Persimmons are a fruit I've only recently come to enjoy. For some reason I always thought of them as having an unpleasant puckery taste, perhaps from a sample tasted in childhood. However, I found some of the orange beauties at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center (Everson) booth at Bellingham Farmers Market and decided to give them a fresh try. Happily, I enjoyed the experiment.
Most persimmon cultivars have an Asian origin, having been brought from China or Japan, though there is at least one variety native to the eastern United States. Biologically, persimmons are a giant berry.
Persimmons are not a particularly juicy fruit, which may have given rise to its common name. The word "persimmon" is believed to have come from a Powhatan word (an eastern U.S. Native American language), where the original meaning was "dry fruit."
It's Latin name, Diospyros, has been given various interpretations, including "divine fruit" or "God's pear." Some believe it was the fruit that caused visitors to the Land of the Lotus Eaters to want to stay forever, a tale told in Homer's "Odyssey."
There are two main types of edible Asian persimmons. One is heart-shaped (astringent), and the other is shaped more like a small tomato (non-astringent).
Heart-shaped persimmons have a strongly astringent taste and need to be fully ripened before eating. They also should have the peel removed. I suspect it was one of these varieties that led to my childhood dislike of the fruit.
Cloud Mountain sells an Asian variety called "Izu." It is rounder and much less astringent and can be eaten while still a little unripe and firm.
Persimmons should be brightly colored ("Izu" becomes a bright orange) with smooth, shiny skin. When ripe they will be soft inside, much like a firm tomato or a papaya. Persimmons bruise easily, so they don't ship well. That's why you don't often see them in the grocery stores.
To speed the ripening of any variety of persimmons, put them in a paper bag with an apple or two. Apples give off ethylene gas as they ripen, and ethylene makes persimmons ripen faster. Once ripe, persimmons should be refrigerated to keep them for a few more days.
Cloud Mountain also sells "Izu" tree starts, if you are interested in growing some yourself. "Izu" produces a medium-size fruit on a tree that grows 10 to 15 feet tall. They are self-fertile, so you only need one tree. They like to root deeply, so consider that when choosing a planting location.
Persimmons are considered hard to propagate (although some varieties can be grown from seed), but once established they are described as easy to grow. The trees can adapt to many soil types. They have few pests and little disease, and are drought-tolerant once the trees are well-rooted.
After that, care mostly involves regular pruning. Pruning also helps eliminate the tendency of some trees to produce only every other year. It takes about three years for a tree to start producing fruit.
"Izu" has a mildly sweet taste if it is eaten while the fruit is firm. I found it reminiscent of a melon flavor. As it ripens further, the flavor will grow sweeter, and the taste then has been compared to plums or even to dates.
Some non-astringent varieties can be eaten with the skin intact, according to some sources. However I chose to peel mine after coming across several references to persimmons and "bezoars."
Bezoars, or foodballs, can form when certain tannins combine with stomach acid and harden. Apparently you would have to eat quite a few persimmons for that to be a problem, but I don't ever want to find out how many are required. Peeling and ripening reduces the amount of tannins present in the fruit so there are no worries. A weird side note: one Japanese study cited drinking Coca-Cola as a treatment alternative instead of surgery.
Nutritionally, one persimmon contains about one fourth of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. They also contain significant amounts of iron and potassium.
Persimmons can be eaten in a multitude of ways. Raw, dried, cooked, baked, and frozen in ice cream are all popular ways to eat persimmons. Try them in salads (see recipe below), puddings, breads and muffins, cakes, and condiments such as jams or even salsa. Persimmons can also be used to make homemade beer. A non-alcoholic persimmon beer tastes similar to root beer, only sweeter. Alcoholic persimmon beer is sweet, and relatively low in alcohol content.
WARM HOLIDAY SALAD
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
2 cloves garlic, minced (Broadleaf Farm, Everson)
1 bunch chard, coarsely chopped (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 small sweet red pepper (Evergreen Station, Ferndale)
2 persimmons, peeled and chopped (Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Everson)
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, put the hazelnut oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped chard, sweet red pepper and chopped persimmons and sauté until the chard is just wilted and the peppers have softened slightly.
Dress with your favorite combination of oil and vinegar. I used a mixture of hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden), apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden) and fresh thyme (Evergreen Station, Ferndale).
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.