Persimmon (Diospyros): “Better Bletted”
A persimmon tree has all the visual requirements of autumn: the leaves turn red before they drop off to reveal a network of black branches festooned with bright orange globes. The fruits last well indoors, so they can be put to decorative use before their next and final trick, being eaten.
Above: An allèe of persimmon trees. Photograph courtesy of Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture. For more, see Specimen Trees: Are They Worth It?
The name persimmon derives from the native American (Eastern Algonguian) word “putchamin,” meaning dried fruit. There are many varieties, of two main types: astringent (shaped like a pepper) and non-astringent (shaped like a tomato).
Astringent persimmons have a reputation for being intensely bitter because of their high level of tannins when unripe; Hachiya is a common variety. Astringent persimmons need to be bletted, or allowed to go through a thorough process of ripening, at which point their flavor is highly prized. They can be cooked in salt water, put in the freezer, or enclosed in close quarters with an apple or banana. This is the type of persimmon that is also dried before eating.
Non-astringent persimmons are not bitter and can be eaten when still firm (as well as when soft).
Above: Photograph courtesy of McEvoy Ranch. For more of this garden, see California Colors: Fall at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma.
- Like the tomato, persimmon is a fruit that lends itself to savory dishes. Also like the tomato, it is actually a berry.
- Hashiya (astringent) persimmon is trickier to ripen and best for cooking; Fugu (non-astringent) is best eaten fresh.
- Store the astringent variety of persimmon in an airtight place with a fruit such as apple, which sends out ethylene gases to speed up the ripening process
Keep it Alive
- Hardy in zones 5-9 (though the American persimmon is more guaranteed in colder zones)
- Generally pest- and disease-free
- Asian persimmon grows to about 15 feet while the Americans happily grow to 35 feet. The size of the latter can be controlled through pruning.
Hoshi means ‘dried’ and Gaki is persimmon; it is a process of air drying which results in a white-crusted delicacy with a dark center, resembling a cured salami. The fruit flavor is concentrated and the interior remains moist.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.
Harvested in October, persimmons are peeled and hung to dry for about six weeks outside, then inside. To bring out the sugary white outer layer, they also need to be massaged every three-five days. Labor-intensive yes, and all the more special.
Above: In the US, persimmons are likely to find themselves adorning an autumnal feast, either next to the plate as decorations or on the plate. The heavyweight American holiday dessert, persimmon pudding, is steamed and served with cream. Persimmons can also go savory. Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.
For more, see the Easy and Elegant Thanksgiving Tabletop we created last year with persimmons.