I first became acquainted with persimmons when I purchased the Ink House B & B back in the ‘90s. I’d seen them, of course, but have to admit I’d never tasted one until well into my adult years.
At the time, I was told that the Hachiya persimmon tree on the Ink House property was the largest and oldest in the valley. I never authenticated this, but it was a gigantic tree so I will go with the possible urban legend. Given that the house was constructed in 1884, I think it’s safe to assume that the tree is at least that old.
This tree was so tall that I had an agreement with the local flocks of starlings. They could have the unreachable fruit at the top of the tree and I could have what fell to the ground or was easily accessible by the average ladder. Our arrangement worked well. I knew that once the starlings began to enjoy the tree, the fruit was perfectly ripe and ready to be harvested. While the feeding frenzy, complete with their signature squawking, did on occasion freak out my guest, it worked for the birds and for me.
Neighbors stopped by to share the fruit, kids would pick some and sell for a few cents each at their miniature fruit stand and guests would often take some home with them.
I must say, I still miss my tree in the winter. The persimmon bread I made was great for the holidays.
Like olives, persimmons are a winter fruit and actually don’t ripen until the temperature drops. Depending on Mother Nature, harvest can be late October through December.
Not all persimmons are created equal. There are two cultivars, Fuyu and Hachiya.
Fuyus are more stout and stubby in shape, rounded. When ready to eat, they are crispy like an apple. Peel them and enjoy them raw.
Hachiyas are oblong in shape and very squishy when ripe, almost as if they are overripe. The peel of the Hachiyas is best discarded. Often, home chefs assume that they should not use Hachiya fruit when it’s mushy and add it to recipes before it’s fully ripened. The result is astringent with big tannins. Pretty much unpalatable.
When Hachiyas are allowed to fully ripen, the flavor profile is sweet, delicate and almost exotic. Hachiya persimmons are creamy and perfect for baking,
Typically found in dry, warm climates, persimmons are the national fruit of Japan. According to my research, persimmon seeds were introduced in the U.S. by Commodore Perry in 1856. Today, they are grown in abundance in China, Burma, Italy, parts of India and Australia, in Japan and in the Southwest U.S. with the greatest numbers in California.
High in vitamins A and C and an excellent source of fiber, both types of persimmon are low in calories and fat and high in antioxidants and beta-carotene.
Considering the plethora of Hachiya persimmon trees in Italy, we might expect an abundance of recipes using this intensely colorful fruit, but no. With a couple of exceptions that I will share, typically people buy them to eat simply by scooping out the tender flesh with a spoon. In Italy, the persimmon is called “cachi,” very similar to its botanical name, Diospyros kaki, or food of the gods.
Luckily, when I purchased the Ink House, I discovered a dog-eared recipe book in the cupboard from the 1940s. Included in what I lovingly referred to as “Granny Recipes,” were two delightful recipes using persimmons. Thank you to whoever left this behind so that I knew what to do with my persimmons. I did, as I am known to do, play with one of the recipes, which became one of the favorite breakfast breads of my B & B guests.
When I harvested my persimmons I would wash and dry them and then place three or four in a large zip-lock bag in the freezer. Don’t peel them first. When you are ready to use them, simply thaw them out at room temperature. The easiest way to extract the pulp is to simply hold the persimmon in your hand and squeeze firmly over a bowl. The flesh will plop into the bowl and then you simply discard the skin. If there are any thick white veins in the pulp, just pull them out and discard. They can add bitterness.
One thing to remember in persimmon recipes, the Fuyu and Hachiya are not interchangeable.
Mangia Bene this winter with your favorite persimmon.