Persimmons are red to orange fruit grown on trees from the Diospyros genus. The fruit varies in color and shape, from round to tear drop, because there are numerous kinds, native to different areas of the world. Kaki persimmons, the most widely grown, are native to China, but were introduced to the US in the 19th century. Additional species of persimmons are native to Mexico, North America, the Philippines, and Southeastern Europe and Asia. Some species of persimmons are not edible, and some people argue that no species of persimmons are worth eating.
To many mostly outside of North American culture, persimmons are a valued and prized fruit, but not all Americans dislike persimmons. This is especially true for those who enjoy persimmon baked pudding, an early European American dish which is likened to pumpkin pie or plum pudding in texture. Some autumn and winter meals are not the same without pudding made from persimmons.
One of the tricks in learning to enjoy persimmons is knowing which types are the most edible. Persimmon fruit can either be astringent or non-astringent. Astringent persimmons, like the Korean and Hachiya varieties contain a high degree of tannins and must be fully ripened or specially treated. If eaten before they are ripe, the tannins in the fruit pucker the mouth, making the eating process uncomfortable. While chemicals can be used to treat these persimmons, a common method for making them ready to eat is freezing them for a few hours in the freezer, or not harvesting the fruit until after the first frost.
Fuyu, Hiro, and Hanagosho fruit are all considered non-astringent. They still do cause a bit of puckering, and can be frozen or harvested after cold weather has set in, in order to reduce this effect. With both types of persimmons, the peel is not eaten. The fruit is merely peeled and eaten in slices like an apple. Depending upon when the fruit is picked, texture can be slightly firm to mushy. Firmer persimmons are easier to eat, but softer, more gelatinous persimmons are sweeter.
Persimmon slices are often dried and are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. In fact, in North America, companies like Trader Joe’s are now offering dried and unsulphured persimmons. They’re an excellent source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. Persimmons are also popular served cooked and mashed, or as an ingredient in jelly.
Many people in the US grow persimmons for their aesthetic appeal, rather than for the fruit. When the persimmons fully ripen in late fall, they are quite beautiful. The orange fruit is a study in contrast with the dark leafless wood. A persimmon tree in fruit is often the most colorful object in the grey and gloomy months of late fall and early winter.
When the fruit is not picked, it will drop to the the ground eventually, causing a mushy mess that does require care and cleaning. If you don’t plan to harvest the fruit, you will have to pay for the beauty of the tree in work cleaning up its mess. Instead of cleaning up the mess, consider some batches of persimmon jam or persimmon pudding so that the tree becomes both lovely and useful.