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Persimmon!

Persimmons from the farmers market. (PCFMA / Courtesy)
Persimmons from the farmers market. (PCFMA / Courtesy)

By DEBRA MORRIS
Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association

Known as the divine food in Japan because it’s so sweet, the persimmon is an orange to orange-red fruit about the size of an apple, with four prominent, large, papery leaves at the crown. It has a very thin, smooth, delicate skin that bruises easily if not handled with care. The persimmon is one of the sweetest of all fruits when it’s ripe.

The Japanese have cultivated and improved the persimmon for more than one thousand years. They consider it a national fruit and recommend it for the relief of fatigue and hangovers—probably because it’s so nutritious. It is the fruit of the ornamental ebony plant, very rare in a genus that produces almost no other edible fruit. Brought to Europe by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century, and later to Brazil and parts of the West Indies, persimmon seeds were introduced to North America by Commodore Perry in 1855.

Although there are hundreds of varieties, only two principal types are well known here in California: Hachiya and Fuyu:

Hachiya persimmons are a beautiful fruit about the size of a medium peach, acorn-shaped with a shiny, bright orange skin and pale green papery leafy cap. At one time 90% of the persimmons sold in the United States were the Hachiya variety; now they only account for approximately 20%. As the fruit ripens, the skin dulls and takes on the texture of a water balloon. The astringent tannin evaporates and the fruit becomes sweeter with an apricot-like flavor, although some liken the flavor to plums, even pumpkins.

Fuyu persimmons, now representing almost 80% of the persimmon market, are squatter and rounder than the Hachiya. The color is a yellow-orange and not as brilliant as the Hachiya. It almost looks like a mini pumpkin or perhaps a slightly flattened tomato, but unlike the Hachiya, the Fuyu can be consumed immediately. It is crisp, lightly sweet and crunchy, like a Fuji apple.

Persimmon Chutney

2 firm-ripe Fuyu persimmon (12 oz total), peeled with a knife, cored, seeded, if necessary, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 small fresh jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir together persimmons, onion, ginger, jalapeño, lime juice, and salt and let stand at room temperature.

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