeders created superior tasting fruit.

By the late 19th century, hundreds of persimmon varieties were brought to America and planted primarily in California. Of these, two types are currently grown on a commercial scale and can be found in supermarkets across the country: the astringent Hachiya and the nonastringent Fuyu, which differ in shape, texture and culinary use.

When selecting heart-shaped Hachiya persimmons, look for deep orange, glossy skin. Don't worry if they have some black streaks; those are just sun spots. Place the fruit in your hand. A fully ripe Hachiya will have nearly translucent skin and feel as if it is filled with water. It should be extremely soft to the touch and requires gentle handling. Removing the thin skin reveals coral-colored flesh so thick and lustrous, it looks like marmalade and tastes like it, too — it's pleasingly sweet with hints of mango and apricot.

To eat a Hachiya, remove the calyx (the flower-shaped stem on top) and use a spoon to scoop out the honeyed, custardlike flesh. It's a deliciously messy affair, so have some napkins on hand. Their creamy, sweet flesh makes Hachiyas ideal for baked goods such as muffins, breads and puddings. They also can be pureed and used as a sauce for ice cream or pancakes, or they can be dried and eaten as a snack.

A hard Hachiya may take up to a week to fully ripen — remember, very, very soft. To speed the ripening process, place the fruit in a paper bag with a banana, which will release ethylene, a gas that promotes ripening. Once the fruit reaches its jellylike softness, it can be eaten right away or refrigerated for several days.

When selecting squat, tomato-shaped Fuyu persimmons, look for unblemished fruit that is heavy for its size. The skin color ranges from pale golden-orange to rich reddish-orange. Generally, the darker the color, the sweeter the taste. Once the calyx is removed, a Fuyu can be eaten like an apple, skin and all, or it can be peeled. If left at room temperature, Fuyus will gradually soften. With their mildly sweet, cinnamon-laced flavor, they are best eaten out of hand or tossed in salads and salsas.

Since discovering persimmons, autumn in San Diego has begun to grow on me. Now, if only some of those palm trees would turn red and yellow.

Autumn Harvest Salad With Persimmons

Autumn Harvest Salad with Persimmons i
Susan Russo for NPR
Autumn Harvest Salad with Persimmons
Susan Russo for NPR

This salad celebrates beautiful autumn fruit, including crisp Fuyu persimmons, tart pomegranate seeds and succulent Medjool dates. The bitter dandelion greens and frisee act as a foil to the sweet fruit, while the citrus vinaigrette adds just the right amount of acidity.

Makes 4 servings

Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard (or regular Dijon plus 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds)

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper, to taste

Salad

1 bunch dandelion greens, washed, stems removed, and chopped*

1 large head of frisee lettuce

1 Fuyu persimmon, unpeeled and cut into 8 wedges

1 Bosc or Bartlett pear, ripe yet still firm, unpeeled and thinly sliced

4 Medjool dates, thinly sliced

1/4 cup pomegranate arils (the edible red pieces of the fruit)

2 tablespoons lightly toasted pecans, sliced lengthwise

For the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the dandelions, frisee, persimmons and pears. Pour half of the vinaigrette over salad and toss until coated. Divide evenly among four plates. Add dates, pomegranate arils and pecans to each plate. Drizzle each serving with the remaining vinaigrette.

*Dandelion greens are available at most supermarkets as well as organic specialty markets. Bitter greens such as chicory and endive make good substitutes.

Persimmon And Granny Smith Apple Salsa

Persimmon And Granny Smith Apple Salsa i
Susan Russo for NPR
Persimmon And Granny Smith Apple Salsa
Susan Russo for NPR

Crunchy Fuyu persimmons are wonderful in salsas, especially when paired with tart fruit like pomegranates or apples such as Granny Smith, Pink Lady or Pippin. Serve this vividly colorful salsa with chips or alongside grilled shrimp, white fish or pork chops.

Makes approximately 2 cups

2 Fuyu persimmons, unpeeled and diced (about 1 heaping cup)

1 medium Granny Smith apple, unpeeled and diced (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 jalapeno (the more seeds, the hotter the salsa)

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh mint

1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh cilantro

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until well-combined.

If serving within 45 minutes, add the fresh herbs. Otherwise, do not add them until you are ready to serve, as the herbs will oxidize, or turn brown. Salsa (without the herbs) can be made ahead, stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 3 hours.

Note: If you don't like the intensity of raw scallions, place them in a small mesh colander and pour very hot water over them. This will remove some of their pungency without sacrificing flavor. Drain and add to the salsa.

Persimmon, Gingersnap And Caramel Sundaes

Persimmon, Gingersnap And Caramel Sundaes i
Susan Russo for NPR
Persimmon, Gingersnap And Caramel Sundaes
Susan Russo for NPR

With their natural honeyed sweetness, Hachiya persimmons are ideal for desserts. Spicy gingersnap cookies and toasted pecans add crunch to an otherwise lusciously creamy combination of vanilla bean ice cream, persimmon puree and caramel.

Makes 4 servings

2 fully ripe Hachiya persimmons, stems and skins removed

2 pints vanilla bean ice cream

1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies

4 tablespoons caramel sauce

1/4 cup lightly toasted chopped pecans

For persimmon puree, place peeled fruit in a medium mesh sieve over a large bowl. Using a rubber spatula, press the persimmon flesh firmly against the mesh. Discard any solids remaining in the sieve.

Divide ingredients evenly among four tall glasses or dessert bowls. Start with a layer of crushed gingersnaps, add persimmon puree, then ice cream, then caramel sauce and repeat. Sprinkle the top of each sundae with toasted pecans. Serve immediately.

Spiced Persimmon And Walnut Muffins

Spiced Persimmon And Walnut Muffins i
Susan Russo for NPR
Spiced Persimmon And Walnut Muffins
Susan Russo for NPR

Buttery soft Hachiya persimmons are used extensively in baked goods. However, the high heat often diminishes the flavor. That's why I added a diced Fuyu persimmon to this muffin recipe. The result is a moist, cakey muffin with double the spicy, sweet persimmon flavor.

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

A couple pinches ground cloves

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/4 cup canola oil

1/3 cup honey

2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

The pulp of one large very, very ripe Hachiya persimmon (about 1/3 cup)

1/2 cup peeled and diced Fuyu persimmon (about 1 medium)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped golden raisins

1/2 cup lightly toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts, plus 3 tablespoons untoasted nuts for tops of muffins

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-mold regular size muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil and honey. Add minced ginger and vanilla.

Holding the Hachiya persimmon over a bowl, remove the peel. Place the flesh in the bowl and mash it with a fork, making sure there are no pieces of skin or any stray seeds. Add the persimmon flesh to the egg mixture and whisk until just blended. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir quickly until well-combined. Fold in the diced Fuyu persimmon, raisins and walnuts. Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 molds. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the remaining 3 tablespoons chopped untoasted walnuts.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing each muffin and placing on a wire rack to cool.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.