Persimmons April 2010
Cultivated way back in the eighth century by the Japanese, the persimmon had long been an autumnal delight in China.
Resembling a glowing lantern, the leaves of the persimmon mimics its fruit by changing in colour as the cold progresses to a golden orange. It is a shame that this rather unique fruit is not more commonly enjoyed and eagerly awaited with the same gusto as other autumn fruits.
Delicate overtones of honey and apricot, the persimmon can be slow to ripen taking anywhere from five days to two weeks to reach the point where the astringent tannins have turned into sweet sugars.
The two most common varieties that we see are the fugu and the haciya.
The haciya is an older variety and easily identifiable due to its acorn shape. Eaten only when totally ripe it has a soft, almost jelly like texture. The fugu has a flatter base and is more commonly seen likely because it stores better and can be eaten when it is still firm. The less astringent flavour and crunchy texture makes it great for serving fresh in salads over the early autumn period.
Look for fruits that are bright in colour, firm (as you can ripen them easily at home) and without markings that may indicate damage. It is more likely that any persimmons that you see will be the firmer fugu variety so buy them when they still have some ripening to do so you have the choice of when to eat them.
New Zealand is a rather large exporter of persimmon straight back to the places they originally came from with 2500 tonnes moving off shore in 2002. We fall about sixth on the list of international persimmon growers.
Gisborne is our biggest grower followed closely by North and South Auckland, Northland, Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty.
The Persimmon Industry Council has much to say on the value of persimmons as they are high in vitamin C, iron and calcium and they also recommend that unlike many other fruits, your best storage is at room temperature rather than chilled.
The Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese all dry the persimmon to create rather delicious leather and it is enjoyed simply as a sweet or used in other cooking applications. The Koreans take it one step further and make an alcohol infused with the flavour of dried persimmon and vinegar enjoyed for its health benefits.
The leaves of the tree are used in Korea and some areas of Manchuria for tea.
Persimmon works very well with citrus and should not be overlooked as a fantastic autumn fruit that can be combined with all sorts of cold day delights from desserts, fruit pastes, drinks, purees, sauces to sorbets and ice creams.
The following are a few recipes that I have played with over the years that put persimmon at the forefront of autumn fruits.