The sight of brilliant orange persimmons dangling from the branches of virtually leafless trees always makes me smile.
For years, though, the memory of that one shockingly tannic, under-ripe persimmon I had bitten into during junior high led me to think of the beautiful fall fruit as little more than nature’s holiday ornaments. They were attractive displayed in a bowl or arranged in a centerpiece but I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eat them.
Then I joined a community garden with a bountiful persimmon tree and decided to give the fruit another chance. What a difference a variety makes! These were Fuyus, nearly as crisp as an apple, spicy and sweet even when not completely ripe. They were great for eating out of hand or tossing in a salad.
My first persimmon encounter had been with a Hachiya, which at the time was most common in Bay Area backyards. Hachiyas must be extremely ripe and almost squishy before they lose the heavy tannins that make your lips pucker and eyes water. By then, the flesh has turned almost to jelly and I still find the texture unappealing for eating fresh. They’re best when cooked in puddings and cakes.
The varieties are easily identified by sight. Fuyus are short, squat and shaped like miniature pumpkins. Hachiyas look like oversized acorns with a pointed end.
Persimmon and fennel salad makes the most of Fuyus, playing their spicy sweetness against the faintly anise flavor of fresh fennel and the lively pepper of watercress. The raspberry dressing, which may seem a little sharp on its own, brings all the flavors together.
I’ve adapted this recipe slightly from one I found in “California Fresh Harvest,” the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay’s 2001 celebration of Northern California produce. A touch of prepared Dijon mustard is substituted for the original recipe’s mustard seeds and the dressing now is made in a blender for a better emulsion and easier preparation.
This elegant salad draws raves whenever I serve it. You can bet it will be on my table this Thanksgiving.
1 small ripe pear, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 teaspoons chopped shallots
¼ cup raspberry vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard seed
½ cup mild olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
3 cups mixed salad greens
1 small bunch watercress
1 small head endive,
3 firm Fuyu persimmons
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
½ cup pecan halves, toasted
To make vinaigrette: Whirl pear, shallots, vinegar and mustard in a blender until pureed. With motor running, slowly add olive oil in a thin stream until incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Divide the mixed greens, watercress and endive leaves evenly among 4 chilled salad plates. Peel and thinly slice persimmons, arrange with fennel on greens and sprinkle with pecans. Drizzle with vinaigrette to taste. Alternately, toss salad ingredients with dressing in a large bowl.
Adapted from ”California Fresh Harvest” (The Junior League of Oakland-East Bay)