By SCMG Jennifer Roberts
There are two species of persimmon. We are most familiar with the Asian species (Diospyros kaki) as it is the most widely cultivated worldwide due to its larger fruits. The American species (Diospyros virginiana) is native to the east coast of the United States, and not widely cultivated locally. In addition to the species distinction, persimmons can also be divided into astringent and non-astringent fruit varietals. Astringent fruits such as the cultivar 'Hachiya" need to be harvested and left to ripen until soft. While still hard they contain tannin, which makes one's mouth pucker from the astringency. Non-astringent fruits like 'Fuyu' can be eaten when hard but the taste benefits from a few days left off the tree.
The Asian species of persimmon is more commonly found in our area due to its great adaptation to our climate. There are more than 2,000 varieties of this species than have been developed over centuries. Of the Asian species the two most common varieties we see available are 'Fuyu' and 'Hachiya'. This is partially because they produce large, sweet fruits and because they withstand packing and shipping better than some varietals. These two varieties have different shapes are very different consistencies when ripe and ready to eat.
The 'Fuyu' variety can range in size from a largish golf ball to a baseball. They are not round, but more flattened on the top and bottom. 'Fuyu' is a non-astringent varietal and should be harvested when orange and still hard. It can be left to ripen further for a few days or eaten right away. This varietal is eaten hard, like an apple, and is terrific peeled and sliced into a salad.
'Hachiya' persimmons are bigger fruits and are heart shaped with a flat top. They can be harvested when still hard, but fully colored. Then leave them to ripen off the tree, as they are a very astringent varietal until fully ripe. Birds love them, so harvesting them hard will protect the fruit from their predation. 'Hachiya' persimmons should only be eaten when they turn completely soft -- you want a mushy or pudding like consistency. This form of persimmon is a favorite for making jellies or used in baking, including the renowned persimmon pudding.
There are many other varietals of the Asian persimmon cultivars including 'Jiro', 'Iso', 'Izu', 'Giant Fuyu', 'Tamopan', and 'Chocolate'. American varietals include 'Meader', 'Wabash', 'John Rick', 'Szukis,' and 'Early Golden'. There are many different kinds of this delicious fruit to be discovered. Check your local farmers market October - December for less common varietals. And check your favorite nursery for specimens waiting to call your yard home, especially in winter for bare root trees.
Don't be afraid to let the persimmon inspire you culinarily. There are numerous delicious recipes available including pudding, butter, cake, salsa and chutney. They can even be pickled with spices. Many recipes are very simple and perfect for the Thanksgiving feast or a holiday hostess gift. Astringent forms can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. The pulp of fully ripe Hachiyas can be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Persimmons of either kind are excellent and very sweet when dried.