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Seasonal Eating: Puckering up with Persimmons

By November 5, 2013Seasonal Eating

There is one thing I can say for sure about AHO subscribers, you LOVE persimmons. If you haven’t tasted one yet and are still staring at those beautiful orange Hachiya Persimmons on your counter-top waiting for them to ripen, rest assured the taste is worth the wait.


In the meantime, allow me to share some interesting information with you about the history of these pucker-inducing fruit and let you in on a little secret. Think you are the only one who suffered the mistake of eating an unripe Persimmon and feeling like your mouth had just been washed out with chalk? Well, take it from the 17th century explorer William Strachey who wrote of his first experience tasting a Persimmon in the Americas in his History of Travell into Virginia Britania (1612), you are not alone. He states “When they are not fully ripe, they are harsh and choakie, and furre a man’s mouth like allam…” [1]

See, men have been suffering the mistake of eating unripe Persimmons for centuries.Think of it as a rite of passage perhaps or chalk it up (sorry couldn’t resist) to the wonderful experience of trying something new.

 

Now you might be asking yourself, wait a minute…someone was eating a Persimmon in America in the 17th century? I thought Persimmons were native to Asia? Well, you are correct. The Fuyu (above left) and Hachiya (above right) Persimmon varieties (sometimes referred to as Diospyros Kaki) that we commonly consume in America today are native to Asia and made their way to the US via American travelers to Japan in the 19th century. In fact, over 800 different varieties of Persimmons are grown in Japan, around 52 different varieties have made their way to the United States via Asia, of which the Fuyu and Hachiya (some of the most common varieties grown for larger agricultural production) are included. You can learn about a few of these different varieties here: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/japanese_persimmon.html

America does, however, boast its own variety of native Persimmon. It’s known as the Diospyros virginiana, or if that is too much of a tongue twister, you can just call it the Common Persimmon. Much like the Japanese Hachiya, the Common Persimmon is not good until almost rotten, and many of the early European explorers and settlers to the United States learned this first hand.The English word Persimmon may in fact have derived from an early Amerindian term that translated to “choke-fruit,” a clear reference to the chalky taste of unripe fruit.[2] (See, told you you weren’t the only one!)

Common Persimmons actually have quite a long history in our country and these fruit served many purposes.The pulp was used, of course, for making breads. Recipes were passed from the native Amerindians to the Europeans, who then sent the loaves back home to spread the joy of tasty Persimmon baked goods. A 17th century letter sent from the Jesuit Father Claude Chauchetière to his brother in France stated, ‘I send you a piece of bread…it is made from medlars or services [European terms for Persimmons] and has a very good taste.’[3] In addition to breads the fruit was often used to make alcoholic drinks like brandy and wine, and for producing vinegar. Historians have even found accounts of Persimmon seeds being ground and used to brew coffee during the Civil War when supplies of foodstuffs to the south had been blockaded.[4]

Today, cultivation of Common Persimmons has been surpassed by the Asian varieties. These varieties were introduced to the west coast of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after which Common Persimmons came to be used by growers as rootstock for the Asian varieties in order to produce heartier trees.Today our very own San Joaquin Valley (where one finds Abundant Harvest Organics Persimmons being packed above) is one of the largest producers of Persimmons in the US.[5]

So whether you have suffered the experience of puckering up from an unripe Persimmon or not, it’s certain that once you taste a ripe fruit you will be hooked. Persimmons remind us of all the wonderful colors, smells, and tastes that make the Fall season so great.


[1] C.H. Brand, “The common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.): The history of an underutilized fruit tree (16th-19th century) Huntia Vol. 12: 2005, p. 73

[2] Ibid.

[3]Ibid., p. 74

[4] Ibid, p. 78

[5] University of California Fruit and Nut Research & Information Center: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/dsadditions/Persimmon_Fact_Sheet/

 

Author Jessica Lessard

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