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Persimmons

Known as the divine food in Japan because it's so sweet, the persimmon is an orange to orange-red fruit about the size of an apple, with four prominent, large, papery leaves at the crown. It has a very thin, smooth, delicate skin that bruises easily if not handled with care. The persimmon is one of the sweetest of all fruits when it's ripe.

The Japanese have cultivated and improved the persimmon for more than one thousand years. They consider it a national fruit and recommend it for the relief of fatigue and hangovers-probably because it's so nutritious. It is the fruit of the ornamental ebony plant, very rare in a genus that produces almost no other edible fruit. Brought to Europe by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century, and later to Brazil and parts of the West Indies, persimmon seeds were introduced to North America by Commodore Perry in 1855.

Aside from China and Japan, major producers include California, Brazil, Chile, Spain, France, Italy, and Israel. Most recently New Zealand and Australia have started to produce and ship persimmons in great quantities.

Although there are hundreds of varieties, only two principal types are well known here; Hachiya and Fuyu. The Hachiya which is incredibly sweet when ripe, is full of mouth-puckering tannic acid. The Fuyu, a newer variety, has had the tannic acid bred out.

Hichiya are bright, heart shaped, and orange-red inside and out. They have an exotic taste but can only be eaten fully ripe, when the tannic acid has dissipated-a stage they don't reach until they are very soft. The black seeds in the center are edible, but they can be discarded, along with the skin, which retains tannic acid longer than the flesh and usually isn't eaten unless the fruit is very soft.

Season

Persimmons are available nearly year round. California persimmons are availalbe from September to November, with bulk harvested in October.

Selecting

Avoid persimmons with greenish or yellow skins and those that show cracks or splits. The four leaves should still be attached to the stem end.

Storing

A Hachiya in good condition will often need to be ripened at home. Leave it out on the counter at room temperature or fasten the process by putting it into a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas from the other fruit will help the persimmon ripen. A fully ripe Hachiya will be slightly wrinkled or have a few brown spots. At this very soft stage, almost like a firm jelly, it's at the peak of perfection and should be eaten immediately.

Preparing

Persimmons can be blanched to remove the skin easily. Just dip in boiling water for a few seconds, then plunge in cold water. Or simply wash before eating. Pluck or cut out the top leaves. A ripe Hachiya can be halved or quartered and the flesh scooped out with a spoon.

A soft, ripe persimmon can be wrapped whole in plastic or foil and eaten partly frozen like a sorbet. The flesh can also be pureed with a little lemon juice and used as a topping for ice cream or as a filling for layer cakes and crepes.

Because they are readily available during the early winter, persimmons are a good addition to holiday fare and make a wonderful colorful decoration when arranged and allowed to ripen in a fruit bowl or Christmas basket.

Recipes with Persimmons

Broiled Persimmons


Additional Resources

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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