We get questions ....
I've heard there is a way to pick persimmons and ripen
them so they aren't astringent.
Of the dozens of Oriental persimmon varieties, two are
commonly grown in California. Fuyu persimmons are flattened on the bottom and
are non-astringent. They can be eaten as soon as they turn orange (November),
having a mild, sweet flavor and a texture firm enough to munch like an apple or
add to fruit salad. They also dry nicely, sliced thin and layered in a fruit
dehydrator for a few hours. Dip the slices in melted chocolate for an elegant
Hachiya persimmons are elongated and have a point on the
bottom of the fruit. They turn color in November but aren't edible until
December. Hachiya and other astringent persimmon varieties, including the native
American species, are famous for their astringency when under-ripe, and for
their gelatinous texture when ripe. Many people are put off by the gooshy ripe
fruit, but Hachiya has a richer flavor and is more prized for cooking.
Astringency in persimmons is caused by tannins, the same
chemicals that make tea, red wine, and unripe bananas and peaches cause your
mouth to pucker. Tannins cause the surface of your tongue and mouth to
constrict and stop salivating: 'it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much
torment,' said Captain John Smith upon tasting the American 'putchamin' in
Virginia. Mmmm. Yet fully ripe, with the flesh nearly liquid, they are
described as luscious and honey-like.
The USDA tried over a number of years to introduce
persimmons to growers and consumers, and sought to overcome the astringency and
mushiness of the fruit in order to broaden its appeal. Observing the process of
ripening employed in Japan and China, they saw the hard, unripe fruit:
--immersed in a mix of water and lime for several days.
--sealed in a covered earthenware jar with a burning stick
of incense for a day or two.
--buried in mud for several days.
--packed in sake casks just after the sake was drawn off,
immediately sealed air tight.
Each of these techniques left the fruit firm, ripe, and
It seems that the key to the process is to exclude oxygen
and wait for the fruit to undergo an internal semi-fermentation. The fruit
produces acetaldehyde which reacts with the tannins to neutralize them; the
tannins form into inert, insoluble masses that just pass over the tongue. Mind
you, they are still there in the flesh. Don't gorge on persimmons on an empty
stomach, or the tannins may react with your stomach acids and form a bezoar.
But I digress. Harold McGee, author of The Curious Cook and
On Food and Cooking, expanded on the idea of excluding oxygen to ripen the
Hachiya persimmons. He wrapped individual fruit in three layers of Saran wrap
(not cheaper stuff, it has to be thick and can't be polyethylene) and then
placed them in his gas oven, with only the pilot light on, for 18 hours. The
result? 'The texture reminded me of a peach' and the flavor was intensified.
For the record, his oven was at about 100F. Similar results were attained with
wrapped fruit in a crock pot, warmed to 100F for 12 – 24 hours.
The fruit can be frozen to ripen it and reduce the
astringency. Place firm Hachiya fruit in the freezer, then thaw it. Some
references say to freeze it overnight, others say it takes ten days or more, so
I'd test the pulp before cooking with it. The thawed fruit will be mushy, but
ok for baking.
If you don't want to go to all this trouble, and primarily
just like to eat persimmons raw or dried, the Fuyu is a better choice for you
and is by far the more popular variety. A few other types have become available
in recent years; growers have replaced the Japanese names with appellations
that hint at their flavor (Coffeecake) or the color (Chocolate). Some of these
benefit from having another type of persimmon nearby for cross-pollination; in
fact, some are astringent if they aren't pollinated, but not if they are
Pollination doesn't matter to the two main varieties. Fuyu
and Hachiya are parthenocarpic, which means they produce fruit without pollination
and which is seedless. If they happen to get cross-pollinated, they may produce
seeds and the fruit may be larger, but the quality isn't affected.
Incidentally, many people have never noticed their persimmon flowers. They are
cream-colored and insignificant, surrounded by a green calyx which blends with
the yellowish-green new growth in spring.
Persimmons are incredibly easy to grow. The trees have
attractive foliage: chartreuse in spring, shiny green in summer, yellow fall
color. Sturdy branch structure requires no pruning, but they will get quite
large (30'+) so you may wish to train them lower for access to the fruit. Fruit
production begins in about three years and increases thereafter. A mature
persimmon may produce 500 – 1,000 fruit.
Ok, think about that. 500 or more fruit. You may wish to
place the tree carefully, as there is first a steady litter of unripe fruit
through the summer as the tree naturally thins itself. Then the colorful fruit
eventually comes down on its own, though the trees considerately give you
several weeks to harvest first. The texture of the ripe fruit has already been
described. Did I mention that they look like bright orange jello bombs? This is
a tree for the back of the border,
where the fruit can dissolve into some low-maintenance ground cover.
But if you don't process the fruit yourself, I guarantee
several types of birds will enjoy it. Persimmons are popular with cedar
waxwings, jays, magpies, and various other colorful and attractive winter
It actually is possible to get fruit from your garden every
month of the year in the Sacramento Valley. The first citrus are ripening
(mandarins), and varieties of oranges can extend the citrus season through the
spring and even into summer. Berries begin in late spring, cherries in early
summer, and there are stone fruit varieties available from May through
September. Figs produce both in early and late summer. Apples and pears round
out the late summer. Nuts are dropping in early fall. And persimmons and
pomegranates bridge the gap after the summer garden has finished until the
citrus start up again.
Hachiya persimmon is astringent
and must be squishy soft
before it can be eaten!
Very popular for cooking because
of its rich flavor.
Fuyu persimmon is non-astringent
and can be eaten right off the tree,
as soon as the fruit turns color.
The most popular home garden variety.
From the Davis Enterprise, December 27, 2007
© 2014 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
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