My kind of persimmons!
I think persimmons are my favorite fruit. Has it always been this way? Uh-uh, no way, not at all. Where I come from--Detroit back in the 50s and 60s--there weren't any persimmons that I remember. I do remember my first encounter with a persimmon, but I don't remember where or when it was. I mostly remember because of the horrendous feeling that my lips were being turned inside out as the "fruit" was sucking away the moisture in my mouth. Spitting that out ended my persimmon experimentation until I was in California and learned a few things.
Seems there are two major types of persimmons, the "Hachiya" variety, and the "Fuyu." The Hachiya is the one with a pointy end. If you aren't careful and eat it before it's ripe (it has to be mushy--I think really really mushy) you will have the same exciting experience I first had. Some websites call the Hachiya an "astringent" variety of persimmon. Since I relate "astringent" to skin cleansers, it doesn't do much for my appetite.
I first met a Fuyu persimmon when my sister- and brother-in-law had a persimmon tree at their home in San Jose. After first declining the offer, I was convinced to try one and was rewarded with a tasty fruit. Fuyu persimmons can be eaten like apples. They are flat on the bottom, kind of like a tomato. They are sweet even when they are not mushy. I've read some articles about how to eat persimmons, and they recommend peeling them, but I happen to like crunching the peel too. Some varieties have a pit inside and some don't. I just cut them into sixths and eat the whole thing (except the pit, if there is one).
When I discovered the persimmons in San Jose, I was so excited about it that my husband and I begged for a bunch of them and carefully boxed them up and sent them to my parents in Detroit, so they could appreciate them as well. I had to convince them to go ahead and eat them crunchy too.
That was many years ago, and since that time I have always looked forward to persimmon season, usually from October to December or so. I've been indulging in my persimmon habit this season as usual, and I thought I'd do some googling and see what I could find out about them. Follow me below the squiggle to see what I found.
I always thought there were two kinds of persimmons--the Hachiya and the Fuyu, but how wrong I was! Those are the two most common varieties you can find in the U.S., but there are a lot more. In fact, I was surprised to see a list of at least twenty different kinds of persimmons. Persimmons have been cultivated in China for centuries.6 The persimmons we see today originated in China and came to the U.S. through Japan, in the mid 1800s, when Commodore Perry returned to the U.S. with persimmon trees that were planted in Washington, D.C.5 They grow well in areas with moderate winters and mild summers, and therefore can do well in some parts of California.6
The kind of persimmon we already had in the U.S. was quite different in some ways. It was small, but had the same astringent quality, caused by tannin, that is found in the Hachiya variety.2 In fact, Captain John Smith is supposedly quoted as saying, "If it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock."5 The name "persimmon" is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, the names for the native fruit in different dialects of Powhatan, an Algonquian language. 1
It appears that nationwide, the Hachiya is 90 percent of the fruit available in markets, but I was glad to read that the Fuyu is gaining popularity.2 According to one reference, there isn't a large demand outside ethnic markets, but it could have commercial potential as a major crop if and when the market is developed.6
Persimmons have all the good things fruits have, in particular anti-oxidants like Vitamin A, beta-carotene, lycophene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. They also are a good source of vitamin C, and have some B vitamins as well, and are also high in potassium.6
If you haven't ever had one and you come across one, by all means try it. (Just make sure it's the kind without the pointy end, unless you wait for it to be very very mushy. Otherwise, you may not try another one for a long time!)
List of references:
2Fruits and Veggies Matter--A website by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Cancer Institute
3Seed to Supper
4Smithsonian Magazine Blogs
5Vegetarians in Paradise
6California Rare Fruit Growers