Have you ever tasted a persimmon? If not, you must. They are fantastic! BUT, you need to be armed with a little information or you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.
The two types of persimmons I see at my local market are the Asian varieties, Fuyu and Hachiya. Both are bright orange, but Fuyus are smaller and look like squat tomatoes while Hachiyas tend to be quite a bit larger and more acorn-shaped (broad at the shoulders, tapering off to a cute little point at the bottom). The kids and I are big fans of the little Fuyu persimmons, which are candy-sweet raw and bake up deliciously. Imagine my surprise, then, when I bit into a seemingly ripe Hachiya only to find myself on the brink of possible anaphylactic shock. My whole mouth dried up instantly and felt like it was crammed with acrid cotton candy, dissolving into bitter, chalky dust that made its way into every crevice of my mouth. I tried to scrape it out, clawing at my tongue, but it was no use. My whole mouth seemed to be going numb. Was I breathing? My airways appeared to be clear, and yet I was in distress. Were my taste buds falling off? Water! I NEED WATER!!!
Within a few minutes, I was fine, but what the hell was THAT? A food-induced panic attack?! A quick Google search turned up the pertinent information. There are two varieties of persimmons: astringent types, of which Hachiyas are one, which require a long ripening and softening period before they're remotely palatable, and non-astringent types like Fuyu, which are sweet and delicious even when hard. I always thought astringent meant a little sour. Kinda yucky. NO!!!!!!! I thought my mouth was having a stroke.
The unpleasant sensation I experienced was due to a high concentration of tannins in the unripe fruit. Think of the driest wine you've ever tasted, then multiply that by 1,000. Captain John Smith of colonial Jamestown wrote of the native Virginia persimmon in 1612: "If it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock." An apricock, huh? Brits are funny!
Turns out Hachiyas can be excellent, too. You just have to make sure they're practically rotting. They should be soft and marshmallowy all the way up from their tapered bottom to the desiccated calyx on top, the skin a bit translucent like a water balloon about to burst. You can scoop out the jelly-like pulp and eat it straight, or make it into persimmon pudding, bread, or cookies. I have no less than four persimmon recipes in my cookbook manuscript at the moment, they are that good. And I hear the native American persimmons that grow wild and in abundance in Indiana and points south are even better. They are smaller, like plums, and astringent when unripe, but let them soften on the tree beyond the first frost, and you'll be rewarded with something really special. Or so I've read. Does anyone have experience with native persimmons?
Bottom line: you need to know your varieties. When in doubt, start with Fuyu. Yet just the other day, I bought what looked like Fuyus but were labeled Sharon fruit from Israel. I assumed they were the same thing. Raw, they were just as sweet as expected, but then I baked a few. Astringent! WTF? Are the tannins heat- activated? Maybe they're not the same after all?
My research continues.