All About Hachiya Persimmons
Hachiya persimmons are one of my favorite fall fruits. When I was growing up in San Francisco, Mama Lin would buy pounds upon pounds of hachiya persimmons from Chinatown. She would place them inside pots and pans with apples to ripen. Then, we waited very patiently for the persimmons to ripen completely before eating.
Nowadays, I buy persimmons at the farmers market, but they’re also available in Asian supermarkets and stores like Whole Foods. When I start seeing them pop up at my farmers market, I know that colder sweater weather is just around the corner. Although their season starts around early-October in California, I find that persimmons are at their peak in November.
BACKGROUND ON PERSIMMONS
Persimmons originated in China and are known as 柿 in Chinese (pronounced shi in Mandarin; ci in Cantonese). Between the 7th to 10th centuries, the cultivation of persimmons spread to Japan and Korea and has become a large part of their respective food cultures.
The two most common persimmon varieties you’ll find are hachiya and fuyu persimmons. Hachiya persimmons are shaped like a plump teardrop with a thick and round end and a pointed tip on the other. Fuyu persimmons, on the other hand, are flat and round. In America, these persimmon varieties are commonly known by their Japanese names, hachiya and fuyu. I haven’t been able to find out why this is the case, but I suspect Japanese-owned farms were the first to grow persimmons commercially in America.
HOW TO PICK
In general, persimmons have orange skin with a leaf and stem at the top. As persimmons ripen, their skin transitions to a deeper orange hue. Hachiya persimmons are usually sold unripe and rock solid.
When picking hachiyas, look for fruits without too many blemishes. Don’t be put off by large black spots on the skin. Those are just sunspots where the fruit has been facing the sun for long periods. Try to avoid persimmons with tiny holes on the skin, as it might mean that an insect has come around to taste the fruit first.
Unripe persimmon (left); ripe persimmon (right)
HOW TO RIPEN HACHIYA PERSIMMONS
Hachiya persimmons are an astringent variety and must be eaten when they are completely ripe and soft, like the ripest plum you can imagine. If you eat one that’s not fully ripe, you’ll experience a very unpleasant sensation in your mouth, as if all the moisture has been sucked away completely.
To ripen hachiya persimmons, Mama Lin suggests placing them in a pot or deep sauté pan (leaf side down) along with an apple or two. If the persimmon has a long stem, trim the stem or lay the fruit on the side. Cover the pot or saucepan with a lid.
Apples release ethylene gas, which encourages ripening. After about a week, the persimmons should be soft and ready to eat.
HOW TO EAT HACHIYA PERSIMMONS
Ripe hachiya persimmons should have a deep orange color on the skin (almost red-orange). To see if the persimmon is ripe enough to eat, hold onto the fruit and press it gently with your thumb. It should feel as if the fruit is about to burst, like a very ripe plum. Sometimes, when the persimmon is very ripe, the skin will start tearing slightly, too.
Peel off the calyx (leaf and stem portion). Then, use your thumbs to split the persimmon open into two halves. At this stage, I usually just slurp the fruit with my mouth. Because the fruit is very juicy, I recommend doing this over the sink or a bowl. You can also scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
You can bake with ripe hachiya persimmons by mashing up the pulp and adding it to quickbreads and muffins.