The Pleasure of Persimmons


Hachiya persimmons in their unripe (lone bright one on the right) and ripe, ready-to-eat state. (Kim O'Donnel)


Wanna get into the spirit of Thanksgiving? Get your hands on a persimmon. The subject of much discussion in this week’s What’s Cooking, the persimmon (diospyros) is that orange-tomatoe-y thing you may have seen recently in the produce aisle. It’s in season right now, and it sticks around for just a month or so, so now’s the time.

Native to China but cultivated in Japan, Asian persimmons arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. The two most commonly grown varieties are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. The Fuyu is round and squat, kind of like a pumpkin, and it can be eaten out of hand like an apple. Some cooks suggest throwing into salads for a little extra fiber and Vitamin C, of which there is plenty in that little morsel.

The Hachiya is more oblong and has a pointy tip. It’s loaded with tannins, which means if you take a bite while the fruit is still immature, you’ll get a nasty astringent mouthful. Wait until she’s super soft, almost liquidy (don’t worry; she’s hardy); it almost feels like a hacky sack in your hand. Its color will also change as it ripens, from that glorious red-orange to red-brown, like an autumn leaf. Only then can you can tuck in, or use in baking.


Fuyu persimmons sitting oh-so-pretty. (Kim O'Donnel)

North America is also home to the persimmon -- the diospyros virginiana, to be exact -- a small, round variety known as the putchamin, an Algonquin Indian word for “dry fruit.”

I love this quote about the persimmon from Captain John Smith, who wrote the “General History of Virginia” in 1624:

If it be not ripe, it will draw a man’s mouth awry, with much torment, but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.

If you grew up in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee or Captain Smith’s Virginia, you might have grown up with a persimmon tree in your backyard. (Share your tree tales in the comments area!)

This is my maiden voyage baking with Hachiya persimmons, and I’m sad that I waited this long. What a fun treat! Raw, it feels like a cross between a mango, apricot and tomato, which I inhaled in about three bites; baked, it eats like pumpkin, which makes for an interesting twist on all those Thanksgiving classics. The recipe below comes from Rick Rogers’s new book, “Autumn Gatherings.”

Grandma Edith’s Persimmon Cookies
From “Autumn Gatherings” by Rick Rogers

Ingredients
2 very soft, ripe Hachiya persimmons
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp (I presume equal amounts of Earth Balance non-dairy spread would work equally well)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Coarsely chop the fruit, discarding the calyxes and any seeds. Puree persimmons in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender. You should have one cup.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Using an electric mixer set at high speed, cream butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture is light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in egg. With mixer on low speed, beat in persimmon puree, then flour mixture. Stir in nuts. (I did everything in the food processor: After pureeing the fruit, I washed and dried food processor bowl and creamed butter and sugar, using the dough blade. When it came time to add dry ingredients, I used the “pulse” function to slowly incorporate flour mixture to avoid overbeating. Nuts were added by hand.)

Using a tablespoon measure for each cookie, drop the dough, two inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake, rotating trays from top to bottom, midway, until edges of cookies are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Makes 30-32 cookies.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 14, 2008; 8:03 AM ET Autumn Classics , Baking
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Comments

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Pair it up with some MEAT and you've got yourself a deal. I wish WaPo would host a real food (meat included) blog.

Posted by: simonsaid | November 14, 2008 8:59 AM

I've loved persimmons since I was a little baby! I also really like the hard persimmons.

One day, would love to have a persimmon tree.

Posted by: steamykitchen | November 14, 2008 8:59 AM

My neighbor has a big tree full of Fuyu-type persimmons, and he dropped off a grocery bag full this morning! So: maybe I can make a relish or chutney out of these babies? Ideas?

Posted by: jillunit | November 14, 2008 9:49 AM

The NYT just printed a recipe for a persimmon semifreddo this past Wednesday - it looked yummy.

Posted by: eggplant1 | November 14, 2008 9:49 AM

Jillunit, Try one by itself first to get an understanding of its flavor profile. How soft are they at this point? Some grated fresh ginger might be nice here, a little fresh chile, red onion, lime...oh, I might have to make some this weekend!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 14, 2008 11:10 AM

These persimmons are firm and mild in taste, with big, almond-like seeds. I made a salsa with ginger, lime, mint, etc. from Epicurious for a party appetizer Wednesday; we enjoyed it, but I am still looking for other things to do with 30 or so persimmons!

Posted by: jillunit | November 14, 2008 11:18 AM

Simon, meet Omar...and take a gander at the blog recipes link. This blog is not meat-free and is as real as can be. Respectful queries and suggestions welcome both here and at the weekly chat. Check the archives and find out for yourself.

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | November 14, 2008 2:22 PM

Wow, the last post skipped and printed a double-negative. For the record, "is not meat-free" was the desired phrasing. Toodles!

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | November 14, 2008 2:25 PM

Centre, I believe they are one and the same person, and that he gets great pleasure from our giving him our attention. I would recommend that we all ignore him and carry on with the good will that you all exude.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 14, 2008 2:27 PM

I can attest that these cookies are awesome. The flavors really reminded me of the holiday season. Kids should love them.

-- Mister MA

P.S. Omar/Simon: Pls come to Seattle. I'll take you to one of the 4 BBQ restaurants within walking distance of my office. Then we can have a meat fest and talk through your obvious psychological problems. Chrs.

Posted by: Russ_Walker | November 14, 2008 4:04 PM

cooking ideas for persimmons? ice-cream, sorbet, pudding/cake, custard.

you may also puree the fruit, and freeze the puree. It keeps very well in the fridge.

It's good advice regarding tasting a firm Asian persimmon. Some cultivars are quite palatable firm, some not quite so. As far as American persimon, Captain Smith quote is quite apt. I once bit into an orange-colored but firm (i.e. unripe) American persimmon - just to know what it tastes like. Now, I know. and I won't do it again. In our area (mid-Atlantic), most American persimmon won't be good to eat for another few weeks. The sight of the tall slim tree dangling small orange orbs against a clear blue winter sky is a wonderful sight.

Sylvie
http://www.LaughingDuckGardens.com/ldblog.php/

Posted by: rowandk | November 16, 2008 12:15 PM

Prior comment: Oops! I meant "it keeps very well in the freezer".

It'll keep for about a week in the fridge, months in the freezer.

Sylvie

Posted by: rowandk | November 16, 2008 12:17 PM

Hi Kim! It's been a long time. Got good news for you. Thanks for the recipe. my mother is obsessed with this interesting tasting fruit. buys them by the crate when in season. i personally don't like them but would love to make her something out of it!

Posted by: FlanBoyantEats | November 17, 2008 8:24 AM

I made a delicious steamed persimmon pudding with crystallized ginger and pecans this weekend. It's from "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook" and steams right in the crockpot. The recipe calls for hachiya but my local Asian store only had the Fuyu persimmons, so I peeled them and chopped them fine. It worked great. I'm not sure if that would work for Kim's cookies, though. Perhaps I can get my hands on some hachiyas someday.

Posted by: AmyH3 | November 17, 2008 12:03 PM

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