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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Summer Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(3) page(s): 8, 31, and 34

Did you ever bite into a sort of orange colored tomato-like fruit that makes your lips pucker? Have you actually eaten it? If you did, you might be chewing on an unripe Persimmon and your reaction would be similar to that of the early settlers of North America. They found the small wild persimmon inedible until Native Americans told them the fruit must be very ripe before eating it. The botanical name for the persimmon they found is Diospyros, the one native to North America specifically Diospyros virginiana. These are small fruits that can be the size of a cherry or as large as a plum.

The persimmon or Diospyros khaki, is believed to be thousands of years old, native to China, and very popular throughout Asia. Worldwide, it is often called the Oriental persimmon. Little seems to be known about this particular fruit. For example, not many know that it is a relative of many hardwoods including the ebony. They do not know that it is the only member of its family to bear fruit. Likewise, many do not know that some varieties of this fruit are edible before they start to become soft while others need to shrivel, their flesh becoming jelly-like, before they lose there astringency and become edible.

The best known Asian varieties are the hachiya and the fuyu. Both are large. The hachiya is heart-shaped, needs to be eaten when very soft and very ripe, some say not until it is almost liquid in texture; they believe that otherwise it is virtually inedible. The fuyu contains no tannins and can be eaten firm, as it is then ripe. It has up to eight large seeds, themselves considered inedible. One type of persimmon called: 'Sharon Fruit' was developed in the Sharon Valley in Israel. It is a flat-topped improved variety of the kaki, developed with neither core nor seeds nor tannins, so it virtually non-astringent.

In China, persimmons are particularly popular around the New Year. Then, fresh and dried, they are eaten frequently. They are also eaten after being buried in snow outside a home or restaurant and eaten frozen as an ices-like treat. At any time of the year, newly married couples and those engaged to be married, frequently give persimmons to friends from whom they receive wedding gifts. It is their note of thanks.

Some literature calls the persimmons a ‘date plum’ or a ‘Caucasian persimmon.' They are referring to another called Diospyros lotus. These are found wild and have been cultivated, but are neither date nor plum. Rather, they are kin to the American persimmon, but smaller and about the size of a cherry. The D. lotus variety are light brown to blue-black in color, hence the origin of their nickname, black jujube. More knowledgeable Chinese call this particular variety hiezao, others call it suanzuo or sour jujube.

All persimmons are and were grown all over China, from Yunnan to Manchuria. They have been growing there for centuries as Neolithic sites in North China and elsewhere attest. They are mentioned in ancient Chinese classics. Thought first domesticated in China, and sometimes frozen and served as they defrost, sort of a persimmon sherbert. People also did and still purchase the raw almost ripe fruit to steam it, then flatten and dry these themselves, keeping them for snack food and for medicinal use year-round.

Persimmons have a pale brown stem-end called its calyx, grow on a deciduous tree, and all of the fruits contain several different natural sugars, some gums, iodine, and other nutrients. Many contain lots of tannins. In China, the persimmon is called shi guo meaning 'persimmon fruit,' or simply called shi zi for persimmon. The fruit is thought to quench thirst, moisten lungs, and benefit the spleen; and it is considered neither hot nor cold.

Used medicinally, the calyx, also neither hot nor cold, helps control excess energy, and it stops hiccups. Fresh, the fruit is recommended by traditional medical doctors for high blood pressure. The dried fruit, made into a cake, is used for asthmatic coughs, chronic dysentery, hemorrhoids, and blood in the urine. This cake is peeled ripening and drying in the sun, flattened, and dried some more. You often find these flat disks for sale in herbal stores, but not all are dried without the skin. Persimmon is not always recommended. For example, traditional Chinese medicinal doctors always advise that persimmon and crab are a bad mix. Together, they are to be avoided, especially if a person is ill.

Sick or well, it is best to eat this fruit ripe to enjoy the most flavor. If you want to speed up the ripening process, store them in a paper bag with a banana. The ethelyne gas given off by the banana will help ripen the persimmon and it will be much sweeter in a few days. In general, persimmons are delectable in the fall. The kaki varieties have a longer ripening season whether they are heart, plum, or tomato-shaped, and no matter if they are the red or yellow varieties or any color in between.

Persimmon trees do grow wild in many parts of the world, and they live for fifty or more years. A mature tree can bear a hundred pounds of fruit in a year, and as it does so, it makes for a beautiful, though quite tall, ornamental with bright colored leaves after the fruiting season. The trees are rather disease resistant, and fruit from them can continue to ripen off the tree.

Early in the 14th Century, Marco Polo reported that the Chinese traded in persimmons. At about that time, the fruit spread to Japan and Korea where additional cultivars were developed. In Japan, the persimmon became the national fruit and one of the traditional foods for the Japanese New Year. Persimmons have been cultivated on the Mediterranean coast of France, in Italy, and in other European countries, and in south Russia, and in Algeria; all for more than a century. After Commodore Perry opened Japan to the West in 1856, he changed the persimmon scene forever by distributing trees and seeds to California and the southern states. After that, the Japanese persimmon, Diospyros kaki Linn, became the dominant variety sold in the United States. Two types are commercially available.

When you purchase this fruit, just remember that the hachiya must be fully ripe to be enjoyed and that means a mushy, intense orange, jelly-like texture. This is a fruit whose skin you do not eat, whose taste is compared to that of an overly sweet apricot with a smooth, slippery texture. The fuyu, also bright orange in color, is non-astringent, eaten when firm as you would an apple, skin and all. It has a squat shape and flat bottom, close to the appearance of a medium sized tomato. Some persimmons will begin to appear in the markets in late September, but November and December are when they are plentiful.

Fully ripe Japanese persimmons are usually eaten out-of-hand or cut in half and served with a spoon, preferably after chilling. The nature of the hachiya is such that it is almost always used as a puree, in cookies, cakes, brownies, breads, puddings, flans, and sauces. To make an easy sorbet, just freeze the whole fruit and allow it to defrost slightly in the refrigerator. Then peel back the skin, and spoon out the flesh. You can add a few drops of rum, bourbon, or brandy, all of which go well in persimmon preparations. In western foods, use seasonings such ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, ground coriander and cinnamon.

As persimmons are fall/winter fruits, nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts go well with them. Dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes also complement them as does orange juice, orange liqueurs, and brown sugar. Nutritionally, persimmons provide a substantial amount of Vitamin C. The fuyu contains about six times as much Vitamin C as does the hachiya. Both varieties are rich in beta-carotene and potassium. They provide a small amount of protein, some trace B vitamins, and a moderate amount of calcium.
Note: The author gives pecial thanks to Ravit Ratsabi who sparked interest in further explorations of this delicious fruit.
Persimmon and Scallops
1 very ripe persimmons, blanched, peeled, and seeded
15 large sea scallops
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
15 slices of bacon
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh coriander
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1. Mash persimmons with a potato masher mixing in two tablespoons cold water.
2. Rinse scallops and drain well, then mix with the cornstarch and wrap each one around the outside edge with a slice of bacon. Leave the end tucked under the scallop.
3. Mix pepper, sugar, and coriander and set aside.
4. Heat oil and fry the bacon with the end piece on top for one minute, then turn so the bacon is on the bottom. Sprinkle with pepper mixture and continue frying for just two minutes more, then remove to eight warmed serving plates.
5. Heat mashed persimmon mixture in the remaining liquid in the pan for one to two minutes, until boiling, then drizzle this over each set of scallops and serve.
Persimmon Patties
1/2 pound minced or ground beef
1/2 pound minced or ground pork
1/4 cup minced left-over steamed bread or use minced white bread
2 ripe persimmons, blanched and peeled and seeded, then minced
2 Tablespoons abalone or oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons minced fresh coriander
1. Gently mix both meats, bread, sauce, and garlic and then form into six large patties or twelve smaller ones.
2. Heat oil and fry them four minutes on each side, then remove, and discard any oil left.
3. Sprinkle both sides of the patties with the coriander and fry one more minute per side, then serve.
Three Fruit Stew
3 apples, peeled and cored
3 ripe persimmons, blanched, peeled and seeded
1 teaspoon sweet osmanthus sauce
1 Tablespoon light-colored honey
1. Cut apples and persimmons into one-inch wedges.
2. Mix osmanthus with one-quarter cup water then put it and fruit into a pot and add enough water to cover the fruit. Simmer for twenty minutes, set aside and serve warm.
Fruit, Nut, and Meat Casserole
1 cup rice
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1/4 pound minced pork
2 almost ripe persimmons, blanched, peeled , seeded and minced
2 very meaty Shiitake mushrooms, soaked and large-diced
1/4 cup olive pits or pine nuts, lightly fried
6 oil-cured olives, pitted and quartered
1 small hot pepper, seeded and minced
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 scallion, sliced thinly, to be added at the end
1. Cook rice until done.
2. Heat corn oil and fry pork just until it loses its pink color, then discard any liquid in the pan before adding all the other ingredients except the scallion. Cook just until all ingredients are heated through.
3. Put all the heated ingredients on top of the rice, cover tightly and set aside for ten minutes, then mix well, put scallion pieces on the top and lightly stir them in before serving.
Persimmon Ices
3 ripe persimmons, blanched and peeled, then seeded
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1. Mash the persimmons and sprinkle with a tablespoon of the sugar.
2. Put the remaining sugar in a pot with half cup of water and heat to just below boiling and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. Add the mashed persimmons and lemon juice, then freeze in ice cube trays for two hours. Remove and put them into a bowl and using a potato masher, crush them. Then refreeze the mixture until set, then serve.

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