There are bare-branched persimmon trees with clusters of beautiful orange tomato-shaped fruit, dotted around my neighbourhood.
Persimmons aren't just beautiful, they're delicious too (I like them, anyway). There are two main kinds of edible persimmons, astringent and non-astringent. I wish there was a better way of describing the difference, because both kinds are actually somewhat astringent - i.e. they make your tongue feel a bit dry.
Persimmons are the edible fruit of a number of species of deciduous trees in the genus Dispyros. Most of the varieties that are grown here are Japanese or Chinese in origin. (Persimmons are taken very seriously in Japan.) In New Zealand, persimmons ripen in May and June. They need long, warm summers - seven months - to ripen fruit, and can be frost sensitive, but the trees go dormant over the winter months.
Two kinds of persimmons
The “non-astringent” kind are the ones most commonly sold commercially. They can be eaten raw, peeled. They are sweet and crunchy - and a little bit astringent, unless they’re extremely ripe.
It's hard to tell which kind is which - I think these are non-astringent persimmons.
The “astringent” kind can’t be eaten straight off the tree - they need to be “bletted” - i.e. left to go very soft before they are good to eat. (If you don’t do that, they are mouth-puckeringly sour as well as astringent.) This may take several weeks. After bletting, they have a wonderfully rich, sweet, aromatic flavour, and a soft, jelly-like texture, almost like apricot jam.
I know which kind I prefer. The non-astringent persimmons are insipid compared to a properly ripened astringent persimmon. It’s an amazing taste and texture, quite unlike anything else.
The climate may be the key to the difference between the two kinds of persimmons. The Treecrops Association website says that in parts of the Waikato where the summer isn’t warm enough, “non-astringent” persimmon trees may produce “astringent” fruit.
How to ripen persimmons
There’s a bit of a trick to it. My mother, Sue, used to have a tree, and she would leave the persimmons on the kitchen bench to go ripe. But I’ve learned that putting them in a covered box with fruit that emits ethylene gas - e.g. apples or bananas - would have been quicker. A shoebox would be ideal.
For the birds
If you have a persimmon tree, you’ll be competing with the birds. I found one tree with at least four kinds of birds jostling for persimmons: starlings, sparrows, wax eyes and tui. The owners of the garden think the pleasure they get from watching the birds is a fair exchange for the fruit. The tui are the kings - they chase off the others, they say. The birds seem to relish astringent and non-astringent fruit equally.
Jill Roberts hangs shiny aluminium pie plate rims in her tree. It works to a certain extent, she says, but not perfectly - the birds still get some. With a smaller tree, you could just drape netting.
What to do with persimmons
The crunchy non-astringent persimmons are good peeled, sliced and munched like an apple. They go well in a fruit salad, combined with acidic fruit such as kiwifruit.
Crunchy non-astringent persimmons can be munched like an apple. This photo and the main photo at the top of this page are by Dani Edwards.
A well ripened astringent persimmon needs to be scooped out of the skin with a spoon. It’s utterly delicious with plain yoghurt. Or make easy persimmon ice-cream by combining the pulp with whipped cream and freezing it.
Dried persimmon is very popular in Japan. Next time I have an extra supply of persimmons I will put them through the trusty dehydrator.
Zoya Jensen (12) selling persimmons from her family's tree, in front of a Hillcrest soccer field on the weekend. Great value, if you don't have a tree in your yard.