Getting to know the persimmon

Feb. 11, 2014 @ 09:54 AM

Years ago I stumbled across persimmons in an Asian market. I picked up a soft, almost spongy fruit but put it back dismissing it as overripe. That was an error in judgment; I didn't know any better.
Even if I had brought it home, what would I have done with it? If I cut it open would it look like a pomegranate with wall-to-wall seeds, or an avocado with a huge pit. Should I crunch into it like an apple or peel it like an orange? Out of the thousands of recipes I'd collected over the years I didn't have a single persimmon recipe.
I put persimmons out of my mind and moved on.
Then, the other day a friend gave me a fresh persimmon and asked if I'd ever eaten one before? A look of surprise spread across his face when I answered “no,” so at his urging I gave it a try. Now I love them and wonder how they flew under my radar for so long.
It prompted me to head online to learn more about this fruit.
The first thing I read indicated that a persimmon had to be v-e-r-y ripe or the natural tannins would make my first bite a lip-curling sour one.
There are two varieties of persimmons available in the U.S.: the heart-shaped Hachiya and the oval Fuyu. Fuyu persimmons (sometimes called Sharon fruit) look similar to a tomato, but the color leans more yellowish-orange than red and the leaves on top are short and wide, instead of thin and spiky. Hachiyas are frequently more salmon in color as is the flesh on both when very ripe.
A Fuyu persimmon can usually be eaten right after you buy it, no additional ripening required. Hachiyas, on the other hand, require more time, perhaps a week to 10 days, on your kitchen counter to fully ripen. When the fruit is squishy-soft it's ready to eat.
Persimmons are not eaten out-of-hand, like an apple; leaves and part of the core must be removed and then the remaining fruit should be peeled. What you're left with is succulent, silky (if ultra-ripe) and wonderfully flavored; someone once described it as "an apricot dusted with cinnamon." I also noted hints of mango in this altogether luscious piece of fruit.
Nutritionally, persimmons are little power houses. They deliver more fiber than an apple (6 grams versus 5) and more than half (55 percent) of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and zero fat. One whole fruit has about 118 calories; a snack-time bargain.
I've added persimmon to my Sunday morning fruit mélange — it lends both beautiful color and exotic flavor — and have hunted around for some persimmon recipes.
I found a persimmon bread recipe in "Beard on Beard" written by James Beard, the grandfather of American cuisine. I've taken his recipe and worked a little lean wizardry. Enjoy!

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Trimmed Down Persimmon Bread

3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored applesauce
3 1/2 cups sifted unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/2cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon purée (from 20-24 ounces squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted
2 cups seedless raisins (or dried, sweetened cranberries)

Lightly spray two, 9-by-5-inch nonstick loaf pans with vegetable oil and dust with flour tapping out any excess. Place the oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Add the flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and sugar to a large mixing bowl and using a wire whisk stir together until well combined, about 1 minute.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon purée and then the nuts and raisins. Pour into prepared pans and bake 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Makes two loaves; each loaf serves 12.
Nutrition values per serving: 327 calories (30 percent from fat), 15.2 g fat (3.25 g saturated), 37.3 g carbohydrates, 2.6 g fiber, 4.7 g protein, 46 mg cholesterol, 228 mg sodium.
Lean suggestions: Reducing the walnuts to 1 cup trims the calories to 296 and fat to 8 grams per serving.

Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at