Tis the season for pumpkins and persimmons. Bright orange, beautiful and full of autumnal memories, both of these fall classics are quintessential to starting off the season. While pumpkins are the typical autumn display, persimmons are an often overlooked fruit that just might change your cooking routine and broaden your home cooking.
What Are Persimmons?
Persimmons are bright orange fruits that look an awful lot like tomatoes but have an extremely short season. So that means, once you see them out at the farmers' markets, you should stock up. There are two types of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. The first type of persimmon, Astringent, contain levels of soluble tannins, also found in red wine, and must be totally soft and ripe to eat. Astringent persimmons are essentially unpalatable when eaten unripe.
You can ripen astringent varieties in your own kitchen with bananas or another fruit, like pears, that give off high levels of ethylene at room temperature. Many swear by clear plastic containers, while the paper bag method also works well. Of the astringent varieties, Hachiya, the heart-shaped persimmon, is the most popular. Astringent varieties are best for drying once the ripe persimmons are washed. Hachiya persimmons should only be eaten when they are so ripe that you can spoon out their flesh with a spoon.
Non-astringent varieties are similar in shape to tomatoes. Fuyu persimmons are the most common non-astringent varieties and can be enjoyed prior to full ripening. Naturally sweeter and firmer, this variety is often used for baking and looks like a Roma tomato with an elongated body and slightly pointed tip. They can be eaten when they are firm, and they will taste like a crisp mango-fig flavored apple.
Tenderly sweet with floral notes and spicy undertones, the little orange packages are unlike anything you've ever had. The fruit flesh can range from crisp to custard-like, and their flavors are a balance between honey, pear, apple, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Where Are They Grown?
They are native to Japan, China, India, Burma, and Australia. In 1856, Commodore Matthew Perry sent persimmon seeds from Japan to Europe and the United States. There are eight types of persimmon trees: Asian persimmon, Japanese persimmon; date-plum; American persimmon; black persimmon; Mabolo; Indian persimmon; and the Texas persimmon.
In Texas, persimmons grow wild in the central and western parts of Texas, along with southwest Oklahoma. Texas persimmons also grow wild in Mexico in places like eastern Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulpas, and Nuevo León. They also grow wild in California, the state that is the largest supplier in America. That being said, if you live in these regions, fresh persimmons are still a coveted farmer's market find.
How Do You Eat Them?
When picking persimmons, it's best to look for the non-astringent type or the Fuyu variety. These beefsteak tomato-shaped fruits taste best when eaten while firm and crisp. If you have a variety with seeds, they are indeed safe to eat so no need to pick them out. To enjoy, simply slice like you would an apple. The most important thing to remember is that the best and most edible fruit is a ripe one.
Because the growing season is so short, most home cooks aren't sure how to incorporate this fruit into their recipes. Or they consider them too precious to do anything but eat them raw. Neither assumption is the case. So, now that you know a little bit about this perfect, yet mysterious fall fruit, it's time to learn how to use it.