About a month ago, I wrote about Fuyu persimmons, which are one of my favorite fall fruits. This week, I’d like to extol the virtues of the Hachiya persimmon. Hachiyas are the misunderstood fruit of winter: although they are sweet and wonderful when baked into cakes and puddings, many people are afraid to eat them because they are truly awful when immature. A firm Hachiya is extraordinarily astringent and inedible. I admit that taking a bite out of one is sort of like eating an unripe bitter walnut while suddenly having all the moisture sucked out of your cheeks and tongue. But there’s a very simple way to avoid this: don’t eat Hachiyas until they’re ripe.
Like Fuyus, Hachiyas range in color from light orange to a reddish sunset. They are easy to distinguish from Fuyus, however, because while the Fuyu looks like an orange tomato, the Hachiya is shaped like a large acorn. Hachiyas are lovely in both appearance and taste, just not at the same time. While they are outwardly attractive when unripe, they only become gastronomically appealing once the skin mottles and starts to shrivel over the soft ripened fruit. Yet while Hachiyas may not be pretty when they’re ready to be eaten, they are luscious when added to cakes and steamed puddings.
Before you eat a Hachiya, make sure it is soft and squishy as you need to wait for the fruit’s tannins to break down before the pulp loses its astringency and takes on a sweet and sugary flavor. The mature fruit has a jellylike texture, which may make them seem unappealing as a raw snack, but shouldn’t stop you from cooking with them. To coax Hachiyas into ripening, just set them out on your counter or window sill for a few days to over a week, depending on how firm they are. If you’re in a hurry, you can freeze a partially ripe Hachiya for at least 24 hours and then defrost it, which helps soften and sweeten the fruit. I tried this once and it worked okay, although the taste wasn’t as sweet as a naturally-ripened persimmon.
You can buy Hachiyas at the farmer’s market or grocery store during the fall and early winter, but as they grow in abundance in the Bay Area, you may be able to get them for free if you know someone with a tree. In my neighborhood, there are at least ten trees within a four-block radius of my house. For years, most of the fruit from these trees was left to rot each December on the ground. I always wanted to stop and ask the people who lived in these houses if I could have a few, but usually I had two toddling twins running ahead of me and so always put it off for another day. But this all changed a few years back when my neighbor George started knocking on doors and asking people if he could collect their fallen fruit. George is in his late 70s, has a big smile for everyone, and loves to chat. How could anyone refuse him? Luckily George also knows that I love persimmons (from all that chatting we’ve done over the years), so each December he now gives me persimmons by the bagful, and I, in turn, give him persimmon cake.
I came up with my Hachiya persimmon cake recipe as a way to use up all those lovely persimmons George leaves on my doorstep. If you’d like to try the sweet, nuanced flavor of Hachiya persimmons, this might be a good recipe to try because it’s fast and easy. Although the recipe calls for some fresh orange juice and brandy or cognac — all of which nicely accent the persimmons’ sweet flavor — you can leave them out if you don’t have them on hand. Just be sure to add in a teaspoon of vanilla if you leave out the orange juice.
So here’s to the Hachiya persimmon: a fruit that is lovely both inside and out.
Persimmon Cake with a Citrus Glaze
Makes: One 9 x 13-inch cake
1 1/4 cups Hachiya persimmon pulp
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 Tbsp brandy or cognac
3/4 cup raisins or currants
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp orange juice
2 tsp lemon juice
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Remove skin from persimmons and seed the fruit. Blend the pulp in a food processor or blender and set aside.
3. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a large bowl and set aside.
4. Blend the sugar into the butter until creamy.
5. Add the eggs, orange juice and cognac to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.
6. Blend in the persimmon puree.
7. Add the flour to the butter and persimmon mixture.
8. Add the raisins and nuts and mix until just barely incorporated. Don’t overmix, however, as this will make your cake rubbery.
9. Grease a 9×13 pan and then spread the batter inside.
10. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
11. To make the icing, mix the powdered sugar, orange juice and lemon juice in a bowl until you have a thick syrupy consistency. Add more lemon or orange juice if you need to thin it a bit more.
12. Spread the icing on top of the warm cake.
13. Cool and serve.