For whatever reason, we always associate fresh beautiful fruit with summer time: bright red strawberries, juicy blackberries, peaches. But there is something to be said for the darker, more mysterious side of the fruits family: the winter seasonal fruits, like pomegranates (as I previously highlighted), quince, tangerines, meyer lemons, and persimmons. I too used to be a complete dummy when it came to persimmons. Persi-what? Well, as always, I’m here to demystify these peculiar, delicious beauties.
Oh my, my, my. Persimmons. I have only been enjoying them for the last couple years as I was first introduced to them while living in Santa Barbara. Persimmons are available in two varieties: Fuyu and hachiya. Both types are a deep burnt orange, verging on red color as they ripen. The Fuyu’s are short, bulbous, and squatty, like an apple that has been smooshed down. The hachiya are more oblong, slightly larger at the stem, and then they taper down to a blunt tip. It’s important to differentiate between the two because they have vastly different properties depending on ripeness and firmness. If you’re not careful, you’ll get a mouthful of astringent, mouth-numbing fruit that tastes more like Styrofoam dipped in ammonia.
Allow me to explain. The hachiya persimmon in its firm state is completely inedible until it’s very ripe. If you try to eat it when underripe, it will literally numb your mouth; it’s a toxin in the flesh. Once they ripen, this compound disintegrates, and the flesh is sugary sweet and delicious, but you have to wait for it. When perfectly ripe, the hachiya should feel so soft and squishy, so you’d think it rotten. Once you cut it open, the soft, jelly-like insides will be bright orange and will visually resemble marmalade. For this reason, the hachiyas are great for baking. The floral, sweet flavor works beautifully as a flavoring for breakfast breads, and it makes an exotic version of a traditional yellow-layer cake. You can certainly eat these by themselves (I do so sometimes just cutting off the top of the fruit, then using a spoon to scoop out the insides). It’s like natures organic jello cup!
The Fuyus, on the other hand, are ripe when they are still firm. When choosing ripe specimens at the market, look for fruit that are firm to the touch, but give slightly with pressure. These can be sliced and eaten much like pears. There can be small seeds or pith-like fibers inside although it’s usually not that detectable and I commonly don’t bother cutting it out. The flavor is much like the hachiya but less sugary and a little brighter (just a tiny bit more citrus.)
Eat Fuyus like pears. They can be peeled and sliced, served with vanilla ice cream or yogurt, or dollopped atop cereal. You could also eat them unpeeled if you like (I’m usually to lazy to peel them, so I just slice them into wedges and eat it as is.) Also, as with any firm fruit, you can bake them into cakes or tarts—amazingly delicious! Also try sautéing them with butter, honey, a touch of cardamom, and coriander. Then once softened and caramelized, serve as a sweet accompaniment to pound cake or angel food cake. Think of it as wintertime shortcake!
You can also use the persimmons in savory recipes. You know how much I love pickling things, so naturally I’m currently pickling the Fuyu persimmons. I use sugar, cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, and apple cider vinegar, then I serve them atop a big kale salad or with slow-cooked porky collard greens. These sweet and sour pickles brighten up any hearty, rich wintertime dish. Hachiya flesh can be stirred into sauces, like marinara (for an unusually delicious twist) or soups (think chili, or a lentil and sausage soup.)
Of course, I encourage you to try persimmons on your next grocery store or farmers market run. I think of them as the dark horse of the winter fruits. They’re a little hard to come by sometimes, but their flavor pairing capabilities are endless. I think the persimmon is the new pear. In fact, I’m going to attempt to make a persimmon tarte tatin right now! Oh yes, that’s happening.