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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks for the Sweet Persimmons, Cousin

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 5:07 PM

click to enlarge Hachiya persimmons ― the kind we're drying into hoshigaki. - SEAN TIMBERLAKE
  • Sean Timberlake
  • Hachiya persimmons ― the kind we're drying into hoshigaki.

I had never eaten a persimmon prior to moving to California 20 years ago, and I certainly didn't know there was more than one kind. My only awareness of persimmons was derived from Daffy Duck sarcastically thanking his tormentor for sour ones. I assumed they were some kind of fictitious fruit invented by Warner Bros. animators.

In fact, of course, persimmons are very real and very delicious. (In other news: During my first drive through Southern California I realized that those quirky and surreal trees in the Dr. Seuss books? ALSO REAL.) I have come to appreciate them as harbingers of autumn, always my favorite season.

There are two major types of persimmons at the markets, and there's a big difference between them. Fuyu persimmons are squat and flat-bottomed, and can be eaten out of hand. They have a pleasant, slightly waxy crispness and a mildly spiced flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie. Hachiyas are elongated and pointed, and must be left to ripen until they are completely soft and jellylike. The unripe fruit is extremely tannic and bitter.

Persimmons are all over the markets right now, hovering around $3 per pound, but bulk quantities can bring that down to $2.50 or less. Don't fret about blackened skins. It's just a little sunburn, and won't affect the flavor. And what better way to honor our hometown World Series winners?

Personally, fuyus don't stick around in my household long enough to be made into anything other than belly filler; I especially enjoy them with green tea. However, they do have a few applications for longer-term preservation. Their crispness makes them a great candidate for a zingy, spicy chutney made with fiery habaneros. Or, cook them down into a rich fruit butter, courtesy of D.I.Y. Delicious author, Oaklander Vanessa Barrington.

As for hachiyas, even in their ripened state they tend to have too many tannins to make them suitable for cooking. But the Japanese have long peeled and hung unripe hachiyas to dry, massaging to break down tissue and distribute sugars. The end result is a wizened, dark fruit covered in a fine sugary powder, called hoshigaki. And I've just started my first batch.

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts.

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