Because I have a persimmon tree in my front yard, and I live in Berkeley—where all manner of exotica can be had in the produce sections of more than one grocery store—it’s easy for me to forget that many people don’t know and love persimmons. If you are new to this gorgeous fruit and curious, there’s one big (very big) thing that you need to know before you take your first bite. There are two types of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya. Stay with me here: Both varieties are delicious, but the Hachiya is tricky.
Fuyus are bright yellow-orange—like a Day-Glo pumpkin—and shaped like tomatoes with a beautiful ruffled four-leaf calyx at the top where the stem attaches. They are ripe and edible, either firm or soft. Eat them out of hand like an apple—including the skin; the flesh is slightly slippery on the tongue, less crisp than apples and less grainy than pears. Or, add the beautiful slices to a salad or cheese platter. The flavor is subtle and gently sweet often described as “honeyed” because, I think, we lack a more precise descriptor, and are attempting to avoid saying that Fuyu persimmons taste like, um, persimmons!
Hachiya persimmons are a brilliant reddish coral with that same ruffled calyx but a gentle point at the bottom rather than a stem end. They are shaped like plump three-dimensional hearts, or acorns, rather than tomatoes. They are tongue-numbing—tannic and indelibly astringent—until ripe. Many a curious eater has sworn off persimmons forever after inadvertently tasting an unripe Hachiya. This variety (my favorite) is not even close to ripe until the fruit is completely soft and completely squishy all over. The ripe raw flesh is translucent, with a jelly-like consistency. It is sweet and gooey and positively decadent; simply cut in half and eat with a spoon—or just bite in. Take care to lean forward, lest a syrupy drop stain your shirt or shoes! If you focus hard, the flavor may remind you of dates, but without the latter’s sugary sweetness. You can freeze and eat Hachiyas partially defrosted, like an exotic one-ingredient semifreddo.
I love persimmons and enjoy them raw most of the time, but both types are also good in steamed puddings and tea breads, where their subtle fruit adds moisture, and sweetness their elusive flavor goes perfectly with seasonal nuts and spices. The recipe that follows features Hachiya persimmons (but you could use Fuyu, as well) paired with walnuts, currants, and a good hit of freshly grated nutmeg. Buckwheat flour lends a woodsy note and pleasant grain. The finished loaf is fragrant, gently sweet, and perfect for breakfast, teatime, or a simple dessert—you don't even need a dollop of crème fraîche to top it. It is best on its own.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).
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