The magic of persimmons

A persimmon tree in fall is a splendid sight. Its leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red, and once they drop the decorative, bright orange fruits remain hanging from the bare branches like well-placed ornaments.

The two most common persimmon varieties, and one lesser-known one, are:

Fuyu: The medium-sized, flattened fruits of this variety are shaped like a common tomato, and they ripen to an orange or orange-red color. Their flesh is orange, firm, crunchy, and sweet when ripe, and they are best eaten raw like apples.

Hachiya:The large fruits of this variety have pointed ends and are shaped like plump acorns; they are deep orange-red when ripe. If you mistakenly bite into one before it’s fully ripe, you won’t repeat the mistake, since the flesh of this variety is highly astringent when firm and it will leave your mouth unpleasantly dry. Once allowed to become soft-ripe, the flesh becomes very sweet, without astringency. It can then be scooped from the skin with a spoon, to be eaten fresh or used in baking.

Chocolate: The ripe fruits of this variety are shaped and colored like those of Hachiya. Interestingly, the inner flesh is astringent and light-colored if the fruit is left un-pollinated and seedless, but the flesh turns sweet, slightly spicy/chocolaty, and brown when pollinated and seedy.

Fuyu persimmons (Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Master Gardeners)

Hachiya persimmon (Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Master Gardeners)

 

Harvesting and storing

Persimmons begin to ripen in September and are ready to harvest in November. Harvest Fuyus when fully colored and firm. Hachiya persimmons can be allowed to get soft-ripe while still on the tree, but it’s easier to harvest them when brightly colored but still firm. They will finish ripening indoors.

Cut the stems about 1 inch above the fruit, leaving the four-lobed green calyx at the top. Don’t pull the fruits off the tree since this can damage them or break the brittle branches.

Once harvested, keep the crisp-ripe Fuyu persimmons away from fruits that emit ethylene gas (apples, bananas) or they will lose their firm texture. The opposite is true for Hachiya persimmons intended for use in baking or for eating raw; ethylene gas will hasten their ripening to a soft and non-astringent state.

Persimmons can be stored for up to a month in the refrigerator; remove them to allow the ripening process to finish, if necessary.

Preserving persimmons

If you’d like to enjoy persimmons throughout the year, you can preserve them using a couple different methods:

Dehydrated slices: Begin with firm-ripe and fully-colored Hachiya or Fuyu persimmons; interestingly, the dehydration process removes the astringent quality of the firm Hachiya persimmons while preserving and concentrating the sweetness. The skin may be left on the fruit, but blemishes and bruises should be cut away. Slice the persimmons across the core into evenly thick slabs ¼ to ⅓ inch thick. Arrange slices on the dehydrator trays and dry at 120° for 7 to 10 hours until they are leathery but still flexible. The vibrant color of the persimmon fruit is preserved, and the sweetness is enhanced. Store slices in airtight bags or containers in the refrigerator.

Hoshigaki: This is the traditional Japanese version of dried persimmons. The drying process is long and the end results are decidedly unattractive, but the flavor is delicious. To prepare hoshigaki, start with persimmons that have ripened to a bright orange color but that are firm (not soft-ripe) and un-bruised. Hachiyas work best, but Fuyus can also be used. Wash the persimmons and break off the calyx “leaves,” but retain the stem. Peel off the rind, then tie string securely to the stem. Hang the persimmons in a dry location (indoors or outdoors) that gets direct sunlight and good air circulation but is protected from rain and animals. Protect the surface underneath to protect from accidental falls and messy “splats.” Every 3 to 4 days, gently massage the hang-drying fruits to break up the internal structure, being careful not to split or tear the outer layer. Don’t worry if a white powder develops on the outside; this is sugar emerging to the surface. After 5 to 8 weeks, when the pulp has set, you’ll be rewarded with orange-brown, chewy relics having a sublimely sweet flavor.

For gardening related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.

 

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