Persimmons Please

| November 6, 2005 | 16 Comments
  • 16 Comments

The first time someone asked me what a persimmon tasted like I paused for a long time. “It tastes like a persimmon,” was not going to do. I tried to run through all the fruits and vegetables I knew, but nothing seemed right.

“It tastes like sex.” I finally replied.

I was speaking of the Hachiya variety, about a hundred of which lined every windowsill or counter top of my then large communal kitchen. I had just come from an afternoon of ‘persimmon hunting’ with my mother in East Oakland. This activity involved climbing up a moldy ladder and onto the corrugated roof of a neighboring garage. Completely unsure if this roof was stable, I climbed onto it; placing my lanky self inside one overgrown, fruit laden persimmon tree. My very short mother stood safely below where I tossed her the fruits I could reach.

Persimmon hunting doesn’t require camouflage but you might want to wear clothes you would to Happy Hour in a college town. A very ripe persimmon is basically a thin skinned balloon filled with orange slime. Fun.

The persimmon tree is a gorgeous thing. Basically invisible until autumn, the leaves and the fruit are waxy green. The tree sets at the first frost; leaves and conical, round, flattened or almost cubical fruit turning yellow and fire orange, announcing themselves gorgeously loud. A quick drive through lush North Berkeley the other day was a veritable persimmon tree show.

But the persimmon is enigmatic. At The French Laundry we had a small tree near the wine room and one fateful November afternoon I had a quiet but heated fight with a pastry cook. “It’s ripe,” Matt insisted. “No it’s not,” I replied emphatically and authoritatively. We stood like this, locked in a kind of Ernie and Bert argument about perception and truth staring down at the silent fruit. Finally it came to me. I sliced the persimmon in quarters and handed him a partially opaque piece.

My very tall, earnest, East Coast assistant got that terrible look on his face. I knew what the unripe persimmon was doing to him. Horrendously tannic, the immature Hachiya, (conical), persimmon is not to be taken lightly. It will pull all the moisture out of your mouth and mess you up. And not look back.

“OK you’re right, it’s not ripe.” He conceded, defeated.

When buying Hachiyas pick fruit whose hue is as shockingly orange as you can find. Black or brown spots are ok. Place them stem side down on a sunny or warm window sill until they are completely translucent, sagging and attracting fruit flies. Prep on a large cutting board, scraping with a spoon, or other dull object, the flesh away from delicate skin. Puree this pulpy mess in a blender briefly. Store in glass or non-reactive material and lay plastic wrap or parchment paper directly on the surface to minimize oxidation.

The other variety, Fuyu, is quickly gaining popularity, probably due both to its versatility and the Hachiya’s perplexity. The Fuyu straddles the sweet and salty kitchen seamlessly. While it is still difficult to pin down the taste of the Hachiya, the Fuyu’s flavor can best be described as tasting like the scent of a freshly cut squash, but very sweet. Trying them out for the first time, my friend Jessica remarked, “I’m looking for the acid, but there is none, it just tastes of sugar.”

While the Hachiya must be almost liquid before eating, (think of them as a vehicle for pectin), the Fuyu can be eaten rock solid or any version of softness that comes after leaving them out at room temperature. They take any French knife cut, especially the ineffable brunoise. In other words, they’re fun to play with.

Here are two simple persimmon recipes, one for each varietal.

Persimmon Pudding

1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup Hachiya persimmon puree
1 splash vanilla extract
toasted walnuts (optional)
currants (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2) Butter baking container thoroughly, apply parchment, flat, on the bottom
3) Sift sugar, flour, cinnamon and baking soda into a bowl, add salt and whisk
4) In another bowl whisk egg, persimmon puree, & vanilla extract until uniform
5) Create well in bowl of dries and pour in wets, mixing with whisk, wooden spoon or spatula. Right before mixture is uniform, stir in melted butter
6) Pour batter 3/4′s of the way into the buttered container
7) Bake uncovered in a partial bain marie or on a baking sheet about 20 minutes
8) Pudding is done when middle is set and does not jiggle when tapped
The pudding will keep at room temperature for up to a week.
I like to serve it with cognac chantilly or vanilla ice cream.

Naked Salad

4 Fuyu persimmons
1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds

1) Cut top out like a tomato. Slice bottom off, being careful not to take too much fruit
2) Peel persimmons, cut four pieces off core the way you might an apple
3) Dice persimmons into a shape slightly larger than the pomegranate seed
4) Mix pomegranate seeds and diced persimmon gently with a spatula
This salad will keep refrigerated for about three days but is best eaten fresh.

Dressed Salad
A vinaigrette made with a light vinegar such as Sherry, Champagne or white Balsamic and a buttery extra virgin olive or a nut oil would complement these fruits nicely
The options for green leafies are endless– sauteed &/or fresh escarole, romaine, little gems, or any other chicories would create a bright, colorful and seasonal salad.

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Category: dessert and chocolate

About the Author ()

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She's had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC. Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna's resume reads like the who's who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers' markets her muse. Currently "at large," Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.
  • Kalyn

    Delightful reading this. I’ve never had persimmons but would love to try them.

  • Tana

    Funny you should mention both French Laundry and persimmons…I have never been a fan of persimmons until last week. I visited Jacobsen’s Orchard, a farm that grows exclusively for French Laundry, up in Yountville. We were treated to both Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons, and both were wonderful. Neither had that grainy and astringent quality I always found objectionable before.

    I wrote up the visit (with photos of the persimmons) here: “The Chef’s Farmer.”

  • haddock

    You say they taste like sex, the GM says they taste like sperm. In fact an anagram of persimmon is “i’m no sperm”.

    Everytime I see you use the word lanky in self-description I keep thinking I know what you mean but it seems wrong. My dictionary says lanky is tall, thin and ungainly. Only one of those apply to you.

    Thanks for the persimmon post, a regular customer has a tree and she’s going to bring us some soon. I can feel it.

  • cookiecrumb

    Ha, ha, Haddock. She ain’t tall! Nor ungainly…
    Shuna, thanks for the persimmon-pomegranate idea. Beautifully simple. And so seasonal.

  • cucina testa rossa

    I grew up with a persimmon tree in the backyard and I would pop myself under a tree and eat these straight with a spoon. but what a beautiful idea for a salad with the fuyu and pomegranates!

  • drbiggles

    Well, after reading that Shuna I can see why you mentioned to me about the meatiness. I’ll have to axe my friend if their tree is producing this year and get another gaggle full. Either for eating or photography, yeah.

    Biggles

  • Fatemeh

    Shuna, I do so, so love reading your writing.

    Your way with words is… breathtaking.

  • shuna fish lydon

    Thank you everyone for visiting, reading and commenting! My hope is that I’ve spread a bit of the persimmon word…

    They really Can be enchanting if given the chance.

  • Anonymous

    Recently left the Bay area for the Northwest territory. Still check in on how things are doing and was pleased at this entry concerning persimmons. I have told people for decades that persimmons have a distinctive taste not unlike sex, and I’m pleased that people will now see I’m not the only one with a unique descriptive for this unique fruit.

  • kay Bradner

    I’m looking for a persimmon tree to paint. I live in San Francisco – anywhere in the greater bay area would work. Does anyone know of a fairly large tree with the longer fruit (hachiya?)

    kay

  • shuna fish lydon

    Kay—

    At this particular time the persimmon trees are without most of their leaves & fruit. But I saw, just a few evenings ago, two lovely ones on Claremont street in Oakland, just behind the Safeway. I have also seen a lot of them driving around Ashby avenue.

    North Berkeley, near Monterey Market used to be a Japanes neighborhood and you may find some trees there as well. This one I photographed is in the Berkeley Hills on Shasta road.

  • kay bradner

    Oh thank you, thank you! I’ll go look!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the nice post on persimmons. A friend of mine recently a big bag of the Fuyu variety. She had never used them or the Hachiya before. Not having a recipe for persimmon bread, she followed one for pumpkin bread instead. Surprisely, she was able to use the Fuyu by letting them get pretty ripe, peeling them and putting them in the blender to make the puree or pulp.

  • ari

    Hello! thank you for the lovely persimmon pudding recipe (found thanks to Google). Perfect texture, butteryness, sweetness…the one thing is: I taste the baking soda. I used 2 teaspoons like you wrote. Have you ever experienced this? Maybe it’s my baking soda? thanks again!

  • Anonymous

    Please clarify what type of baking container. I used a souffle dish and bain marie and baked for a longer time, maybe 35-40 minutes, but the inside still runny. I suspect I should have used an 8x8x2 ceramic baking dish. Will try that next time but “baking container” will not help us do it well initially. What was cooked though was delicious! I just scraped away the soft batter…and went and gathered some more persimmons for another try.

  • shuna fish lydon

    Hello Anonymous,

    The last few times I baked this pudding I used a standard round cake pan and a 1/4 sheet pan– lined with parchment, but without a “water bath” present.

    Indeed, the more water that is in you bain marie, the longer it will take to bake.

    But really, this is not a true pudding that needs a bain marie for baking because the word pudding here is more about how persimmons are high in pectin and mimic the texture of custard. or you could look at it the way the British look at pudding– every dessert is pudding.

    I rarely like to say how long it takes to cook anything because everyone’s oven is so different. You can bake this until it looks done the way a cake looks done– it pulls away from the side of the pan a bit and bounces it back in the middle, springy, the way the sides would.

    Hope all this helps– feel free to ask for more clarification if it does not.