Magazine article Sunset

Persimmons ... the Soft and the Hard and the Confusing

Magazine article Sunset

Persimmons ... the Soft and the Hard and the Confusing

Article excerpt

Persimmons . . . the soft and the hard and the confusing

Bright jewels of the fall season, persimmons please the eye whether seen as golden orange orbs on leafless limbs or mounded in glistening plenty at the market. They are also the source of some confusion.

A native persimmon, found in the Eastern states, is a seed-filled, rather small fruit that is too puckery to eat until the first frost. It turns soft are sweet and perishes rapidly. Rarely will you see a native persimmon in the West. What you do find are the big, showy Oriental kinds.

Although all Oriental persimmons are similar in their rich, very sweet flavor, they divide quite cleanly into two groups. The first--Fuyu is the predominant market variety--is good to eat while firm and ripe; the second, represented mainly by the Hachiya, is astringent and inedible unless soft-ripe.

The persimmons that are best when firm-ripe have flat bottoms. In addition to Fuyu, other flat-bottom varieties are Gosho (or Giant Fuyu) and Maru (or Chocolate, because brown streaks run through the fruit). These crisp persimmons are much easier for newcomers to the fruit to like. Even when very ripe, they retain more texture than Hachiya types do. They also keep their exture when cooked.

Hachiya-type persimmons have pointed tips. Similar varieties, mostly found in home gardens, are the Hyakume, Tamopan, and Tanenashi. Hachiya-type fruit are too astringent (from tannins) to eat until soft and ripe. However, they are the most intensely flavored persimmons. Unless handled in specific ways during cooking, the sweet, creamy pulp will revert to bitter astringency. In baking, this behavior is neutralized by baking soda, but unless soda is added to the pulp before it is mixed with other ingredients, the resulting product will be gummy.

Crisp persimmons are the first to appear in the fall; soft-ripe ones usually linger into December.

Ripeness: how to determine

Feel a Hachiya-type persimmon. When it gives readily or is actually squishy when pressed and begins to look translucent with a slightly dull skin, the fruit is at the ideal eating stage.

For Fuyu-type persimmons, color is the main clue. Fruit should be shiny, with a bright, deep orange color. It should feel solid, like an apple, but even when the fruit is riper and gives to gentle pressure, this variety makes excellent eating.

Frequently you will notice black streaks on the skin. These are harmless markings caused by bumps or branches whipping against the hard fruit on the tree.

How to store persimmons, hasten ripening

At room temperature, the fruit ripen slowly--one reason why many people like to keep piles of persimmons in bowls for fall decorations. To hasten ripening, especially of Hachiya types, enclose fruit in a paper or plastic bag with an apple for 3 to 5 days; check frequently.

In the refrigerator, you can store firm persimmons up to about 1 month; check occasionally for spoilage.

To freeze persimmons, fruit should be at a ready-to-eat stage; both types will be soft when thawed. Freeze whole fruit in a single layer; when solidly frozen, enclose in plastic bags. Or scoop soft Hachiya-type pulp from skin and pack in small containers; cover surface with plastic wrap (to reduce darkening) and freeze. Held at 0| or colder, fruit will keep up to the next season.

Cooking with persimmons

Raw or cooked, Oriental persimmons make a delicious contribution to the table. With more than brief heating, both types begin to lose their bright color; handled carefully or preserved (canned or frozen) as directed here and on page 168, they make attractive offerings year-round.

Two of the simplest and perhaps most stylish preparations are shown on pages 102 and 103. Slice off stem end of a soft-ripe Hachiya-type persimmon and nestle in a stemmed glass. Serve chilled, if you like, to scoop from skin with a spoon; squeeze fresh lime juice over the fruit or splash with hazelnut-, almond-, or orange-flavored liqueur. …

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