Fruit for a Frost

Persimmons can enhance cold-season menus and add a vibrant color
Dymple's Delight Persimmon Pudding, named after the home of a famous Indiana persimmon festival that celebrated its 67th year in September, is a luscious way to enjoy this colorful fall fruit. (Owen Brewer/Sacramento Bee/MCT)MCT

Tasting of the tropics, this fruit improbably withstands a freeze to ripen in the dead of winter.

Persimmons perk up both cold-season menus and their surroundings with an orange hue that only shines brighter after the tree's leaves have fallen.

Persimmons 101

Nutrition: A large, ripe Hachiya persimmon has 118 calories. It's a very good source of vitamins A and C as well as fiber and manganese. Persimmons' bright-orange color tips off that it's loaded with antioxidants. Besides beta-carotene, persimmons contain lycopene, lutein, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin.

Selection: Hachiya and other astringent varieties must be soft and as ripe as possible for use. Fuyu and other non-astringent varieties are more like apples and can be eaten crisp. In either case, look for smooth, unblemished fruit.

Storage: Hard persimmons will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. They'll slowly ripen on the kitchen counter — a process that takes from a week up to a month. To ripen more quickly, place persimmons in a paper bag with an apple. Once fully ripe, they may be refrigerated for a few days before use.

Preparation: One large persimmon yields about 1 cup pulp. Some fruit has a few seeds, others none. The skin is edible, but often thick and waxy. Usually, the fruit is used peeled. For ripe fruit, scoop the pulp out with a spoon.

To freeze for later use: Puree or mash fully ripe fruit without skin. Remove any seeds. Place into freezer bags or small containers, 1 cup each. The fruit retains its color without any additional citric acid. It will keep in the freezer up to a year.

To dry: One of the oldest methods of preserving persimmons is drying. Dried persimmons can be diced and used like dates or eaten as a sweet and healthy snack. Start with ripe (fully orange) but still firm fruit. Peel and cut into 1Ā„4-inch-thick slices. Dry in a dehydrator according to directions (generally 16 to 20 hours).

Oven-drying method: Place slices in a single layer on cookie sheets lined with aluminum foil. Place in a 200-degree oven (or a gas oven with just the pilot light) and let dry overnight. The slices are done when they are no longer sticky but bendable. If fruit is turned once during drying, the slices will dry faster and more evenly. After drying, transfer fully cooled slices to a zip-close, plastic bag or other sealed container.

Baking tip: For cookies, puddings and other baked goods, add soda to persimmon pulp before adding pulp to other ingredients. The soda reacts with the pulp to create a lighter texture.

— Sacramento Bee

"It looks really pretty — like a tree with ornaments," says Gold Hill farmer Monica Rey of persimmons clinging to bare branches. The fruit also enlivens seasonal centerpieces, she says.

Behind a striking appearance, persimmons harbor an equally distinctive — sometimes divisive — flavor.

"People either love them, or they don't know them or they don't like them," says Rey.

Paramount is knowing which persimmon is suited to which type of dish. While there are hundreds of persimmon varieties, most recipes essentially pare the choices down to two: Hachiya or Fuyu.

Packing intense pucker power when underripe, the tannin-laced Hachiya must be mushy before use. Then their jellylike pulp can be scooped out of the skin. Once it turns color, Fuyu can be eaten crisp or allowed to fully soften, making it a more versatile fruit.

The persimmon's flavor is like mango mated to papaya, and baking is a common method for persimmons, says Rey, who hands out lots of recipes for cookies and puddings at her farmers market stall.

Nearly 70 persimmon puddings are featured among the 1,000-plus dishes in the cookbook "Perfectly Persimmon," by Jean Brine (Morris Press Cookbooks, 440 pages, $20). Cooking contests at the annual persimmon festival in Mitchell, Ind., contributed to the collection, which also has a wide assortment of savory recipes, such as persimmon salsa and persimmon meatballs.

Chefs love the crunchy, flat Fuyu as a substitute for apples in salads or other fall fare. Oddball varieties, with tasty nicknames such as "chocolate," "cinnamon" or "coffee cake" persimmon, have found devoted fans. Traditionalists swear by the pointy Hachiya for its complex sweetness — especially when hand-dried.

Drying whole and sliced persimmons allowed Central Point farmers Angela and Kreg Boudro to sell the fruit when local farmers markets are closed for the year. The couple sold dried persimmons last year through the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods, and at Medford Food Co-op.

A light harvest this year meant there weren't enough persimmons for the Boudros to sell, but they still have frozen fruit from last year. Unlike most fruits that require warmth to ripen, says Angela Boudro, persimmons actually need a cold snap.

"We've had years where they've frozen right on the tree," says Rey, explaining that the fruit isn't ruined by freezing but must be used immediately.

Hachiya persimmons from Rey's Green Ridge Farm will be available for 50 cents apiece through December at the Growers' Market in Grants Pass, indoors at Brighton Academy, on Northeast Seventh Street, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21. Several other market vendors have persimmons, says Rey.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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