Persimmons are a tree fruit typically in season from mid-fall through early winter. Once an obscure fruit limited to specialty and farmers’ markets, persimmons are more readily available than ever. Once this firm, glossy orange-red fruit hits the market, you may find yourself wishing you knew how to cook persimmons into jam, bake them into pies and quickbreads, and use their sweet, tangy juice and flesh for cocktails, sauces, quick pickles, and much more. It’s high time to formally introduce yourself to this regal fruit, and find your favorite new ways to incorporate it into all kinds of sweet and savory dishes.
What are persimmons?
Though you can easily refer to it as fruit, persimmons are actually berries, like the chronically misclassified tomato (that’s right, morphologically, tomatoes are berries). Popular varieties include Hachiya (heart-shaped, elongated, and ready to eat only when soft and slimy) and Fuyu (squat, non-astringent, and edible even when firm).
Persimmons are native to the eastern United States, Japan, and parts of China and India, and have been consumed fresh and cooked for thousands of years. Persimmon trees can thrive in terrain far beyond their geological origins, thanks to their hardiness and wide-scale adaptability. Today, Spain and Central Asia are the top global exporters of this intrepid fruit, and California provides most of the domestic supply.
“Persimmons can tolerate extremes in soil, growing on dry eroded slopes, in wet clay fields, and even in completely degraded strip-mined lands,” says Akiva Silver, farmer, homesteader, and owner of Twisted Tree Farm in upstate New York. “Persimmons are excellent controllers of erosion,” Silver adds, “using their ability to send out stoloniferous runners [symbiotic physical connections between plants] and establish deep root systems.” As an added bonus, persimmon trees don’t require cross-pollination to produce fruit, and provide environmental benefits like improved soil structure and nutrient retention.
What do persimmons taste like?
An unripe persimmon is borderline inedible due to its intensely bitter tartness, but the flavor of a persimmon at peak ripeness is similar to fresh and dried dates, apples, and bananas, with notes of honey and quince. Its velvety texture is reminiscent of ripe stone fruit. When shopping for persimmons, press the fruit lightly with your thumb—it should have a medium-ripe tomato-like give to it that indicates whether it’s ready to eat.
How to cook with persimmons: 9 recipe ideas
Persimmons belong everywhere your favorite fruit belongs, so experiment away! They’re perfect for silky-smooth applications (think Chinese mango pudding), as well as smoothies and frozen desserts. Thick, sweet persimmon purée is delicious in oat or chia parfaits, or as a filling for your favorite baked recipe. Here are some of the many ways we love to cook with persimmons.
Other than eating raw, the most popular way to eat persimmons is oven-dried or dehydrated. The result is tender with just a little chew, and a jammy, deeply-concentrated fruit flavor that will render you an instant devotee.
Chop up firm Fuyus (not Hachiyas) for a crunchy homemade quick pickle. A general rule of thumb for quick-pickling is equal parts water and vinegar, but you can adjust the formula and type of vinegar for a less acidic or more acidic brine. Add salt and sugar to taste, as well as any spices, herbs or extras you’d like to experiment with (ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and other sweet-leaning spices work great with persimmons), bring to a boil, and stir. Pour the brine over your sliced or chopped Fuyus until they’re submerged. Let sit for a day or two in the fridge before eating on appetizers, salads and tartines.
Layer some crostini
Ripe peach, strawberry, and figs frequently make their way onto crostini for a sweet and savory snack or appetizer that will please any crowd. Sub in persimmon slices and layer on top of crisp baguette slices spread with plant-based cheese or creamy white bean puree for a fresh, satisfying bite.
Make fruit leather
Homemade fruit leather is much easier than you may think and infinitely more delicious than the store-bought version. Blitz ripe persimmons with a tablespoon or two of honey to taste until smooth, spread thinly on a silicone mat using an offset spatula for even thickness, and bake in a low oven (about 185 F) until completely set and no longer sticky to the touch (between 2 and 4 hours). Slice into even strips with a sharp knife, transfer each strip to parchment paper cut to size, roll, tie with twine, and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Slice persimmons into salad
When was the last time you had a salad that starred persimmons? Discover flavors that blend well with this luscious seasonal gem and craft a fruit-centric salad around it. We love to pair persimmons with sweet and savory fall flavors like maple, honey, walnuts, beets, pomegranates, apples, kumquats, and pears—or keep it all sweet for a colorful, nutritious fruit salad.
Make a two-ingredient compote
Simmer a cup of finely chopped persimmons with a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of water for 30 minutes, and use the compote to top cakes and frozen desserts (or simply enjoy as-is). You can also experiment with flavors to create a three-or-more-ingredients concoction that’s uniquely yours. Try ground cardamom or cinnamon, toss in a halved vanilla bean, grate in some fresh ginger root, or substitute a little fruit juice (like orange or apple) for the water.
Fire up the grill
You’ve had grilled fruit before—stone fruit, pineapple, and even watermelon all lend themselves marvelously to this application that adds a smoky kiss of savoriness. Slightly under-ripe persimmons are especially good for grilling, as their firmer flesh will stand up to the direct heat (while very ripe persimmons may just melt right into the fire, which is no fun). Rub halved pitted persimmons with a little neutral oil, toss straight on medium-hot grates, and cook for three to five minutes on each side, flipping carefully with tongs.
Bake persimmon bread
One of the most common uses for persimmons, especially the silky Hachiya flesh, is as a swap-in for the bananas in banana bread. Simply measure your silky persimmons and swap in the same amount of cups called for in a banana bread recipe.
Make a one-ingredient frozen dessert
Persimmons, like bananas, have a smooth, custardy texture that lends itself very well to freezing and blending into a cool, pillowy dessert with no extra ingredients needed. Toss whole frozen persimmons into a high-speed blender and blitz until creamy. Eat as-is or drizzle on a little honey or caramel for a sweet treat.
Next time you see persimmons at the market, pick up a pound or two and have fun experimenting with them. They just may be your favorite new way to pack fiber, flavor, and a host of nutrients into all kinds of sweet and savory recipes.
How to Take Care of Persimmons
Store persimmons like you would tomatoes: on the counter (not in the fridge). Refrigerating persimmons will prevent them from ripening, and as we’ve previously asserted, an unripe persimmon is nobody’s friend. If they’re ready to eat, you can prolong their freshness and prevent any further ripening by refrigerating for up to a week. Cut persimmons will oxidize and spoil quickly—store those in an airtight container and refrigerate for no more than a day or two.
Allow persimmons to produce their own ethylene gas and soften naturally, or speed up the process by a day or two by stashing them in a paper bag (or under a small cardboard box). Need your persimmons even faster? Place a banana alongside them to turbocharge the process.
Vanilla-Cardamom Persimmon Compote
Yields 1 cup
- 4 ripe persimmons, peeled and finely or coarsely chopped (depending on how chunky you’d like it)
- ¼ cup water or fruit juice, like apple or orange
- 2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ split vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or paste)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine all ingredients except lemon juice in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, and allow to stand and thicken.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
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