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Sweet Season: Persimmons, from Fall through Frost

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Sweet Season: Persimmons, from Fall through Frost

November 27, 2020

Late fall and winter bring bright persimmons to gardens and greengrocers. Mostly, these fruit are cultivars of Asian species—either the large and squat tomato-shaped persimmons generally referred to as ‘Fuyu’s, or the acorn-shaped ‘Hachiya’s, though there are in fact dozens of different cultivars of this eastern Asian tree, Diospyros kaki.

Then there are the native American trees: the small-fruited and sweet American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, whose berries (technically) cling to the branches of tall trees well into winter. Further south and west, and into Mexico, the Diospyros texana turns glossily black when ripe.

Photography by Marie Viljoen, except where noted.

It is a lucky forager who goes out hunting for mushrooms and acorns and comes home with a sackful of indigenous tree candy, golf ball-sized or smaller, but luscious when ripe.
Above: It is a lucky forager who goes out hunting for mushrooms and acorns and comes home with a sackful of indigenous tree candy, golf ball-sized or smaller, but luscious when ripe.
The obvious ornamental appeal of a persimmon tree is its spectacular display of fruit clinging to bare branches well after leaves have dropped. Persimmons are low-maintenance and fairly drought-tolerant.
Above: The obvious ornamental appeal of a persimmon tree is its spectacular display of fruit clinging to bare branches well after leaves have dropped. Persimmons are low-maintenance and fairly drought-tolerant.
Who needs holiday decorations? Asian persimmon species and cultivars are hardy from USDA zones 7 to \1\1. In cities where artificial heat island effects create warmer microclimates, you may be able to cheat, a little. Photograph by Robert Jackson via Flickr.
Above: Who needs holiday decorations? Asian persimmon species and cultivars are hardy from USDA zones 7 to 11. In cities where artificial heat island effects create warmer microclimates, you may be able to cheat, a little. Photograph by Robert Jackson via Flickr.
Another persimmon species, Diospyros lotus, known as date-plum, deserves more attention, stateside. Native to eastern Europe and southwest Asia, its acorn-sized fruit are held above large, showy leaves which turn orange in autumn. It is hardy to zone 6.
Above: Another persimmon species, Diospyros lotus, known as date-plum, deserves more attention, stateside. Native to eastern Europe and southwest Asia, its acorn-sized fruit are held above large, showy leaves which turn orange in autumn. It is hardy to zone 6.
Date-plums ripen late into November, when they turn toffee-brown under a powdery bloom. Their flavor resembles, well, moist dates. These fruit may have been responsible for the motivational issues that Homer&#8\2\17;s Odysseus ran into on his trip home: &#8\2\20;Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return.&#8\2\2\1; He turned fundamentalist: &#8\2\20;I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Date-plums ripen late into November, when they turn toffee-brown under a powdery bloom. Their flavor resembles, well, moist dates. These fruit may have been responsible for the motivational issues that Homer’s Odysseus ran into on his trip home: “Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return.” He turned fundamentalist: “I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches.”
For cold climate gardeners, however, it is the American persimmon—D. virginiana—which comes to the rescue.  It is hardy to the bone-chilling USDA zone 4.  Picked well into winter, the fruit&#8\2\17;s flesh is very flavorful and easy to process, and virtually seed-free. To preserve a windfall, push the ripe persimmons through a colander or sieve after pureeing, and freeze the pulp for later use.
Above: For cold climate gardeners, however, it is the American persimmon—D. virginiana—which comes to the rescue.  It is hardy to the bone-chilling USDA zone 4.  Picked well into winter, the fruit’s flesh is very flavorful and easy to process, and virtually seed-free. To preserve a windfall, push the ripe persimmons through a colander or sieve after pureeing, and freeze the pulp for later use.
If you are buying, rather than picking, you will be comforted to know that the flat-ended Fuyus can be eaten while they are still firm. Photograph courtesy of McEvoy Ranch. For more of this garden, see California Colors: Fall at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma.
Above: If you are buying, rather than picking, you will be comforted to know that the flat-ended Fuyus can be eaten while they are still firm. Photograph courtesy of McEvoy Ranch. For more of this garden, see California Colors: Fall at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma.
At Babylonstoren in South Africa crisp Fuyu slices grace seasonal salads.
Above: At Babylonstoren in South Africa crisp Fuyu slices grace seasonal salads.
I like to freeze very ripe and soft persimmons before cutting the fruit in half and scooping out the instant sorbet inside. It&#8\2\17;s a nice and simple (and quick!) dinner party dessert trick.
Above: I like to freeze very ripe and soft persimmons before cutting the fruit in half and scooping out the instant sorbet inside. It’s a nice and simple (and quick!) dinner party dessert trick.
How do you know your persimmon is ripe? The deeper orange the fruit, the riper it will be. And your tongue will tell you. In the case of the small American persimmons, you can afford to cut a few in half and do a taste test. If there is any hint of furriness on your tongue, leave them for a few more days.
Above: How do you know your persimmon is ripe? The deeper orange the fruit, the riper it will be. And your tongue will tell you. In the case of the small American persimmons, you can afford to cut a few in half and do a taste test. If there is any hint of furriness on your tongue, leave them for a few more days.
One way of preserving a bountiful persimmon harvest is by drying them to make the Japanese (as well as Chinese and Korean) delicacy known as hoshigaki. Peel the persimmons (this is a sticky process, best achieved with a potato peeler) and suspend them from a string until dry. Nancy Singleton Hachisu&#8\2\17;s Preserving the Japanese Way (\$\26.59 on Amazon) details the method.
Above: One way of preserving a bountiful persimmon harvest is by drying them to make the Japanese (as well as Chinese and Korean) delicacy known as hoshigaki. Peel the persimmons (this is a sticky process, best achieved with a potato peeler) and suspend them from a string until dry. Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Preserving the Japanese Way ($26.59 on Amazon) details the method.
I hang my drying persimmons in a sunny window (where my Thai limes are overwintering). Most traditional instructions say to suspend them from the &#8\2\20;eaves,&#8\2\2\1; but in Brooklyn we ain&#8\2\17;t got no eaves. And if left outdoors the squirrels would have a feast.
Above: I hang my drying persimmons in a sunny window (where my Thai limes are overwintering). Most traditional instructions say to suspend them from the “eaves,” but in Brooklyn we ain’t got no eaves. And if left outdoors the squirrels would have a feast.
While the small American persimmons dry in about ten days, the larger Fuyus will take many weeks, aided by a light daily massage.
Above: While the small American persimmons dry in about ten days, the larger Fuyus will take many weeks, aided by a light daily massage.

How else to use this cold-weather flavor? There are of course persimmon salsas, chiffon cakes and cheese cakes and spiced loaves and muffins. There are persimmon brownies and cookies. How about persimmon-cranberry stuffing for that turkey-in-waiting?

What is your favorite way to use this beautiful fruit?

N.B.: For more fall fruits (and recipes), see:

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