|Perfectly Ripe Hachiya Persimmon|
Instructions by Robin
While house-hunting a couple of winters ago, I remarked on the brightly colored Fuyu persimmons that our realtor had around his office as decorations—or so I thought. “Would you like some?” he asked and when I said yes quickly swept up as many as I could carry and handed them to me. They were from his tree at home, and as a former owner of two Hachiya persimmon trees I understand his haste to give them away. Persimmons are a most misunderstood fruit, unlike apples or lemons, which are more popular giveways because recipients know what to do with them.
Hachiya persimmons are a particularly hard sell, because until they are ripe, they contain tannins, which make them taste bitter and astringent. When ripe, they are sweet and delicious, but jelly-soft, a texture that is off-putting to many, but makes excellent jam. Ripening itself is a tricky process, and it’s possible to have a very soft persimmon that still tastes astringent. One experience with such fruit has discouraged many from having anything to do with persimmons.
Still, those of us with persimmon trees learn how to use them, and when I moved to another house I missed my persimmon winter ritual. So I called up our realtor, who happens to have both Fuyu and Hachiya persimmon trees. He was extremely happy to drop off a large box of rock-hard Hachiyas, which I’ve had ripening on my front porch for about 3 weeks. The Hachiya season is late this year--usually I make persimmon treats for Christmas, but I am just now getting a ripe quorum for baking.
Ripening Hachiyas is almost an art, and my friend Carol Sue (another persimmon tree owner) showed me how she ripens them outdoors, in an area protected from rain, with plenty of air circulation. It’s okay if temperatures dip below freezing at night, in fact this breaks down the cell walls, which aids in reducing astringency (technically changing tannins from soluble to insoluble). Light also aids this process, as does ethylene gas. Some people ripen persimmons in a plastic bag with an apple or banana (both produce ethylene), but I prefer a slow ripening process at a cool temperature, which seems to more uniformly reduce astringency.
A cardboard box (my realtor’s idea) works well as a container, and hard persimmons can be piled up in 2 or 3 layers. Check them every day, and move the softer ones (most likely on the bottom) to the top. When a persimmon is ripe enough to “give” when you pick it up, it is likely not ripe throughout. Often the stem end or one of the sides still has the soluble tannins and is slightly hard. You won’t want to eat that before further ripening, so isolate the softer persimmon with others of similar softness, such that they are not in contact with one another. I use plastic storage containers, without lids so air can circulate. I also set them so their calyx (stem) end is down.
|Brownish Fruit Flesh (center) is Okay to Eat...|
So, how do you tell when your Hachiya is ripe? The skin will look uniformly colored deep orange and almost translucent, from calyx (stem) end to tip. It will feel soft and heavy in your hand and you will need to handle it gently to keep from breaking the skin.
The final test, once you observe all these signs, is to taste the Hachiya. This is especially important if you are amassing a large number of persimmons, for example to make jam. One bitter persimmon in the jam mix will add a slight but unpleasant astringent taste to the entire batch, and elicit comments about “why I don’t eat persimmons.”
The area by the calyx usually ripens last and is most likely to taste astringent, so cut a little slice there to try (see method below). Beware of yellow, hard, unripe looking areas, although these do not always taste astringent, so taste a bit before rejecting them. If these areas are bitter, it’s safest to reject the entire persimmon, except perhaps the very tip—in any case don’t save any areas that you haven’t tasted and found sweet.
|Scoop Out Halves with Spoon|
A word of warning that I haven't read anywhere else: although persimmon pulp looks as innocuous as pumpkin, it can stain clothing. Wearing short sleeves or an old shirt is a good idea. If you see any orange on your clothes, wash it out before it dries to prevent staining.
Each large persimmon will equal about 1/3 cup. Pull the calyx off the top, and slice the persimmon in half from top to bottom. Some people slice off the bottom ½ inch or so, to get rid of the tiny seeds. I usually do this only if I’m making jam.
Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and scrape off and discard the skin.
|Scrape off Skin with Spoon|
|Remove Seeds if You Prefer|
I hope I haven’t discouraged you from trying the Hachiyas with all my talk of bitterness. The majority ripen to sweet perfection. Since I’ve also used those few that aren’t quite right, with not-right results, I’m hoping you can benefit from my detailed evaluation process, and learn from my mistakes.
Recipes will follow!