Ii never a fruit seemed designed specifically to lift our spirits as we head into the darker and cooler months, it’s the persimmon. The pumpkin-colored treat brings a splash of bright orange to greengrocer shelves and, when ripe, adds a healthy helping of honeyed, date-like sweetness wherever it’s used.
This subtle-tasting fruit is gaining more and more attention in Australia, but as a nation we have been relatively slow to take notice of persimmons. Persimmons have been spreading joy in China for millennia, and the delicacy is so prized in Japan that it’s the country’s national fruit. In Korea, it is called the Korean mango.
These tangerine-hued fruits have started appearing in specialty grocery stores and some supermarkets recently. Traditionally, the season runs from February to mid-June, but La Niña has forced a later start. “The season was looking very good in Queensland – but a lot of persimmons are grown near the coast and the meter of rain that arrived just before picking was a disaster,” says grower Chris Stillard, chairman of Persimmon Australia , the industry’s leading body.
“Twenty years ago you would never see a persimmon in a supermarket,” Stillard says. “Ninety-five percent of the fruit then went directly to Cabramatta, an Asian hub. Now we see small amounts on supermarket shelves as well as greengrocers. »
Two types in Australia: astringent and sweet
Suncoast Fresh supplies fruit and vegetables to restaurants and cafes in Queensland and northern New South Wales. Glenn Connor manages the Brisbane depot and says persimmon sales so far are up 28% on last year. “We’re definitely selling more…a lot of high-end chefs are looking for something different.”
The main fact to know about persimmons, Stillard says, is that there are two distinct types on the Australian market. The first is the original or astringent persimmon which arrived in the 1850s. They are believed to have been brought by Chinese migrants during the Gold Rush.
Cultivation of non-astringent or sweet persimmons, the second style, did not begin until the 1970s. Botanically, both astringent and non-astringent persimmons (genus Diospyros) belong to the Ebenaceae family, a group that also includes the hardwood of ebony.
The Stillard family’s 283 hectare property is located at Barooga in the Riverina, NSW. They have been cultivating persimmon orchards for over 30 years. Barring further disasters, Stillard says the NSW season is looking very good for 2022, with NSW and Victoria jointly accounting for around 40% of persimmon production and Queensland contributing around 30%.
Stillard produces two varieties of sweet persimmon, the Jiro and the Fuyu. “The Jiro is a slightly flatter fruit and the Fuyu is rounder, but unless you really know your stuff, you wouldn’t tell the difference,” Stillard says.
Fuyu is the best-selling variety in Australia. Over 95% of fruit sold in the domestic market is this sweet, chunkier, non-astringent style of persimmon. “Markets in Asia and Eastern Europe prefer astringent persimmons. But the Australian market is all about sweet or non-astringent persimmon.
Sweet persimmons look a bit like smooth-skinned miniature Halloween pumpkins. They are usually the size of a beefsteak tomato and can be eaten firm or left to ripen until tender.
The original astringent teardrop or heart-shaped persimmon should always fully ripen. They’re not ready to eat until their flesh softens and turns to jelly and the skin becomes translucent – sooner and the tannic astringency is unpleasant, like eating an unripe banana. Ripening can be accelerated by placing the fruit in a paper bag with a banana for a few days. The ethylene released by the banana persuades the persimmon to soften. It is thought that bad memories of trying unripe astringent persimmon may have turned some older Australians away from the fruit.
Alanna Sapwell, head chef at Beach, Byron Bay, sources her persimmons from Picone Exotics in Mullumbimby. John Picone cultivates an orchard of over 400 tropical and subtropical fruits without spraying. “He grows both astringent and non-astringent persimmons, but I prefer the non-astringent ones,” Sapwell says. “I love the flexibility of the fruit as it works in both sweet and savory applications.”
One of the dishes that won Sapwell national critical acclaim at the now closed Arc Dining in Queensland featured homemade goose prosciutto draped over ribbons of sweet persimmon, with fresh curd and fig leaf oil. She also fermented the fruit like black garlic.
“A lot of people haven’t tried khaki before. Usually I describe it as looking a bit like a yellow tomato and tasting more like a pear, but with a flavor that can go all the way to melon,” says Sapwell. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s a very accessible fruit. I encourage anyone to try it. When they do, they usually end up wondering why they didn’t get it before.
Sapwell says persimmons pair well with seafood and deli meats like prosciutto. They also work with vanilla, spices and cream. “I like to use persimmon in dishes where it can be the star because it opens people’s minds to the fruit, when it’s the star ingredient.”
Classified by size, persimmons are named after the number that fits a 4 kg tray. Stillard’s preference is for size 28 tennis balls, but the size 12 – a massive fruit, some weighing up to nearly half a kilo – is popular overseas and therefore rarely seen in Australia. “It is a status fruit and the majority is exported to Malaysia and Singapore. They are highly sought after. »
Like any fruit, persimmons should be used at their peak. Sapwell believes the best way to tell is to simply taste it. Stillard likes to eat his sweet persimmon crunchy, like an apple.
He suggests choosing firm fruit and generally says that the darker the color, the better the taste of the fruit. Store fruit stem down and store at room temperature. Never put the persimmon in the refrigerator. They don’t like temperature extremes and they get mushy, Stillard says.
Better yet, why not put them to work in some of the ideas below, or simply whip up Sapwell’s tasty tarte tatin?
Four ways with khaki
The honeyed sweetness of persimmon pairs well with savory canned meats such as prosciutto or serrano ham. Add slices of ripe but firm fruit to a charcuterie platter. Persimmon also works beautifully with cheese – choose anything from creamy mozzarella or burrata to brined feta, blue cheese or even tangy goat curd.
Balance the chili heat of a Thai-style salad and add a pop of color by including the sweet crunch of a firm yet ripe sweet persimmon. Add the persimmon sticks or pieces to a spicy mixture of cooked shrimp, with cilantro, mint and Thai basil. Or prepare a beef or chicken salad with lots of Thai herbs and finish with roasted peanuts and persimmon slices.
Try a chilly weather salad that sets the mood with lots of peppery arugula, watercress, goat cheese and chunks of persimmon, topped with a mix of toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, seasoned with a simple Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
Add chunks of ripe persimmon to a smoothie when you crave a sweeter treat but don’t want to use honey. Add cinnamon to taste and it will further increase the sweetness. Or just include persimmon slices with your breakfast granola and yogurt.
Alanna Sapwell’s persimmon tarte tatin
“If you’ve never used persimmons before, they make a fun alternative to apples or pears when in season, especially in desserts. They work well with nuts, spices, and a dollop of something creamy. You can use this recipe to make three individual pies or one larger size that should serve three. Choose your own adventure with this one, complete with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.
Preparation 10-15 minutes
To cook 25-30 minutes
1 large non-astringent persimmon
3 sheets of quality puff pastry
100g brown sugar
50g of butter
3 sprigs of lemon thyme
Preheat the oven to 180C.
If you are making individual pies, cut three thick slices of persimmon (about 2 cm). Leave the skin. Place two tablespoons of brown sugar and a knob of butter in each of three small frying pans (the type used to cook individual eggs).
Alternatively, use a 25cm pie dish, place the sugar and butter in the bottom and cut the persimmons into quarters so they will fan out.
To add a little spice, you can go the old-fashioned way and stick a star anise in the center of the persimmon before placing it face down in the sugar and butter. Here I chose a pinch of lemon thyme.
Cut a round from a sheet of semi-frozen puff pastry slightly larger than the persimmon and place it over the sugar, butter and fruit, tucking in the sides slightly.
Bake at 180°C for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Let the pies/tarts rest for 5-10 minutes, then invert them onto a serving plate so that the fruit is on top. Finish with your choice of vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.