Growing up, persimmons were treasured as a delicacy in Nancy’s family home. Only in season in Australia for a very short time, and with only one tree in the family adorning the garden of her aunt and uncle’s in a neighbouring street, the first sight of persimmons in the late Autumn – early Winter was cause for a family get-together, a celebration to enjoy their coming into season.
However, it was when Nancy and Damian started spending more time in Tuscany and they saw how the humble but much loved persimmons are eaten and used abundantly during their very short season in the early days of Winter, that Nancy’s childhood memories came back. In many Italian regions including Campania where Nancy’s mum is from, they are celebrated and enjoyed for their natural sweetness, abundance and versatility – and it’s for this reason, they were then enjoyed by Italian migrants who came to make their new home in Australia, holding on to some much loved traditions such as celebrating the seasonality of food.
Native to Far East Asia and said to have made its first appearance in Italy, in Florence’s Boboli Gardens in the 1500’s, the persimmon or cachi as they are called in Italy, only really became part of Italy’s cultivation in the late 19th to early 20th century, and even then mostly in the southern regions of Campania and Sicily only, and later in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.
There are two main types of persimmon, the Fuyu often referred to as cachi mela or ‘persimmon apple’, for their crisp, firm nature that resembles an apple and the Hachiya, the classic sweet persimmon found in greater abundance in Italy. This variety is astringent and contains bitter tannins, and so needs to ripen to the point of almost falling apart to be enjoyed for its sweet, fragrant wobbly jam-like consistency that is quite simply best enjoyed with a spoon. Nancy’s mum would just scoop the jammy pulp out and enjoy it as an afternoon snack, and given they are packed with vitamin C, would encourage them as a ‘healthy’ alternative to after school sweets. Both types of persimmon are versatile and can be enjoyed in a range of dishes, with the Hachiya in shorter supply in Australia, and mainly used in cakes, jams and delicious crostata recipes and the Fuyu as an additional ingredient in a range of dishes.
We’ve been enjoying the Fuyu or apple-like variety in a range of dishes this late Autumn-early Winter, including on an antipasto board sliced alongside delicious cheeses and prosciutto, just as you might enjoy pear or apple, and also as part of our breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Here we share with you a couple of ideas of how to use them so that when you next visit your local fruit shop and see them, you’ll no longer wonder what they are and how to use them but rather, buy one and enjoy it while still in season.
An Autumn Winter Salad
Crisp like an apple and able to be sliced or cubed, the Persimmon is wonderful as part of a salad. Here we used it alongside roasted baby beets, oranges or pink grapefruit segments, rocket and radicchio where the balance of sweet and bitter worked really well. Finished off with a dressing of the remaining citrus juice, a little dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil, it’s super simple and super delicious. To make it a little more special, you can also add walnuts or goats cheese.
A Fruit Accompaniment for Breakfast or Dessert
Lending themselves well to baking, over the last few weeks (including on our most recent Daylesford Cycling and Gourmet Escape), we have been baking them with apples and/or pears for 20 minutes with a cinnamon quill, a few opened cardamom pods and a tablespoon of honey. This same Autumn/Winter baked fruit dish can be enjoyed for dessert with a dollop of cream or as a topping for a sensational vanilla panna cotta. Delizioso!
We hope you enjoy.