An oft-misunderstood seasonal treat
“I really like using persimmon at this time of year. It is one of those lovely seasonal treats,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Lesley Holdship. “They are not used nearly enough—there are so many things you can do with them.”
One thing you could try is a simple pudding of roasted persimmon served with a mascarpone cream, with a twist of liqueur to flavour. “Use the younger crisp ones for this, as the really ripe ones will collapse.” If you want to try something using the ripe fruit, cut the persimmon into segments and wrap each in a thin slice of bresaola. “It is an unusual but really lovely combination.”
For a warming winter dessert, Lesley says persimmons are great in steamed sponge pudding with your favourite autumn spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, with some added citrus and raisins.
“For small plates you could serve bruschetta topped with a little soft cheese like taleggio and a segment of persimmon, or you could stir some segments into a salad of endive, feta, coriander and crayfish tails, dressed with a little lemon and punchy olive oil. It is so versatile—pick one up and give it a try.”
Challenging for gold
If there was a competition for the most misunderstood fruit, the persimmon would be right up there challenging for gold. One of the main reasons for this is the variety of things that you can call it—however, Gary from Elsey and Bent is very well placed to bring some clarity to the issue.
“The first thing to know is they are not sharon fruit—the two fruits are related, but different,” he explains. The persimmon is an old fruit which has been around for many centuries, and there are two distinct varieties: the persimmon and the vanilla persimmon. The vanilla variety has only been developed fairly recently, around 50 or 60 years ago. The idea was to develop a variety of the fruit that you could eat when it was young, which still had some crunch to the bite.
“The traditional one is extremely astringent—pretty much inedible as a young fruit,” Gary continues. “You have to wait until they are very ripe—really full of juice and almost about to burst before eating them. At that stage they are very sweet with a soft texture—the exact opposite of the young fruit. A young vanilla persimmon is not as sweet as a ripe fruit of the traditional variety, but can be picked and eaten much earlier.”
Gary adds that you will often see persimmons sold as kaki fruit—in fact, that is how they are sold on his stall “because the Japanese took to growing them and that is the name they were given over there.”
Juicy and sweet
Jock Stark sees a regular following for this fruit, from some of Borough Market’s further-flung customers. “I recently had a Japanese customer who was having some kind of celebration and bought about 48 of them!” Jock recalls. “He wanted to make sure they were the really ripe ones, so they were juicy and sweet.
“I think it is one of those flavours that you either love or hate. I am not so fond of them, but my wife loves them. I have Italian customers who like to get them really mushy—almost to the point where you might think they are going off, which they are not. They cut off the top, the flowerhead, add a bit of crème fraiche or cream and then eat it out of the skin with a spoon. That is the way my wife likes to eat it as well.”
Jock also sells them as kaki but points out that they are not being brought in all the way from Japan. “The Spanish have really taken over the growing of the kaki fruit from the Japanese, at least in terms of the ones we sell in the UK. They have quite a short season which goes from the middle of November until about Christmas. They are not something that a lot people know a lot about, but we have been selling them for years and they have a real, loyal following.”