too many words by laura lemay


It’s persimmon season. Yum.

They didn’t have persimmons back east where I grew up. Or if they had them, I never saw them. When I first moved out here I saw persimmons in the store, and people told me oh, persimmons are wonderful, you should try them. So I bought a persimmon at some exorbitant supermarket price, brought it home, sliced it into quarters, and put one in my mouth.

It was like eating a handful of bitter flourescent orange dirt. The persimmon immediately sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. I would have said “Bleah! argggh!!” if I had been able to talk, which I couldn’t, because my lips had sealed themselves shut and unfortunately the bite of persimmon was still inside. I staggered around the house waving my arms and knocking over furniture looking for something with which to pry open my jaws. I was eventually able to expel the persimmon and with enough water and time eventually I regained salivary equilibrium. The remainder of the persimmon went into the trash.

I confronted the person who had recommended persimmons to me at work the next day. She laughed at me. “They’re kind of astringent if they’re not ripe,” she explained.

Kind of astringent. Right.

Suffice it to say this experience did not make me want to try persimmons again, ever. It was only later I found out that there are two kinds of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya. Fuyus are round like an apple and yellowish-orange. You can eat them the day you take them home from the store, even if they’re still hard and not very ripe, although they’ll taste better if they’re just a little squishy. In either case fuyus are supposed to be crisp and slightly crunchy.

And then there is the hachiya. Hachiyas are acorn-shaped, with pointy ends, and a much brighter orange than fuyus, They are sold hard in the stores. And unless you actually want to have a horrible mouth-sucking experience like I did when I tried one, you cannot eat them when they are hard. With a hachiya persimmon, you have to leave it out on the counter to blet. That is actually the correct technical term: bletting, and it’s actually a decaying process. No, really. The hachiya doesn’t become riper, but it does soften up and the tannins that make it, well, astringent, go away as it blets. The softer the hachiya, the better it will taste. A hachiya persimmon is not really ready to eat until it has the consistency of a water balloon. You can also quick-blet a hachiya by freezing it and thawing it, but that only makes the persimmon edible without giving you much of the flavor.

And the flavor is everything. Ripe hachiyas have a rich, honey-like flavor. They are thick and sweet and sticky and kind of messy to eat, but they taste wonderful. Because of the mess a lot of people use hachiyas for cooking but I like to eat them with a spoon and my fingers and lick off the plate. Fuyus are good and enable instant persimmon gratification, but it is the hachiyas that I really like.

I used to resist buying persimmons even after I found out how to eat them because they were so expensive in stores. $1.49 each: no. And then I found I just wasn’t talking to the right people. Persimmon trees are fairly common around here; they are a fast-growing tree that doesn’t need a lot of water or a lot of care. After the leaves fall the fruit stays on the tree, like bright orange christmas ornaments. They’re pretty to look at. The problem is that they can grow to be very large trees, they bear really heavily, and once the fruit gets ripe you have to harvest it all because otherwise the water-balloon effect works against you and whatever happens to be standing underneath the tree. It can get kind of icky. Thus, if you own a persimmon tree generally you have way more persimmons than you know what to do with. Owning a persimmon tree is kind of like planting a lot of zucchini: you begin to look around for neighbors with unlocked doors.

So around this time of year I start mentioning in casual conversations that I like persimmons. I bring it up at the gym, at jobs where I’m working. I sigh dramatically and mention the high price of persimmons at the store. And invariably someone will perk up and say “You like persimmons? Thank god. I will bring you some.” And then the next say or so I have a giant grocery bag of persimmons. Or two or three. It never fails.

I usually eat all my persimmons out of hand but one of these days I will cook with them. Persimmon pie and persimmon pudding seem to be popular. Epicurious has a whole bunch of persimmon recipes, including persimmon salsa, persimmon feta and hazelnut salad, and persimmon cardamom sherbet. Yum.

It’s enough to make one want to plant a tree.

(persimmon photo from Koshy Koshy on flickr (original; CC by 2.0 license))