In season – persimmons

Mothers’ day lunch at the Main Ridge home of my sister in law and her husband concluded in a take-away selection from the harvest box at their front door. They’ve got a mighty veggie garden and orchard down there, and the whole family is thankful for the samples of their produce we’ve received since we returned to Australia at the end of summer. But now we’re at the tail end of autumn – the apples and pears are gone, and the only fruit that was in the box were some fuyu persimmons. I asked Brother-in-law what to do with them.

“It’s the world’s best kept secret.” He replied.

As we approach the colder months, it becomes more and more difficult to eat fresh fruit in season, especially if we stick to the basics we’re used to seeing in supermarkets. Custard apple, pomelo, quince, rhubarb and cumquats all need to be in our repertoires if we haven’t done a whole load of preserving over summer and early autumn. But most of us don’t have a clue how to treat these odd little tomato-looking, squat orange balls. Luckily, persimmons are an easy task, particularly if you stick with the non-astringent varieties.

In Melbourne right now, you’re pretty much only going to see Fuyu persimmons. They’re shaped like a slightly flattened apple, firm-fleshed, bright gold in colour, and can be eaten raw or cooked, with peel or without. Hachiya persimmons are more elongated and heart-shaped, and although a similar colour on the outside, are a deep orange in the centre. They need to be fully ripe and a little soft before you eat them, and you definitely don’t want to eat the peel – they are not called an ‘astringent variety’ for no reason.

How to pick good ones…

Choose sweet persimmons that are firm, almost as hard as an apple, free from bruises with green calyx. Surface blemishes apart from bruises are fine. Colour will range from gold to deep orange, depending upon the variety and stage of the season. If you are buying astringent varieties, they should be a little soft already – they don’t ripen much once off the tree.

How to keep them…

Handle with care as the thin skin is fairly delicate. Keep them at room temperature and eat within five days. Generally, you should eat sweet persimmons when they are fresh, but for hachiyas, preserving is when they start to shine.

Hoshigaki are dried persimmons, a Japanese delicacy that is eaten like a dried date, something that Saveur describe as “the kobe beef of dried fruit”. They also work well as fruit leather. If you’ve let your persimmons get too ripe for either of those techniques, you can simply scoop out the innards and freeze in bags to be used for baking (you can use persimmons anywhere you would use a banana, so spice cakes and muffins work a treat).

If you do find a glut of fuyu persimmons, then you’re best off cooking them in some form to preserve. Either treat them like a peach (stew lightly in light sweet wine with star anise and cinnamon before sealing in mason jars) or make a chutney with citrus peel and keep for use on cheese plates.

Flavours they go with…

As mentioned earlier, when cooking with ripe persimmons, treat them as you would a banana. Mash them and spice them, add them to cake batters, pancakes, fritters and even smoothies. Firm fuyu persimmons are just amazing raw. The flavour is a little like papaya without the acridity, or a banana crossed with a mango, just not so sweet. The texture is like a firm peach, and the colour of the flesh like an apricot. They’re a little bland to be honest, so make sure the sweetness is balanced with something sour if you can. If you are going to cook them, just try them lightly grilled, or added into a sweet and sour one-pot-wonder, just in the last 5-10 minutes. Combinations that work well:

  • cinnamon, sugar and cloves
  • honey, lemon, cognac and mascarpone
  • almonds, barberries and chicken
  • pomegranate seeds, wild rice and cardamom
  • bresaola, sourdough, brie and onion chutney

Recipes

I made a knock-out salad the other day (linked here). The kicker is the dressing, to be fair, and it could just as easily be made with another fruit I suppose, but it would be hard to get that vibrant colour without too much clashing flavour, so the persimmons really are ideal.

Some other lovely persimmon recipes:

 

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