Forecast the Winter

I vividly remember my first experience of a  persimmon. I took one bite of the beautiful looking fruit and my mouth puckered. I immediately discarded the fruit and desperately tried to get rid of the bad aftertaste; I could not fathom why everyone raved about how delicious it was! And thus was made the decision never to eat a persimmon again. Years went by with me ignoring the colorful abundance of the autumn fruit in the supermarket.

Last fall my husband and I traveled to Toyokawa, Japan through the Cupertino/Toyokawa sister city program. One night, our hosts Mikisan and Kimiko served us the national fruit of Japan, persimmon, after dinner.  I did not have the heart to be rude to the host and I decided to give it another try.

I took one bite and did an about turn. It was a perfect ending to a great meal and it satisfied my sweet tooth sans the calories and fat; the best of both worlds.

At this time of the year you will see persimmons in the grocery stores. There are two  different varieties of persimmons available with two very unique tastes; astringent and non-astringent.

Hachiya is the name of the astringent variety that is available in majority of the grocery stores. They are the shape of an acorn and about the size of a peach. They are shiny and bright orange in color when unripe. The Hachiya has multiple personalities. When unripe, it is very astringent and causes the mouth to pucker. Once ripe, though, the skin begins to dull, and the persimmons are soft to the touch and very sweet, with jelly-like flesh.

In comparison, the non-astringent variety remains firm upon ripening and has no tangy aftertaste. Fuyu is the most common non-astringent variety in stores. It is tomato shaped, and pale to bright orange in color. The non-astringent varieties have a sweet taste and crisp texture before they are fully ripe. Once ripe they have a sweet taste with a custard-like texture. A slightly unripe Fuyu is as tasty as the very ripe one. Persimmon lovers are very divided in their loyalty to Fuyu or Hachiya varieties.

Unripe persimmons will ripen at room temperature and may take up to a week or more to ripen. To speed the process, place unripe fruit in a paper bag with an apple. Ripe fruits should be stored in the refrigerator.

The origin of the persimmon is open to debate. Some call it the Japanese persimmon and claim that it originated in Japan. Others claim that the oriental persimmon is native to China. The persimmon has been cultivated in both countries for many centuries. The fruit was introduced to California in the mid-1800s.

In many parts of the world, the persimmon is called kaki, or in Spanish, caqui. In Israel they are called Sharon fruit. In the United States, they are called persimmon after the Algonquin Indian name for Diospyros Virginiana, the Native American persimmon or possum persimmon. Diospyros, the genus name, means “Food for the Gods.”

Persimmons grow best in areas that have moderate winters and mild summers. Thus, 95 percent of persimmons grown for the US market are grown in California. Though persimmons can be found in grocery stores from late September through May, the peak season for persimmon is from November to January.

While selecting you should pick smooth, brightly colored, and plump persimmons.

Persimmons contain twice as much fiber as apples and play an important role in keeping a healthy heart.

Persimmons also contain antioxidants such as carotenoids and polyphenols which affects fat metabolism. In addition persimmons are a good source of sodium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and iron.

Here is a fun reason to convince you to add this colorful fruit to your diet.

One interesting use for persimmon fruit has been in forecasting winter weather. Legend says that splitting persimmon seeds open will reveal the shape of a fork, knife, or spoon on the interior. If your fruits have mostly forks, it will be a winter with lots of light fluffy snow. Seeds containing knives predicts an extremely cold winter, with winds that seem to slice right through you. Seeing many spoons foretells of piles of heavy wet snow, so get ready to shovel! Some people swear by the predictive ability of persimmon seeds. Whether or not it really works is questionable ,but it is harmless fun to sit around and try to make predictions and have fun while munching on the “Food for the Gods.”

Here are my favorite ways to enjoy the persimmon.

I like munching on a Fuyu persimmon like an apple.

For snack time I make cubes of Fuyu and sprinkle salt, chili powder and chaat masala. Often I eat it with a slice of cheese or spread it with peanut butter. An easy way to incorporate persimmon in everyday meals is to add it to salads and raita.

I use the pulp of the Hachiya persimmon for smoothies and baking.

Here are two recipes using Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons.

Persimmon Cake

1½ cup pulp (usually 4 large ripe Hachiya  persimmons)
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1¾ cups brown sugar
¼  cup vegetable oil
¼  cup butter (at room temperature)
3  eggs
2  teaspoons vanilla extract
2  cups whole wheat pastry flour
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
½  teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾  teaspoon ground cloves
½  cup chopped almonds, toasted
¼  cup chopped walnuts, toasted
½  cup dried cranberries
 
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour bundt pan. Keep aside.

Mix baking soda into puree and set aside.

Beat sugar, oil and butter in large bowl until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

Sift flour, cinnamon, salt, spices into butter mixture; blend well using rubber spatula. Mix in persimmon mixture, nuts and cranberries. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes.
Cool cake in pan on rack 5 minutes.

Garnish with confectioner’s sugar.

Hema’s Hints: I prefer baking this cake in a bundt pan for a festive look. It is a great cake for Christmas and New Year parties.

For variation you can substitute canned pumpkin puree for persimmon pulp.

Fuyu Green Salad

Here is my favorite salad—nutrient-rich, and brimming with taste and texture.

8 cups baby spinach
3 Fuyu persimmons, diced
2 oranges, peeled and diced
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
¼ cup dried cranberries   
¼ cup feta cheese

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
½tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste


In a salad bowl add spinach, persimmon, orange and cranberries. Mix well. In a small bowl add the olive oil, orange juice, vinegar, mustard, and garlic. Whisk vigorously with a fork till all the ingredients combine.

Finally, add dressing to the salad, with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds and feta cheese just before serving and give a gentle toss.

Hema’s Hints: Always use coarse sea salt for salad as a little goes a long way.

Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of the television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet. Recipes from the show can now be seen on YouTube.Visit Hema’s website at http://www.massala.com.







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