Like bright orange harbingers of frosty nights to come, persimmons signal fall weather.
Pointy or flat, persimmons of all kinds flourish in Sacramento, where they relish the mild winters and warm summers. A bountiful crop is now flowing into farmers markets and roadside fruit stands as well as decorating backyard trees. Like many crops this year, ripe persimmons are about two weeks ahead of schedule.
“They’re ripening early,” said Chris Otow Kuratomi, whose family has grown persimmons for generations in what is now Granite Bay. “We’re having a very nice year. All kinds of persimmons are ready right now. Normally, we’d still be waiting around, but right now, we’re busy – we’re sure not twiddling our thumbs.”
Nationally famous, Otow Orchard grows 6 acres of persimmons in several varieties, including five types of Fuyu, the chocolate-colored Maru, spicy Hyakume and famous Hachiya. Family matriarch Helen Otow, now 97, still greets guests, helps tend the farm stand and supervises as the Hachiya are hung to dry to create hoshigaki – prized dried persimmons.
“Ever since we were featured on Huell Howser’s ‘California Gold’ (in 2008 on public television), we’ve been known for our persimmons,” said Tosh Kuratomi, Chris’ husband. “We’re peach farmers, but everybody comes for the persimmons.”
Otow Orchard now ships nationwide its hand-massaged hoshigaki (which takes weeks to perfect) and fresh persimmons. But most buyers visit in person.
“We welcome people to come and wander the orchard,” Tosh said. “People come from all over the country.”
That’s especially true now during the height of persimmon season, which runs from late October through December. Chefs love the crunchy (and flat) Fuyu persimmon that subs for apples in salads or other fall fare. Oddball varieties with tasty nicknames such as “chocolate,” “cinnamon” or “coffee cake” persimmon have found devoted fans. Traditionalists swear by the tannin-laced pointy Hachiyas, a delicacy coveted for its complex sweetness – especially when hand-dried.
From Lincoln to Newcastle, Highway 193 is Sacramento’s persimmon corridor. Several family farms specialize in this unusual crop.
Passers-by gawk at the colorful fruit that packs tree branches. A member of the ebony family, persimmon trees have very dark, unusually strong wood. That allows the small tree’s graceful branches to hold heavy crops.
In eastern states, native persimmons hang on trees long after the leaves have fallen. Sacramento’s Asian varieties are hand-snipped (with about an inch of stem) while red and orange leaves still hang on the tree.
“Otherwise, the birds and critters will get them all,” said author and local persimmon expert Jean Brine.
A North Dakota native, Brine discovered persimmons when she moved to Sacramento more than half a century ago.
“Behind my parents’ business on Capital Mall, there were these two old, old persimmon trees – absolutely loaded with Hachiya persimmons,” Brine recalled. “I was so excited. I had never seen anything like them and I loved fruit!”
But what do you do with so many persimmons? A state worker, Brine turned to her new Sacramento colleagues for advice.
“They said, ‘We’ll help you!’” she said. “I took two big boxes of persimmons to work, and they went like wildfire. So I knew people liked persimmons. But I could never find any recipes. So for the next 45, 50 years, I started collecting recipes every time I saw one.
“People became aware I was a persimmon nut,” Brine said with a chuckle. “Any time they saw any persimmon recipes, they’d send them to me. I started accumulating quite a few recipes.”
Now retired, Brine turned her collection into a cookbook: “Perfectly Persimmon” (Morris Press Cookbooks, 440 pages, $20). It features more than 1,000 recipes plus lots of tips for handling this often-puzzling fruit.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of varieties of persimmon,” she said. “But for most recipes, it really comes down to two types: Hachiya or Fuyu.”
That also divides the recipes. Because of their intense pucker power when under-ripe, Hachiya must be mushy before use. Then, the jelly-like pulp can be scooped out of the skin. Once it turns color, Fuyu can be eaten crisp or allowed to fully soften, making it a more versatile fruit.
Among Brine’s recipe resources were cooking contests at the annual persimmon festival in Mitchell, Ind. She also collected a wide assortment of savory recipes – such as persimmon salsa and persimmon meatballs – as well as more traditional sweet treats (including 69 puddings). Out of her 1,000-plus collection, her favorite recipe is a cookie: lemon-glazed persimmon bars.
This month, Brine is busy with her own persimmons. Most will be pureed and frozen for later use. She and her husband, Bob Brine, have their own large Hachiya tree in their Pocket/Greenhaven neighborhood home garden. A single mature tree can bear 60 to 100 pounds of fruit a year.
“When they start to produce, they really get going,” Brine said.
“You can get a great over-abundance,” she added. “But people are very happy when you share.”
Or try this oven method: Place slices in a single layer on cookie sheets lined with aluminum foil. Place in a 200-degree oven (or a gas oven with just the pilot light) and let dry overnight. The slices are done when they are no longer sticky but bendable. If you turn the fruit once during drying, the slices will dry faster and more evenly. After drying, transfer fully cooled slices to a zip-close plastic bag or other sealed container.
Persimmons are a late-fall fruit, native to both North America and China. The English name comes from the Algonquin word “pessemin,” which means “dried fruit.” That’s how American Indians preserved this bounty. At first, colonists did not like this orange fruit. One bite could “drawe a man’s mouth awrie with much torment” – unless that persimmon was soft as mush. Then, they turn sweet as jelly. Smaller in size, native persimmons have less water content and more sugar than Asian varieties.
In 1855, the modern (Asian) persimmon was brought to the United States from Japan by Commander Matthew C. Perry.
The main two varieties of Asian persimmons are very different fruit. Hachiya, the most common, is shaped like a heart and should never be eaten until extremely soft. Tannin, the same component that makes its flesh dark orange, causes the astringent taste. Hachiya are used for traditional Japanese dried persimmons called hoshigaki.
Fuyu is the other Asian persimmon: It’s round and shaped like a tomato with a flat bottom. Although not tannin-free, its tannin level is just a fraction of its astringent cousin. Fuyu can be eaten when slightly soft or crisp like an apple. Or it can be allowed to fully ripen until the pulp turns soft as jelly. Fuyu is considered the national fruit of Japan, where these varieties were developed and hybridized.
Other varieties have become popularized by chefs and farmers markets. Also called Maru, chocolate persimmon has dark, creamy pulp (as the name implies) but is chocolate only in color, not flavor. Cinnamon (or Hyakume) persimmon has a slightly spicy flavor but the name refers more to its speckled brown flesh than taste.
– Debbie Arrington
FIND PERSIMMONS, RECIPES
GET THE COOKBOOK
• Sacramento author Jean Brine sells her cookbook, “Perfectly Persimmon,” directly to readers. The book contains more than 1,000 persimmon recipes plus lots of tips. It’s priced at $20 plus $4 shipping and handling. For a copy, email Brine at PerfectlyPersimmon@sbcglobal.net. Brine’s cookbook also is available via Amazon.com.
Prep time: 20 minutes
1Fuyu persimmon, peeled and thinly sliced
4cups mixed greens
2cups fresh baby spinach
1/4cup pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries or golden raisins (mix and match, if you like)
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts or sliced almonds
2tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
1garlic clove, finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
Mix together fruit, greens, spinach, pomegranate seeds, cranberries and/or raisins and nuts.
Whisk together dressing ingredients. Add dressing to taste.
Old-fashioned persimmon cookies
1cup very ripe persimmon pulp, mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, room temperature
1teaspoon Angostura bitters
2cups all-purpose flour
1teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
6tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter or margarine
1cup packed dark brown sugar
1teaspoon vanilla extract
2cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Mash persimmon pulp. Stir in baking soda. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter or margarine and sugar. Stir in persimmon pulp, egg, vanilla and bitters; mix well.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Slowly add the flour mixture to the persimmon mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in raisins and pecans (if desired).
Drop batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the size of the cookies) or until the top of the cookie springs back when touched with your finger. (You want these cookies cake-like, not hard.) Transfer to rack and cool before frosting.
To make frosting: In a small saucepan, melt butter or margarine and brown sugar together. Stir in milk. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and cook, stirring gently, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat until well-combined.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Dymple’s Delight Persimmon Pudding
This recipe was first popularized in the early 1980s by Dymple Green of Mitchell, Ind., home of a famous American persimmon festival that celebrated its 67th year in September. Green’s family-owned company was believed to be the nation’s only persimmon cannery. Her original recipe used their canned “Dymple’s Delight” pulp. But fresh or frozen (and very ripe) persimmon pulp works fine.
1 1/2cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2cups ripe persimmon pulp
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1teaspoon baking soda
1/4cup whipping cream
4tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup raisins
1/2cup pecans (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl; set aside.
In another bowl, combine persimmon pulp and sugar; add eggs and set aside. Stir together the buttermilk and baking soda; set aside.
Add the persimmon mixture to the flour mixture, a portion at a time, alternating with a portion of the buttermilk mixture, beating well by hand after each addition. Add cream, honey and melted butter and beat well. Fold in raisins and nuts, if desired.
Pour into a buttered 13- by 9-inch baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until the center is set. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
This recipe was originally created by Dr. Preston Maring of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. It’s part of the huge collection in Jean Brine’s cookbook “Perfectly Persimmon.”
4 ripe Fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons yellow onion, cipollini onion or shallots, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature over grilled, baked, poached or pan-roasted chicken, turkey, fish or pork.
Lemon-glazed persimmon bars
Sacramento author Jean Brine ranks this cookie as her favorite recipe out of more than 1,000 she collected for her cookbook, “Perfectly Persimmon.”
Makes about 3 dozen bars.
1cup persimmon pulp, pureed
1 1/2teaspoons lemon juice
1teaspoon baking soda
1egg, lightly beaten
1/2cup vegetable oil
1cup pitted dates, finely chopped
1 3/4cups flour
1cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1cup powdered sugar, sifted
2tablespoons lemon juice
In a small bowl, mix together the persimmon pulp, lemon juice and baking soda. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the egg, sugar, oil and dates. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, salt and spices. Add this to the date mixture, alternating it with the persimmon mixture. Stir in nuts.
Grease and lightly flour a 10- by 15-inch jelly roll pan. Spread the batter evenly in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool cookies in pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then spread with lemon glaze. Cool thoroughly and cut into bars.
For lemon glaze: Mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth.