Before this year I had never tasted a persimmon. But having a tree weighing heavy with fruit in your backyard leaves you more than slightly obsessed, totally consumed for one and a half months. The square ones in the supermarket look depressingly perfect and soulless by comparison now, with nary a scratch or sunburn.
I squandered hours and hours on the internet, reading through persimmon recipes in every shape and form. I still know woefully little about the fruits themselves, but I fell in love with them enough to feel pangs of wistfulness every time I saw a persimmon tree in someone’s backyard or a temple, branches full of lonely fruit waiting to be plucked.
There are over a thousand varieties of persimmon, and I still have no idea what kind ours are, apart from the fact that they are the non-astringent sort. The persimmons in our garden have large seeds, each larger than my fingernails, so that each persimmon yields less pulp than they maybe should. I like them when they are dangerously close to being overripe, when they are a deep crimson blushing, and yield underneath your fingertips when you prod them.
As most guides to persimmons will tell you, there are generally two groups of persimmon: the astringent and non-astringent kind. The latter can be eaten out of hand while still crisp, though they will become softer as they ripen. The former taste like unripe bananas to the nth degree if eaten anytime before they are tremblingly soft and mushy, as I found with no small measure of horror a few weeks ago, having picked one from a tree near us.
I’ve found that there are few visual cues that really help in identifying whether the persimmons in front of you on a tree are astringent or not. The ones with pointy ends are almost certainly astringent, but there are plenty of astringent persimmons that are round or ovoid. The most reliable way of finding out if it’s astringent or not is to taste it, and preferably with more caution than I did. You have been warned.
How to describe the flavour of persimmons otherwise? The ones on my tree were lightly sweet, like some mashup of apple and lychee and mango but with a crisp texture, and with a more watery pulp when overripe. The astringent ones I picked off the tree nearer us – or rather, spent a good afternoon whacking branches with a long bamboo pole to make them fall off – when ripe had beautiful sunset-hued golden yellow pulp that tasted incredibly creamy and custardy, like milk as G put it, so delicious that we stood under the tree in the late evening sucking the pulp off the skins and licking our fingers.
Though not much of a fruit-eater to begin with (and fruits are expensive here in Japan) I did like eating the persimmons off our backyard tree. My favourite way to eat them is furtively, sneaking a spoonful or two when scooping out the pulp for jam. I spent many happy hours with Ping and Kent, the three of us scooping pulp into a huge metal bowl. Kent would slurp a spoon or two in between, with the most blissful expression on his face… as though he just couldn’t help but laugh at the sweetness of it all.
As of this morning we are bereft of persimmons, all those orange globes we picked in early October, that we spilled across the floor by the hundreds and gleefully made persimmon angels in. For weeks they sat on the engawa slowly softening and decaying as I made as much jam as I could be bothered with. There were so many of them I grew tired of making jam, of spending several hours of preparation and stirring per batch for maybe three small jars.
We left our last small heap of persimmons go to mould, having been away from the house in the last week and too busy to turn them into jam, so we had to fling them onto the compost heap. Perhaps I should have made vinegar out of them. But we have a good dozen jars of jam in our pantry, even after giving many away to friends and family. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for next autumn’s harvest.