Persimmons are a mysterious fruit to most Americans. How do you eat them? What’s the difference between a squat persimmon and a pointed one? 

These bright orange-colored fruits are in season during the late fall and winter months, but are often overlooked in favor of more familiar fruits like apples and pears. 

The persimmons we commonly find in supermarkets are the fuyu and hachiya varieties. They are native to Asia, but cultivated stateside in California. Fuyu persimmons are eaten when firm and crunchy, while the hachiya variety must be fully ripe and mushy to the touch before consuming—otherwise, be prepared for the astringent pulp to suck all the moisture from your mouth. 

Darrin Nordahl, author of the cookbook “Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors,” thinks more Americans should be eating and cooking with persimmons because they are such an incredibly sweet and delicious fruit. 

“A really ripe persimmon has almost no acid. [Whereas] oranges, strawberries, or grapes, there is always a slight tang on the tongue, even when they’re ripe,” he said.

Nordahl said hachiya persimmons are perfect for making vinaigrettes because their sweetness makes an excellent complement to the acidity in the dressing. More simply, you can extract the gooey pulp via a chinois, then just mix it into your salad dressing. “In any salad, you can drizzle [the pulp] on top. It’s just scrumptious,” he said.

Actually, there is an American variety of persimmon, called Diospyros virginiana, that grows abundantly along the south of the Appalachian range, in South Carolina, northern Tennessee, and Mississippi. They are not widely available, but some local farmers markets in those states do sell them.

Similar to the hachiya but smaller in size (about the size of a ping-pong ball), its pulp has notes of nutmeg and cinnamon, Nordahl said. 

In traditional Appalachian cooking, people would collect the American persimmons by the bucketful, then incorporate them into all sorts of baked goods like puddings, cookies, and pies. “It takes the consistency of pumpkin pie and is very dense,” Nordahl said. 

To cut through the sweetness, he likes to garnish persimmon-infused treats with kiwi and lime.

Below, Nordahl and Claire Thomas of the Kitchy Kitchen blog share their recipes for some persimmon-laden treats:

Persimmon-Kiwifruit Sunshine, from Nordahl's cookbook, "Eating Appalachia." (Courtesy of Darrin Nordahl)
Persimmon-Kiwifruit Sunshine, from Nordahl’s cookbook, “Eating Appalachia.” (Courtesy of Darrin Nordahl)

Persimmon-Kiwifruit Sunshine

Introduction

I like to pair foods that are at their peak of ripeness at the same time of the year. This is easy during the summer, because so much is available to so many throughout the United States. But folks are often flummoxed during the winter months, especially when trying to create fresh fruit dishes.

That is why I like persimmon, because its bright color, creamy texture, and sweet flavor work well with other, more tart winter fruits, like kiwifruit and citrus.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large Valencia orange, juiced (about 3.5 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 ripe Hachiya persimmon
  • 2 ripe kiwifruit
  • 16 rounded teaspoons mascarpone cheese
  • 16 toasted pecans
  • Mace

Directions

Over medium-low heat, reduce orange juice and maple syrup in a small saucepan until a syrup consistency is regained. Also over medium-low heat, toast the pecans in a dry skillet, shaking the pan occasionally until desired toasty-ness is achieved.

Meanwhile, slice persimmon and kiwifruit crosswise into 8 slices per fruit. (So you should have 16 slices of persimmon and 16 slices of kiwifruit. The skin on the kiwifruit can be left on if you like … it is thin and quite edible).

Lay 4 persimmon slices on a plate, then add sliced kiwifruit, then mascarpone, and top with a single toasted pecan. Using your fingers, carefully dust the mascarpone with mace. Not a lot, as a little goes a long way. Complete the dish with a drizzle of the maple-orange syrup.

Recipe from “Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors” by Darrin Nordahl (Chicago Review Press, 2015, $19.95)

Persimmon Pudding. (Courtesy of Darrin Nordahl)
Persimmon Pudding, from Nordahl’s cookbook, “Eating Appalachia.” (Courtesy of Darrin Nordahl)

Persimmon Pudding

Introduction

It seems everyone in the South had a grandmother or aunt who made a signature persimmon pudding. No two recipes are exactly alike. Some prefer to add lots of spice such as cinnamon but sometimes cloves as well. Other recipes call for more sugar than persimmon pulp. I’ve seen recipes that blend sour cream into the persimmon pudding, and one that adds baked sweet potatoes.

But ripe American persimmons are so sweet and lush, I find the addition of too many ingredients muddies the ethereal flavor of the fruit. In the case of persimmon pudding, less really is more.

Ingredients

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 cups ripe persimmon pulp (I prefer our native American persimmon, but hachiya persimmons also work well. Just make sure the fruit is very ripe.)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • Accompaniments
  • Whipped cream or mascarpone for topping
  • Sliced lime or kiwifruit for garnish

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 x 13-inch cake pan. Mix the wet ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients and then stir into the pulp mixture. Stir in the melted butter.

Pour the mixture into the greased cake pan and bake about 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let pudding cool, then slice and top with mascarpone or whipped cream, and garnish with a slice of kiwifruit or lime.

Recipe from “Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors” by Darrin Nordahl (Chicago Review Press, 2015, $19.95)

Spiced Persimmon Cake from food blogger Claire Thomas. (Courtesy of Claire Thomas/The Kitchy Kitchen)
Spiced Persimmon Cake from food blogger Claire Thomas. (Courtesy of Claire Thomas/The Kitchy Kitchen)

Spiced Persimmon Cake With Cinnamon Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Introduction

Unassuming but subtly delicious, applesauce adds moisture and sweetness to baked goods and is a staple in vegan cakes and pastries. I took applesauce cake as a jumping off point, and created a spiced persimmon cake. Dense and rich, it’s perfect served with a hot cup of coffee on a fall afternoon.  

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups persimmon pulp
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (plus more for garnish)

For the Frosting

  • 3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in persimmon pulp. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer until light and a little fluffy, add the butter, beating for 1–2 minutes, or until combined. Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on a low speed so it doesn’t blow out everywhere. Spread on the cake and coat the edges with chopped walnuts. Top with cinnamon.

Recipe from thekitchykitchen.com

Brown Sugar Persimmon Jam With Griddled Croissants. (Courtesy of Claire Thomas/The Kitchy Kitchen)
Brown Sugar Persimmon Jam With Griddled Croissants. (Courtesy of Claire Thomas/The Kitchy Kitchen)

Brown Sugar Persimmon Jam With Griddled Croissants

Introduction

Simple pleasures are the best when they also take under five minutes to prepare. By using the already “jammy” persimmon pulp and giving a little bit of texture to an otherwise “meh” croissant, you’ve got the perfect breakfast with coffee or a snack with some tea.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 hachiya persimmons, fully ripe
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 4 croissants
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Directions

Scoop out the pulp of the persimmon with a spoon and using a fork, chop it until it is the same smooth texture (some lumps are fine). Chuck it in a bowl and add the brown sugar, stir to combine. Congrats! Your jam is done.

Meanwhile, slice your croissants in half lengthwise and spread each side with butter. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the croissants, butter side down.  With a spatula, press the croissants until brown and crisp, about a minute.

Spread with persimmon jam and enjoy!

Recipe from thekitchykitchen.com