The Peachy Persimmon
My mom grew persimmon trees. I saw “grew” because this year they decided not to bear fruit. Sadly, they never did do well in her yard. The few fruit we did mange to wrangle from the squirrels were divinely delicious. The persimmons my mother grew were not the native American variety, but the imported Asian version. My mother hails from South Korea, and like the rest of East Asia, persimmons are fall favorite.
It’s not that Asian persimmons can not grow in our zone. My mom is kind of a part-time fruit tree gardener. She gets this wild ideas to recreate her childhood orchard in her backyard. The house she grew up in Korea had several varieties of grapes, apples, pears and persimmons. But, it was in an entirely different zone; a colder zone (zone 6b, I believe), NW of Seoul, very darn close to the 35th parallel. Asian persimmons are hardy in zones 7-11, but for some reason they thrived in the courtyard orchard of my grandparent’s house.
Persimmons are so beloved by Koreans, that when they visit family and friends over the holidays they usually bring case of the fruit as a gift. Yep, a whole case! If you shop at Asian supermarkets this time of year, you will see stacks of pre-made gift boxes of the fruit.
American vs Asian Persimmons
The American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a much smaller fruit than it’s Asian counterpart. It is more cold hardy as well (hardy to zone 4). It’s a slow growing deciduous tree, reaching up to 65 ft. The fruit of the American species is astringent, and can’t be eaten until it is completely ripened, usually after the first frost. After that, all bets are off…it’s a mad scramble among people, deer, possums, birds. Waiting an extra day to harvest ripe persimmons may mean you don’t get any! This is the last native fruit to ripen, after which it’s nuts and leaves until berry season next Spring.
The Asian variety, Diospyros kaki , is grown commercially throughout the US, especially in California. The ones you find in the store is typically the hachiya variety. It looks like a a large acorn and the flesh must be left to soften before it is consumed. Other varieties like the ku gosho or giro , which can be eaten out-of-hand like an apple. They can grow to 30ft and are less cold hardy than the American variety (zone 6). You can easily find these fruit trees at most garden centers. Once they ripen, be vigilant. Your backyard wildlife will steal these too!
How to eat Persimmons
I think persimmons have texture similar to a peach. It’s sweet and with very slight tannins (the Asian variety). I like them as is. But, if I am feeling extra hungry, I like them with a slice of brie. Persimmons are used in cakes, puddings, cookies and other desserts. I have sliced them up and tossed them in a salad with Asian greens and a sesame peanut dressing. I am working on a couple of persimmon themed recipes I plan to share in the coming weeks…I’d like to use them in a savory dish. Until then, if you see some persimmons at the store, grab a few. They are delicious seasonal eats!