Ripe and almost fully ripe Persimmons
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
You need to know that not all Persimmons are the same. The orange tomato-like fruit, Diospyros kaki, originated in China and thereafter became highly valued in Japan at least a thousand years ago. They fall into two types: the astringent hachiya persimmon and the non-astringent ones like fuyu or Jiro. You sometimes see persimmons labelled as Kaki or Sharon to identify them as the non-astringent persimmon developed in the Israeli Sharron Valley (though these days much of that commercial crop is grown in Spain). The non-astringent fruits can be eaten at any stage from firm (good used sliced in salads or baked), through to soft, when they can be eaten uncooked as a dessert.
The astringent hachiya persimmon, on the other hand, is way too sharp to eat until the juicy, almost jellied flesh is practically bursting out of its skin. They tend to be larger than their cousins. The plum-like shape settles into a voluptuous round when very ripe. Whenever possible, we buy persimmons from Italy where they are known as Cacchi. Late October to December is their season. Sometimes they arrive still a little firm, which means our customers need to keep them a week or so until they ripen. At other times they come through our doors at their ripe, honeyed best, nestled in protective trays, looking like translucent deep-amber jelly bombs. Handle with care!
In Italy, the provinces of Salerno, Napoli and Caserta are particularly persimmon growing regions. The writer Patience Gray, in her book Honey from a Weed, writing in the 1980s, describes the persimmon trees being of “great splendour”, their fruits pale green turning to “burning gold remaining on the tree long after its leaves have fallen”. She remembers the Tiber Valley and the valleys between Naples and Benevento being illuminated by them in late autumn. Gray also recounts being told how, in Japan, some fruits are left on the tree deliberately until the frosts arrive and turn the soft pulp into instant sorbet. And dried persimmons have long been an integral part of traditional Japanese New Year celebrations.
There is a smaller, plum-sized, variety of Persimmon native to America – Diospyros virginiana – which, when found growing in the wild by settlers, was described as like a medlar or sorb which must be left to break down until soft and pulpy. It was then commonly used in stewed fruit puddings. There’s a Mexican persimmon too, known as the black sapote or black persimmon, also known as the chocolate pudding fruit for its taste resemblance.
With both main types of persimmon we see here, when ripe, you need do very little to them. You can peel the ripe fruits and freeze the pulp for a sorbet – no added sugar required. The pulp also makes a good base for a steamed sponge pudding or can be used wherever a thick fruit puree is needed – a fool or mousse for instance. But best of all, if you have a persimmon at bursting point, is just to slice the fruit in half and dip your spoon in – maybe adding a little cream.