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Let’s Talk About Persimmons

I didn’t have a lot of experience with persimmons until I moved to California.  I’d seen them, but never tried on or cooked with them.  One of my co-workers has a tree and brings in the fruit to share.  I’m a sucker for anything that anyone brings in that they grew in their yard, so I usually take three or four of them.
Persimmons come from China and were brought to the United States in the 1880’s.  These trees were planted in Washington D.C. and are still growing there.  The fruit grows all over California and there are many varieties, although there are two that are typically available commercially.  You can tell which kind is which from their shape.

Hachiya: This type of persimmon makes up approximately 90 percent of the available fruit. It is identifiable by its acorn like shape. This persimmon is tart until it becomes soft and ripe.

My co-worker grows the Hachiya variety and that’s the one I have experience with – I’ve seen the Fuyu type in the store, but haven’t bought any yet.  It’s hard to get excited about buying something you can get for free, eh?Fuyu: This persimmon is gaining popularity here as it is in Japan. Similar in color, but looking like a squashed tomato, this variety is smaller, sweeter, and is edible while still firm.

Persimmons are readily available from September to December with a peak growing season in November.  They’re high in vitamins A and C with one persimmon providing 20% of the daily requirement in each vitamin.  Plus, they’re really yummy.
Look for persimmons that are round, plump, and have glossy and smooth skin with deep red undertones. Avoid fruits with blemishes, bruises or cracked skin and missing the green leaves at the top. Select ripe persimmons only if you plan to eat them immediately. Otherwise, buy firmer fruits and allow them to ripen.

Ripen persimmons at room temperature in a paper bag and store the ripe ones in the refrigerator. You need to eat ripe persimmons fairly quickly or they become too mushy and slimey.

Ripe Fuyu persimmons, which look kind of like flattened tomatoes are crisp, while the acorn-shaped Hachiyas will be very soft and juicy.

Unripe Hachiya persimmons taste very bitter and will suck all the moisture from your mouth pretty icky. The astringency goes away as the fruit ripens. The ripe ones taste like a combination of mango and apricot and are very fragrant.

There are lots of things to do with persimmons.  Many people combine them with apples in various ways.  They’re great in salads, baked in breads and cookies, or steamed in puddings.  I like to mash them and add the puree to homemade rice pudding that I make in my rice cooker.  It’s really easy and adds a beautiful flavor to the oh so comforting taste of rice pudding.

The recipe for the rice pudding made in the rice cooker is from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.  If you have a rice cooker and wonder what kinds of things you can make in it (with or without rice, this is a great resource).

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding with Persimmons

Machine:  Medium (6-cup) rice cooker (fuzzy logic type – these usually have a digital interface in front and various cycles available)
Cycle:  Porridge
Yield:  Serves 6

2/3 cup medium-grain white rice
2-3 very ripe Hachiya persimmons (these should be squishy)
4 cups milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.  Place the rice and milk in the rice cooker bowl; stir to combine.  Close the cover and set for the Porridge cycle.

2.  Remove the stems and skins from the persimmons (it’s easiest just to slit them down the middle and scoop out the pulp).  Mash the pulp.

3.  When the machine reaches the Keep Warm cycle, combine the persimmon mash, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat with a whisk.  Open the rice cooker, spoon a few tablespoons of the rice milk into the egg mixture and beat with a wooden spoon.  Beating the rice milk constantly, pour the egg mixture into the rice cooker bowl.  Stir for a minute to combine.  Close the cover and reset for a second Porridge cycle.  Stir every 15-20 minutes until the desired thickness is reached.

4.  Pour the pudding into 6 custard cups or ramekins (pouring it into a bowl works just as well and that’s what I always do).  Serve warm or let cool slightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  When cold, cover with plastic wrap and store for up to 4 days.

This is a great addition to the usual rice pudding and very easy to make.  It also comes out a gorgeous pale orange color making it pretty to look at.  You can, of course, add frills of various kinds (like a flavored whipped cream), or dried cranberries, but I love it cold and plain and simple – straight from the bowl in the fridge.

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