Thanksgiving persimmons are autumn joy
When the weather cools in the fall and the holidays draw near, orange orbs ripen on persimmon trees in California to offer a fresh autumn sweetness in time for Thanksgiving recipes and holiday décor.
At the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center (SCREC) in Irvine, a collection of 53 persimmon varieties are at their peak in November when the public is invited for tasting and harvesting at the annual persimmon field day.
“We want to raise awareness about persimmons,” said Tammy Majcherek, SCREC community educator. “It's a beautiful tree and a great addition to any landscape. Persimmon trees provide shade in the summer, healthy fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and allow the sun's warmth to come through in the winter. It's a win-win situation as far as landscape trees go.”
The persimmon collection came to the research center in the 1960s, when the late UCLA subtropical horticulture professor Art Schroeder arranged to move his collection of persimmon varieties to another venue because the pressure of urban development at the Westwood campus became too great.
Persimmons are native in two parts of the world, China and the United States. The Chinese persimmon made its way to Japan, where its popularity soared. The American persimmon comes from the Southeastern United States, however, most California persimmons trace their lineage to Asia.
California leads the nation in persimmon production, according to the California Department of Agriculture Crop Report, but with a value of about $21 million in 2012, it represents just a small fraction of the state's $19 billion 2012 tree fruit and nut value.
Nevertheless, to the visitors who came out to tour UC's collection at SCREC, persimmon is a choice fruit. Participants on the early-morning VIP tour received a large shopping bag to fill with various varieties of fuyu and hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are flat, yellow-orange fruit that can be eaten right off the tree like apples or allowed to mature to a super-sweet soft pulp. Hachiya are redder, heart-shaped and astringent when not fully ripened. “If you bite it, it will bite your mouth right back,” said one participant.
However, after ripening to a jelly soft pulp or dried, the hachiya is equally delicious.
Shirley Salado, the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program supervisor in San Diego County, attended the persimmon tasting to gather fruit and information for her education program.
“The fuyu is great to eat,” Salado said. “When they ripen and become very soft, you can put the pulp in a blender and then freeze in zipper bags to add to healthy smoothies.”
Salado collected two large bags of persimmons to share with her nutrition education staff.
“Not everybody knows about these,” Salado said. “This gives them a chance to look at the fruit. This is what we promote.”
Following the tour, coordinator of the UC Master Food Preserver program at SCREC Cinda Webb demonstrated safe consumption by making cinnamon persimmon jam, dried persimmon chips, and a gourmet persimmon, basil, beet and rice salad.
Wild or brown rice persimmon salad
4 cups wild or brown rice, cooked
2 Fuyu persimmons, chopped
1 cup cooked, chopped beets
1 cup basic, chopped
8 oz feta cheese
½ cup orange cumin vinaigrette
Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup)
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp salt
- Whisk together vinaigrette dressing ingredients
- Stir basil, beets, persimmons and feta into rice and toss with ½ cup vinaigrette.
- Top with persimmon slices and extra chopped basil for presentation.
Shirley Salado, supervisor of the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in San Diego County, attended the persimmon field day to collect persimmons and information about the healthful fruit.
Visitors are briefed before entering the persimmon variety block to taste and harvest persimmons.
UC Master Food Preserver coordinator in Orange County Cinda Webb, right, and Master Food Preserver Mabel Alazard, make persimmon jam.
Cinda Webb adds persimmons to the salad. (Recipe below.)
A member of the Rare Fruit Growers Association, Dewey Savage, showed a fuyu persimmon with browned flesh. The browning is caused by alcohol released by the seeds inside the fruit. The alcohol neutralizes tannins that make the persimmon astringent. The natural chemical reaction results in sweeter fruit.
Jean Suan, right, plans to dry her persimmons using the traditional Japanese hoshigaki method, in which the whole fruit is peeled, as shown on the left, then hung on a string outdoors. For several weeks, the fruit is massaged every few days, until the sugars form a frost-like dust on the surface. The result is fruit with date-like texture and strong persimmon flavor.
A display of fuyu-type and hachiya-type persimmons helped participants distinguish which fruits are ready to eat.
UC Master Gardener volunteers prepared persimmons for the variety tasting.
Participants evaluated persimmon varieties based on attractiveness, astringency, sugar, flavor and overall performance.