On the Virtues of Persimmon Flesh

Persimmons come in two different types: astringent and non-astringent. Astringent varieties taste pretty much the way they sound: mouth-puckering to the point of inedibility — at least if they aren’t completely ripe. It’s the tannins, you see. Phenolic compounds that are enjoyable in small amounts (say, in good red wine) but offensive in concentration. When astringent persimmons are perfectly ripe they are incredibly sweet and jammy in the center. Hachiya persimmons are the most common astringent persimmon found in stores. Longer and more tapered than other persimmons (almost like a bell pepper) they need to be ripened to the point of extreme softness, almost mushiness, before they can be eaten. But when they get that way, Lord are they good.

American persimmons are of the astringent variety, which is why they’re harvested extremely late in the growing season, after a few good hard frosts have “bletted” the fruit, rendering it soft and sweet. American persimmons aren’t often found in stores, probably because by the time they’re ripe they aren’t terribly pleasant looking. If you want some, you usually have to go to a tree. But be quick about it, because humans aren’t the only critters waiting around for persimmon season to start. Squirrels, possums and raccoons find them every bit as appealing as we do.

Of the non-astringent varieties, Fuyu are among the most popular. These you can eat like apples as soon as you buy them. They’re also great in prepared desserts.

One of the things I personally love about the flesh of any kind of ripe persimmon is that it’s a ready-made sorbet in a skin. You simply freeze the whole fruit and eat it (or scoop the frozen flesh out if you prefer). Another very interesting quality of persimmon flesh is that once it’s pureéd, it can be whipped all by itself into a foam that will last for hours, making it outstanding for garnishes or toppings. Lastly, since persimmon flesh doesn’t discolor when it’s exposed to oxygen, a purée of persimmon will tint any cake or pudding orange (assuming it doesn’t get overheated or exposed to an alkaline like baking soda). All in all it’s an extremely versatile, underutilized fruit.

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