Persimmon or “kaki” 柿 is a quintessential autumn fruit of Japan. Persimmon are not particularly popular in the U.S. mostly because the varieties available may be inedible if not completely ripe—supremely unpleasantly puckering in the mouth. Well, you have to know the type of persimmon and how to avoid the astringent puckering taste (tannin). In contrast, persimmon in Japan are lusciously sweet. Fortunately, the sweeter varieties are appearing in the market in the United States. In any case using sweet persimmons, I made a quick salad one evening by also using leftover blackened Brussels sprouts from Thanksgiving.
I just sliced American mini-cucumber, blackened (baked) Brussels sprouts and dressed with mayonnaise and seasoned with salt and black pepper. I placed the salad on the bed of baby arugula. I think you could do “shira-ae” 白和え using tofu as a dressing (tofu, sesame paste, light colored soy sauce).
Because of the nice sweetness of persimmons and different textures of persimmon (firm but soft), cucumber (crispy and refreshing) and Brussels sprout (soft) but also sweet in its own way, this was a nice salad to start.
Digression alert: A few words about persimmon. Persimmon contain a large amount of tannin (the same substance that develops in red wine). Depending on the type of persimmon and its ripeness, it could be astringent or it could be wonderfully sweet. Many Americans do not know this and often end up biting into a totally inedible astringent persimmon and never to try it again. My wife fell into this category.
When I was growing up, there are many kinds of persimmon including some with big stones (seeds) inside and some which puckered your mouth called “shibugaki” 渋柿 but, in my more recent memory, all the persimmon were sweet or “amagaki” 甘柿 with no seeds or stones. This must have been because of the selection of cultivars with only the seedless sweet variety being sold. Other ways to remove the tannin from persimmon is by drying them called “Hoshigaki” 干し柿. I used to eat this often as a kid. Another way is soaking them in alcohol or “tarugaki” 樽柿. I read also that placing them in carbon dioxide also removes tannin, which was reportedly done on a large industrial scale.
In any case, at least in our area, at some gourmet grocery stores, you can get persimmon and I see two different kinds being sold.
Here is one kind called “Hachiya” 蜂谷. This one has a pointed end and is classified as “Shibugaki” 渋柿 or astringent persimmons. This means that if you eat this before the meat of fruit become soft and pudding-like, it will pucker your mouth in a big way—”like the mouth of a tightly pulled drawstring purse” according to my wife. I let it sit on the counter for almost 2 weeks before we ate it. As you can see on the right, the meat of the fruit became soft and semi-transparent. This type has a nice sweetness and the fruit melts in your mouth with nice soft pudding-like texture.
Here is another type called “Jiro” 次郎. This is square in shape with a flat bottom. This is classified as “amagaki” 甘柿 or sweet persimmon. As long as it is ripe, you do not have to wait until the meat becomes soft. As you can see on the right, the appearance of the meat of this persimmon is quite different from the previous one and the fruit is still firm yet it is not astringent. This is the one I used in the salad.
Once you know these tips about enjoying persimmons, it is one of the most wonderful fruits you can have. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people in the U.S. enjoy persimmon. On second thought maybe that is good thing; more for those of us who know what to do to enjoy them.
Finally, here is a famous Haiku of Shiki Masaoka 正岡子規 about autumn, the temple bell and persimmon.
I am not going to translate this but Roger Pulvers did this for us in the article in Japan times (9/20/2010).
“As lovely and evocative as that is (referring to his friend Natsume’s autumnal haiku), Masaoka went one better than his friend with what has become one of the most well-known haiku in Japan, set at Horyuji Temple in Nara:
“Eat a persimmon / And the bell will toll / At Horyuji.”
The tolling of the temple bell is a potent symbol, going back 1,000 years and resonant of the transience of life.”