Persimmons are a delicious and exotic fruit, native to China, that have been cultivated for centuries. After spreading to Korea and Japan, they were introduced to America in the mid-1800's. Today, the persimmon is Japan’s national fruit and California produces 99 percent of the U.S. persimmon crop. The two major Japanese varieties grown in California are the Hachiya and the Fuyu.
Hachiya: This type of persimmon makes up approximately 90 percent of the available fruit. It is identifiable by its acorn-like shape. This persimmon is tart until it becomes fully ripe.
Fuyu: This persimmon is similar in color to the Hachiya, but looks like a squashed tomato, is smaller and sweeter, and is edible while still firm. In fact, the Fuyu was developed by breeding out the tannic acid from the Hachiya, making it tastier and easier to eat whole and raw.
Persimmons are widely available from September through December, with a peak in November. The entire fruit is edible except for the seed and calyx. It is an excellent source of copper, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber. Persimmons contain potent antioxidants such as catechins and gallocatechin and the anti-tumor compound, betulinic acid. These compounds seem to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Other important antioxidant compounds found in this fruit are vitamin A, B-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these compounds work as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and macular degeneration.
The Japanese have a tradition called the art of hoshigaki, where they dehydrate persimmons for the New Year. Hoshigaki are persimmons that are peeled and dried whole over a period of several weeks, through a combination of hanging and delicate hand-massaging. Unlike typical sliced and dried fruit, hoshigaki are succulently tender and moist, with concentrated flavor.
Choose persimmons with deep red undertones that have glossy skin without cracks or bruises. They should feel heavy for their size.
Buy ripe persimmons only if you are planning to eat them immediately. They don’t last long, and can quickly become mushy. Otherwise, buy firmer fruits and allow them to ripen. You can quickly ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag with an apple or banana.
When very ripe, persimmons must be stored in the refrigerator. To store persimmons that are almost ripe or just ripe, keep them at room temperature.
Recipe of the Week: Persimmon Cookies
Yield: 3 Dozen cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
For the cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup persimmon pulp (2-3 persimmons)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup raisins
For the orange glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in persimmon pulp, egg, and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour mixture until everything is combined. Fold in the walnuts, if using, and raisins.
Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for approximately 12-14 minutes or until cookies are brown around the edges and set. Let cool on baking sheets for five minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the orange glaze, in a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, and zest together. Whisk until smooth. Dip the cookie tops into the glaze and twirl the cookie. Set cookies back on wire rack for glaze to harden.