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There are few fruits that I buy in such large quantities as persimmons. As soon as these luscious orange, tomato-shaped fruits arrive at the market, we buy them by the bagful, as the season is short. During our last shopping spree, we bought more than 11 kg. - for two people. Some Americans dislike persimmons because they bit into an unripe one and found it unpleasantly astringent (tannic). Israeli agronomists developed a way to remove the astringency from the persimmon variety cultivated in Israel. Thus the persimmons are sweet whether you eat them almost as firm as an apple, or whether you let them get softer.
According to Dr. Shela Gorinstein, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, persimmons are even more nutritious than apples. So if an apple a day can keep the doctor away, the same could certainly be said about persimmons. In a study that appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (Internet edition), Gorinstein and her colleagues found that persimmons surpass apples in the amounts of fiber, minerals and polyphenols (antioxidants), elements that can help prevent clogged arteries. They're also a good source of vitamin A. Some people peel persimmons but then they loose a lot of their nutrients, which are in the peel.
Most often we enjoy persimmons simply sliced. For a pretty and delicious seasonal salad, I sometimes mix slices of persimmons, pears and kiwis. But the first time I wanted to make a "real" dessert out of persimmons, in the early 1980s, it wasn't easy to find an appealing recipe. There aren't many traditional persimmon desserts. The cultivated persimmon varieties we know originated in China, and were rapidly adopted by Japan; those cuisines are not known for their desserts.
Although there are some old-fashioned American persimmon cakes, they are so loaded with spices that the persimmons' flavor is overwhelmed. I wanted a dessert that would capture the fruit's delicate taste, which reminds me of that of ripe peaches; to others it recalls mangoes or papayas.
I decided to try simple desserts with few ingredients. First I made a sauce by pureeing soft, ripe persimmons with a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. The bright orange sauce was delicious over vanilla ice cream, with a garnish of persimmon slices.
We loved it, as it kept the fruit's natural flavor.
Then I made a persimmon mousse from sweetened persimmon puree, gelatin and whipped cream. This proved a tasty, delicate dessert of a lovely pale orange hue, and was perfect with that same persimmon sauce that I used on the ice cream.
Since then I found some good persimmon recipes. Monique Guillaume and Yvonne De Blaunac, authors of La Passion Des Fruits Exotiques (the passion for exotic fruits, in French) made a French-style persimmon tart by filling a sweet, baked pastry shell with persimmon slices and brushing them lightly with jelly. That too is a good way to highlight the fruit's subtle flavor.
My friend Linda Zimmerman, author of Puddings, Custards and Flans, uses a mixture similar to American spice cake batter to make a steamed persimmon pudding. Although the persimmons are mixed with brandy-soaked dried fruits, pecans and cinnamon, their flavor still comes through because Linda adds a generous amount of the pureed fruit.
Most persimmon desserts are fairly new concoctions developed by creative chefs.
Recently I enjoyed a delicious upside-down persimmon cake, presented at the Environmental Media Awards in Los Angeles by chef Christopher Blobaum of Wilshire Restaurant. I appreciated that you could really taste the persimmons. Pastry chef Danielle Keene told me that she too uses a spice cake batter. What makes the dessert special is the thick persimmon slices that bake in caramel and butter at the bottom of the cake, which turn out on top when the cake is unmolded.
Jeannette Ferrary and Louise Fiszer, authors of Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries, make a homey, tasty, warm persimmon banana crisp by sprinkling the sliced fruit with sugar and nutmeg, and baking them with a crumbly topping of rolled oats, flour, sugar and melted butter.
For a change of pace from Hanukka potato latkes, Jayne Cohen, author of The Gefilte Variations, prepares cheese latkes with fresh persimmon sauce. To make the sauce, she flavors the pureed persimmon pulp with lime juice and maple syrup.
Actually, the Asians do have some persimmon recipes. Often they feature dried persimmons, a popular treat for the Chinese New Year. According to Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, author of Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, "Persimmons are plentiful in Korea; a persimmon tree is growing in the yard of practically every home." That might explain why persimmon leaf tea is common there. So is persimmon punch, for which they cook fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, sugar, honey and rice wine, then add dried persimmons and pine nuts. If my persimmon tree gives me a good crop and we beat the squirrels to it, this might be interesting to try. In any case, we can at least make the persimmon leaf tea.
Garnish the dessert with persimmon slices and fresh mint sprigs, if you like.
3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1â„2 cup water
1â„4 cup sugar
450 grams very ripe, soft persimmons
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream, well chilled
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup water in a small cup and let stand for about five minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and remaining water. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Heat over low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves completely. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in softened gelatin, in two portions. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.
Cut persimmons in pieces. Puree them in a food processor until very smooth. Add to gelatin mixture and mix well. Stir in lemon juice.
Refrigerate mixture about 15 minutes, stirring often, until it is cold and beginning to thicken but is not set. Lightly oil a five-cup mold.
Whip cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. When persimmon mixture is cold, fold in whipped cream. Spoon into the mold. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until completely set, at least two hours.
Unmold dessert a short time before serving: Dip mold for about 10 seconds into enough warm water to come nearly to its top; pat dry. Run a thin-bladed flexible knife around edge of dessert, gently pushing dessert slightly from edge of mold to let in air. Set a serving platter on top of mold, hold tightly and invert dessert and platter together. Shake mold downward once; dessert should come out onto platter. If dessert remains in mold, repeat dipping procedure. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve cold.
Makes 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.