I adore persimmons, although to be honest my passion for them is more for their aesthetics than their flavor. I love their bold orange color, their curvy shapes, and especially their swirly baroque calyxes so much that I once designed a whole bathroom decorating scheme around them. I have also been known to buy them just to let them sit in a bowl on my dining room table, with no serious intent of ever eating them.
I don’t feel particularly guilty about such waste, because the truth about persimmons is that they are stunning to look at, but they’re considerably iffier to eat. An underripe persimmon is a nightmare of astringent, soapy tannins that will turn you off the fruit forever if you’re unlucky and uneducated enough to try one before its time. The acorn-shaped Hachiya variety, while more beautiful than the squat Fuyu, is particularly fraught with risk, because it must be alarmingly ripe before you even think of eating it. If it’s not as uniformly squishy as a water balloon –basically a pulpy gel barely held inside a thin membrane of waxy peel — you shouldn’t even bother with it.
While we were back on the West Coast for the holidays, though, His Lordship’s parents presented him with a huge bag of homegrown Fuyus, which then had to be used up before we went home. There was no time to let them sit and get fully ripe, which meant that I had to get a little bit creative. I was originally going to dice them up and stir them into a simple olive oil cake, until I remembered that I’ve salvaged many an underripe pear by poaching it, so why not these persimmons?
In keeping with their Asian origins, I spiced the syrup for the wedged persimmons with ginger, cinnamon, and tangerine peel and juice. I also added a little bit of honey to the poaching liquid for complexity. The poached slices were buttery soft and sweet, and went quite nicely over instead of inside the cake. I also think they’d be a gorgeous garnish for rice pudding, especially one made with jasmine rice and coconut milk.
I’m not going to promise to stop using them primarily as objets d’ art, but any persimmons I buy from now on will be more likely to go through an eating step between the dining table and the trash can.
Persimmons Poached with Ginger, Cinnamon and Tangerine Peel
3 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 long strips tangerine peel
6 Fuyu persimmons
Juice of two tangerines
In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar, honey, ginger, cinnamon and tangerine peel. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
While the syrup is simmering, remove the stems and, if necessary, the cores from the persimmons and slice into 4-8 wedges, depending on how ripe the fruit is. If they are underripe, err on the side of smaller wedges. Very ripe fruit should be quartered or even halved to prevent it falling apart once poached.
Add the persimmon wedges to the syrup, return to a simmer, and continue cooking just until the fruit is tender but still intact. Immediately transfer to a large serving bowl, and stir in the tangerine juice.
Let the persimmons cool to room temperature, then remove the ginger, cinnamon stick, and tangerine peel. Also fish out any of the persimmon wedges that are falling apart, and reserve for eating for breakfast with yogurt or oatmeal.
Serve the more-presentable intact persimmon wedges over a plain cake or spoon over rice pudding.
Really, seriously, for the love of your tastebuds, do not think of trying this recipe with Hachiyas. If they’re ripe enough to eat, they’ll just turn into soup the minute they hit the poaching liquid, and if they’re not ripe, I shudder to think of the nasty, bitter mess you’ll get.
On a less cautionary note, I’m currently thinking that this syrup would also be a good match for underripe peaches, when they first start appearing in late spring.