Persimmons are more popular during the holidays than any other time of year and tradition is mostly to blame. Since the first European settlers came to the New World and discovered the persimmon tree, persimmons were labeled as ‘not fit to eat until the fruit weathers a hard frost.’ That concept is still applied today rendering persimmons not ‘ripe’ for eating until after the first hard frost. This places persimmons growing during the fall season ideal for cooking and baking right around Thanksgiving.
There are two primary types of persimmons, the Hachiya, which is the larger of the two and the Fuyu. The Hachiya is shaped somewhat like that of an acorn, is an astringent variety, and soft when ripe. Fuyu on the other hand, is smaller in size, non-astringent and can therefore, be eaten while firm. The fruit of the persimmon contains tannic acid which makes it exceptionally bitter when eaten before ripening.
Persimmons have been enjoyed for centuries and the English adventurer John Smith recorded in Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles, stated that “persimmons were good when eaten from the hand; better with cream and sugar, and they are best of all when made into a pudding , as is done in North Carolina.”
The flesh of the persimmon can be an attractive hue of yellow to dark, reddish-orange. Since astringent varieties require ripening before the fruit is edible or a hard frost, some people gather almost-ripened fruit and freeze overnight before thawing for use. Non-astringent varieties are ready to harvest once they reach their peak in color.
Persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks or frozen for several months. The fruit of the persimmon is used in baking, puddings and excellent when dried. Some of the earliest recordings describe using persimmons as food and for medicinal value. They were eaten fresh, dried, baked in pudding, pies and bread, and used to make beer and brandy. Confederate soldiers roasted persimmon seeds, ground them, and used as coffee. It was also common to cook and sieve the fruit to make syrup.
Naturally low in calories, persimmons also contain only a trace of fat and sodium. Chocked full of Vitamin A and fiber, with a decent supply of Vitamin C, making persimmon dishes a somewhat healthier alternative to traditional cakes and pies during the holidays.
The proof of the pudding is, that one doesn’t have to wait around for a hard frost to enjoy the sweetness of persimmons; simply freeze them overnight, thaw and use in those traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes!
Sources: The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Huntia 12(1) 2005; California Rare Fruit Growers: Persimmon Fruit Facts