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October, 2009

Persimmon, even the word sounds inviting; yet this versatile fruit is one of the most overlooked delicacies of the fall season.

Available from late September through December, its pumpkin orange color has always made the persimmon a popular ingredient in holiday fruit baskets. However, while recognizable by most shoppers, few are aware of the distinctive flavors and culinary options that the persimmon offers the home chef. In fact, double those options, since there are actually two very distinct varieties of this fruit available at this time of year, the Hachiya and the Fuyu. In November the spicy gold Cinnamon Fuyu Persimmon also makes its appearance, providing another color and flavor for your holiday cutting board. In the kitchen each variety is prepared completely different; learning how to take advantage of this difference is rewarded with an altogether unique set of flavors to work with for the few fleeting months that these fruits are in season.

The Hachiya Persimmon looks and feels like an acorn-shaped, shiny, reddish orange tomato. It has a tomato thick skin and jelly-like fruit when it ripens fully. The Hachiya has a sweet pumpkin taste with a hint of allspice and cinnamon. Be aware that the Hachiya cannot be eaten until it is very soft, even a little overripe is preferred, due to the presence of tannins that can give the fruit a bitter taste. Tannins are a group of chemicals that also occur in tea and red wine, though the quantity in a Hachiya persimmon is much greater. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become inert and the bitterness turns tangy sweet. The fact that this variety must be overly soft and ripe before being edible is a clue to how it should be prepared.
In theory, the Hachiya can be eaten out of hand; however, by the time this variety is ripe enough to be consumed as a hand fruit, it would be a very messy operation at best. This is a cooking fruit; rather than biting into it, scoop the fruit out with a spoon. When ripe the Hachiya is halfway to being a sauce anyway, so complete the process. Heat to a simmer with a clove or two of garlic and a little white wine, for a fruity sauce that pairs nicely with pork or fowl. As is, the soft fruit of the Hachiya can be frozen into a no fuss sorbet. Conversely, heat the pulp in a small pot with cinnamon, butter and a little honey or agave syrup, to make an elegant dessert topping. Or blend chopped Hachiya in a food processor with some brandy and lemon juice, refrigerate until firm and then spoon over spice cake or mincemeat pie. The pureed pulp also makes a nice substitute for the usual pumpkin in pies, quick breads and cakes.

Fuyu Persimmon
The Fuyu Persimmon’s characteristics are so opposite the Hachiya that it is hard to believe the two are related at all. The Fuyu is mildly sweet, especially compared to the much stronger, more pronounced Hachiya. It is also at its peak flavor when crunchy hard, like an apple. Looking more like an orange mini pumpkin than a fruit, the Fuyu’s skin is completely edible. This is a fruit meant to be enjoyed raw. The Fuyu can be eaten out of hand or cut it into cracker thin slices for a refreshing flavor twist to a cheese platter. Chopped, it adds a great texture and unique flavor to salads; diced, it makes an excellent salsa ingredient for topping seafood, poultry or pork.

Cinnamon Persimmons
November brings on the Cinnamon Persimmons, just in time for the holidays. This variety is available through December and, like the Fuyu, is used when crunchy firm. Its fruit is much more golden in color than the regular Fuyu and spotted with cinnamon colored flecks. This variety offers a much spicier flavor with a hint of cinnamon to it. Sliced, it pairs well with chutney or diced it adds that extra something special to a fruit salad.

Mastering the culinary options of the versatile persimmon will add a subtle seasonal ambience to your table that guests will sense and taste, but not be able to quite identify. Keep them guessing! Fruit Factoid: It is impossible to say the word persimmon three times fast without smiling!