Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hachiya Persimmon

Along Cull Canyon Road.
There are a couple of very special winding roads in the hills where we live. Studded along are farm-style houses accompanied by orchards and stables. There is an odd nursery too, occupied by a quiet, bearded, hobbit-looking fellow.

With winter approaching, the leaves had all turned and fallen and the scenery was all shaded gray. These persimmons hung in their dark cold trees like rosy orange glowing paper lanterns. Several trips were made past the fruit trees and a sign reading "$1 a bag" before we actually stopped and bought some for ourselves.

Please observe the Honor System.
As I put my quarters into the coffee can on the table I was hopeful that these persimmons were not the variety that shared a poor tasting history with me. Years ago, when I had tried to eat an unripe hachiya persimmon, my mouth received a most astringent awakening. Of course, when I got home with my new purchase... and sliced myself a wedge... and took a bite...

I wanted to make a jam or jelly right away, but after that initial taste, I was worried that these gems would not make it into a jar.

Well, here is the deal.

Hachiya persimmons have such a high tannin content that when firm and unripe the are virtually inedible. This variety has a shape that resembles an acorn. The tip is elongated compared to the fuyu persimmon which resembles a pumpkin shape. A fuyu persimmon is edible when firm and a tad under ripe. Fuyus are delicious sliced and served with cheeses or incorporated into a salad. A hachiya on the other hand needs to be completely ripe before it can be eaten uncooked or used in a recipe (note that cooking an unripe hachiya will not minimize the tannins).
Diospyros virginiana

There is an exaggerated story that the hachiya persimmon must be on the verge of rotting to be considered edible. Another rule is that these persimmons are ripe and ready to pick from the tree after the first frost. This theory is more valid but rarely observed. Most persimmon fruits will be harvested from the tree before they are ripe. Once you have handled a ripe hachiya persimmon you will imagine what a mess it would be to pick them at their peak. When ripe these fruits are like a jelly encased in a soft leathery skin. The fruit can be simply sliced in half and eaten right out of the skin with a spoon or used in your recipe.

Finally, after much waiting and ripening, my fruit was ready for a recipe. The flavor and texture of the persimmon spooned from skin to mouth was so splendid. Delightfully jelly-like and a flavor so mildly floral and refreshingly sweet, it was suggested by a member of our kitchen to simply jar it as is. Although this romantic gesture caused me to pause briefly, I was here to make a jam. And ultimately the experience we all enjoyed could not be kept in a jar.

Stuck-Up Persimmon Vanilla Bean Jam
at Entropy the Shop.
Knowing that the cooking and addition of some sugar would jade the delicate flavor of the persimmon I needed to select some other accents for the jam. Some complimenting flavors but nothing too domineering. I settled on vanilla bean and ginger (ginger syrup from the candied ginger I made for the Cranberry Jalapeno Jelly I had made earlier). And of course some lemon. Stuck-Up Persimmon Vanilla Bean Jam was born and my journey with the astringent fruit a fond and educational one.

During the time I waited for my persimmons to ripen I did my share of reading and hunting for information and support on Hachiya. As with the internet there is plenty out there. What to take into one's confidence is another matter entirely.

*For fun reading and a good basic recipe to start with check out the blog, "Kitchen Science". I really enjoyed the point of view on the fruit and flavors chosen to go into the jam.
*For some great images and inspiration on modern living & farming look at "Balcony Garden Dreaming". The post on drying persimmons is amazing.

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