Produce of the Week - Hachiya Persimmon
sponsored by Coleman Farms
A hallmark of intelligent engineering is economy of means: reduce the number of parts in an airplane or a bridge, say, and reduce the amount of work to make and fit each part, and, if you've done it right, you'll have a result that's quicker to build, more durable and easier to maintain. And so it is that the basic elements of the human diet are not infinite, but on the order of a thousand. Only a subset of these is to be found in the Farmers' Market*, so there must come a time when a featured item reappears. That time is this week, and the chosen item is the Persimmon. Last year we ran a somewhat quick and dirty introduction to this fruit, which simply treats it as a fruit, spending about equal time on the two major commercial varieties, the Hachiya and the Fuyu.
Once past the color, and apparently there's something about an orange fruit that's not an orange that gives people pause, most people would accept the Fuyu as a fruit: it's shaped something like a pippin apple and has a similar texture, while the flavor is a sort of fruit salad - a bit of citrus, peach, melon or papaya maybe, and apple if you think about it hard.
The Hachiya is different: when it's 'fruity', firm and a bit crisp, its astringency makes it just about inedible; when it's ripe and sweet, its very soft to runny gel texture makes it seem just about inedible, because it's the texture a lot of fruit assumes when it's spoiled. This progression is quite like that of a banana. Bananas when green (that is, green or even greenish peel) have similar astringency but not to the degree of that of a firm Hachiya. As the banana ripens it loses astringency, increases in sweetness, and softens. If you let a banana get fully ripe it turns to a translucent brownish gel, so sweet that much of the fruit's subtlety is gone or overwhelmed. The Hachiya reaches true edibility at this last stage, when the flesh has turned to translucent gel. It has the advantage of the banana in that the gel is a brilliant orange, something like a dye they'd put in anti-freeze or shark repellant, but the texture is distinctly slippery; unlike the banana, a bit of astringency may remain, similar to the tannin in a red wine. You know a Hachiya is ripe when it starts to deform under its own weight and feels like a bag of jelly when you handle it.
The ripe Hachiya is quite edible on its own: you can suck the flesh out of smaller ones after biting a hole in the fairly tough skin, or you can cut them in half and use a spoon. They can also be peeled and frozen, and eaten as sherbet. There are, however, culinary contexts which their the color and texture perfectly suit them to, so we'll appeal to another aspect of intelligent design, making a virtue of necessity.
Baking is a traditional use for persimmon pulp: it doesn't make obvious use of the color, but the sweetness and flavor have clear roles in cookies and steamed puddings. Additionally, the mechanical and chemical properties of the pulp retain moisture in the baked product and add tenderness to it, so that persimmon, like pulped prunes or bananas, can take over the role of some or all of the fat in certain recipies. And there's no reason to simply spread persimmon on waffles, pancakes or bread: you can incorporate it into the batter or dough, adding sweetness, subtle flavor, and, in bread, moistness and tenderness.
Last year we mentioned spreadability: the flesh of a ripe Hachiya is quite jammy, and it spreads very nicely on things like waffles or french toast, where it adds sweetness, but not so much as syrup or jam, subtle fruity flavor, and really stunning color. When persimmons are used in baking they often combine with nuts and spices - nutmeg and cinnamon, mainly. This leads to the notion of using persimmon together with nuts and, if desired, a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, as sandwich filling. I find that persimmon, sliced banana and peanuts or peanut butter make a very nice filling for rye or whole wheat bread, and you might think of it as filling an omelette, too, where a bit of cheese, blue perhaps, might be substituted for the nuts, or added to them.
And then there's salsa. We typically think of salsas as tomato-based, but fruit salsas have a long history, too, with the sweet of the fruit countering the sharpness of onion and the piquancy of chile. Hachiya makes a good basis for salsa, with its intense sweetness and subtle flavor providing a firm base for onion and spice to play off, its color likely to contrast nicely with anything it's put on, and its uniquely cohesive texture letting it maintain visual and gustatory definition. There are recipies for persimmon salsa, but they lack these last properties since they use the Fuyu, treated like a tomato and whirled or cut in chunks. If you want a chunky salsa, then you might incorporate some diced Fuyu, but I'd rather use firm - and slightly astringent - banana. Apart from this, use your choice of onion and chile, finely diced, and a bit of fresh ginger root, if you like it hot. If you want to add something green, you might consider a scrap of mint, though the recipies tend to use coriander.
We've been talking about something sweet, but so far have been stuck in the main course. Salsa can be seen as a condiment or as a topping. 'Topping' may conjure 'ice cream'. Here again, the texture and color of the Hachiya can be put to good use: the stuff blobs nicely on top of a couple of scoops of ice cream, the color sets off the blandly white or brown material beneath, and the flavor works well with vanilla and especially well with chocolate, and might benefit from a sprinkle of cinnamon or a bit of chopped mint on top. If you feel particularly adventurous you could freeze a couple of peeled persimmons, dice them, and serve them over scoops of ice cream or in a parfait with diced cream.
Finally, there's the smoothie, a traditional destination of (over)ripe bananas. It's basically something milky - the real thing or a vegetable-based milkoid - the flesh of a Hachiya, a frozen banana and a blender. You can add spices or herbs if you like, and pretty much anything else you fancy.
*This is probably a good place to explain that edhat uses veggie in the sense of the child's guessing game which divides creation into Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral. Thus "veggie" includes fruit and nuts, which may appear here.