ISSUE 11: PERSIMMON
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME
Persimmon, far and away, has been the most engaging topic thus far in this silly little newsletter’s academic tenure! After ringing the proverbial alarm on my personal IG the response was overwhleming: DMs, texts, emails, and photos all came my way and it was super fun hearing from friends old and new. 🤗
First, you may be asking what is a persimmon? A persimmon is a fruit, specifically a berry. The word persimmon is of Algonquian origin, while the Greek genus name Diospyros means fruit of the god Zeus. Commercially cultivated persimmons are native to China and that's where most come from, along with Spain and South Korea. Its taste, to me, is unlike anything else but you will see phrases like “notes of cinnamon and date” thrown around. In Greenpoint I found persimmons at The Meat Hook, Mr Plum, and Mr Berry. I did not grow up eating persimmons and didn’t know about them until recently, wondering what people did with those orange tomatoes. (Meat Hook produce buyer Estelle Lemmler said she can’t keep them in stock they’ve been selling so well!)
In addition to my own personal persimmon hotline, persimmons have been all over my instagram feed: Molly Baz made a persimmon grilled ham and cheddar, DeVonn Francis planned to make a persimmon frangipane tart for Thanksgiving dessert and La Cantine in Bushwick had a persimmon with bacon sandwich special a couple weeks ago.
There are several varieties of persimmon including the American persimmon aka Diospyros virginiana aka possum apples aka SUGARPLUMS! (Have you also been wondering since forever wtf a sugarplum is? SAME!)
The Farmer’s Alamanac checks in with Melissa Bunker— a.k.a., “The Persimmon Lady”—of central North Carolina every year to hear her winter prediction that she makes based on persimmon seeds from her local orchard. Very witchy!
According to folklore, if you split open a persimmon seed and the shape inside (called a cotyledon) looks like a:
fork = winter will be mild;
spoon = there will be a lot of snow;
knife = winter will be bitingly cold and “cut like a knife.”
Because of its delicate nature and small, incremental harvests, American persimmons are not raised commercially, so when buying persimmons you will most likely encounter two types: Fuyu and Hachiya. (These commerical cultivars belong to a species first brought to the United States from Japan in the 1800s.)
Persimmon is the national fruit of Japan, a symbol of transformation in Buddhist religion, and an auspicious gift to newlyweds to celebrate eternal love in China.
In short? Persimmons are so hot right now!!!!! Get some!!
There are two main camps of persimmon: astringent and non-astringent. Acorn-shaped Hachiya is an astringent variety and will taste terribly bitter if you consume it before it is properly ripe thanks to tannins. Fuyu persimmon can be eaten at any time, including when it is firm and crunchy or when it is ripe and overly soft. Fuyu persimmons look like squat, orange tomatoes with matte skin and dont have a pit or seeds which makes them easy to slice n’ serve. They can handle being shipped without too much damage, so Fuyu are more likely to be in the grocery store.
From early fall through March you should be able to find persimmon in the “exotic fruits” section of the produce department. Choose persimmons that feel heavy for their size and look for glossy skin for Hachiya, matte for Fuyu. Symmetrical persimmons are best, lop-sided ones sometimes have large seeds. Little black dots are okay, they don’t affect taste. Ripe fruit is not hard, but not mushy either.
Persimmons can be eaten fresh, dried or cooked. Food52 likes pickled persimmons and Vinegar Kwane Chris Crawford enjoys persimmon vinegar from Queens SF. The internet tells me persimmon vinegar is popular in Korea and sometimes used as a weight loss supplement.
Fresh persimmon can be cut into quarters or eaten like an apple. Yuriy Gusar grew up eating persimmons in Ukraine and eats both Hachiya and Fuyus like apples. I am, once again, too much of a weenie to do this even though I grew up eating tomatoes like apples. (I have obstinate tastebuds! I’m working on it!)
I did go ahead and peel and slice some ripe fuyu and enjoyed it. I also have been thinking about this persimmon, prosciutto, and brie grilled cheese since I saw it on Joy the Baker. In the future, I would love to complement a pork chop or lamb shoulder with some persimmon. My friend Taylor emailed me a Steamed Persimmon Pudding recipe that she said “changed her life” so once I muster up the courage to attempt it I will definitely post to Instagram.
As for crunchy Fuyu dishes, my friend John told me to make persimmon salsa *head explodes* and treat the persimmons as if they are tomatillos. (You could pick up some after-Thanksgiving, on-sale fresh cranberries and make this cranberry persimmon salsa?) Pinterest helped me find this Filipino-style persimmon salad that reminds me of a ceviche and looks almost as good as this Japanese persimmon, daikon crunchy salad delight.
Both Alison Roman cookbooks feature a persimmon/cheese/nut dish and I’m excited to riff on that. This fall salad from Tyler Florence sounds and looks gorgeous. Yes, salads can be gorgeous. Super ripe Hachiya persimmons (so ripe they feel like a water balloon) can be put in the freezer to snack on later like an ice: just scoop out the flesh with a spoon for a lil handheld treat.
Substitute persimmon pulp in recipes that call for banana pulp, applesauce or other soft, sweet fruits. If you decide to make a persimmon bread, remember to add baking soda to the purée: persimmons contain enzymes that will react with the flour and prevent the bread from having a nice crumb, so you must first neutralize them by stirring baking soda into the purée.
As for Hoshigaki, I discovered I have a few adventurous pals who have dried their own persimmons with general success!
Local legend Mike O’Dea has been drying persimmons for almost a decade now and has embraced it as a bit of a winter ceremony.
Enjoy By: What keeps you coming back to drying persimmons each year?
Mike O’Dea: I think I saw a piece on NHK almost a decade ago about the entire process of making hoshigaki, hope simple & seasonal it was - and how farmers took advantage of their architecture to make them (hanging in rafters, on railings, under the edges of roofs) - using only sunlight, cool air and patience. This allowed me to see the persimmon as something other than a mushy fruit and I was sold. Also, hanging in the kitchen they remind me it’s the winter season and that brings along feelings of cozy times & family meals.
Tempted to try it yourself? Mike’s wisdom:
EB: What do you wish you had known before your first hoshigaki attempt that you know now?
MO: That it would have been smarter to just screw eyelets into the stems then try to tie the stems for hanging. They’ll shrink a bit and if the knots don’t cinch, they can fall and go splat. That was year 1. after that I just used eyelets. 2nd would be “GO SLOW” — don’t try to rush the process. Every day they are hanging a gentle once around push-n-squish is all that is needed to break up the fruit and get the sugars moving. After about a week they can get very watery so extra care needs to be taken. If it bursts, it’s generally not a problem and the drips will dry up. I have yet to have one go bad (mold or whatever) but I’ve def had a few tear beyond repair.
Mike enjoys the finished product a few ways, including “sliced really thin and served with charcuterie, cut up into large slices and served by itself, or even shaved as a topping on nigiri.”
Sonoko Sakai sells beautiful illustrated hoshigaki booklets depicting the process for preserving Hachiya persimmons. If Hoshigaki is still a bit too aspirational for you, try saving the persimmon leaves to make tea!
Almost-ripe or just-ripe persimmons should be kept at room temperature. To keep longer, Fuyu persimmons can be stored in the crisper drawer of the fridge and will last for a couple of weeks if kept dry, whole, and cold.
Hachiyas typically need time to ripen, and should be stored on the countertop at room temperature until perfectly soft. If you want them to ripen a little faster, put them in a paper bag with a ripe banana, apple, or pear. Ripe hachiyas can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Ripe persimmon purée can be frozen for later use. Store in an airtight bag or container and use within three months.
Like the tomato, persimmons are a fruit not commonly considered to be berries. Commercial varieties are native to China and that's where most come from, along with Spain and South Korea. The native American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is not commercially cultivated but still edible and delicious. Persimmons have a distinct, sweet flavor profile. Astringent persimmons are not enjoyable until they are extremely ripe. Enjoy persimmon fresh, dried, pickled, or cooked.
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