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Persimmons have always been a staple autumn and winter fruit for me. There are two kinds, a more opaque colored one with a shape of mochi and a flat bottom and  a more translucent, deeper colored one with long oval shape and pointed bottom.  New York Times and other blogs are calling them by their Japanese names, the first Fuyu and the second Hachiya.  I know them as the one my mother loved, more readily available and therefore cheaper, referred to as regular persimmons; the other one my mother never purchased for me, the one we called yeon shi, meaning the soft persimmon.  She purchased it only one at a time, reserved for the baby cousin visiting us for Korean Thanksgiving.

NY Times picture of Fuyu persimmon

NY Times picture of Fuyu persimmon

Tea and Cookies blog picture of Hachiya

Tea and Cookies blog picture of Hachiya

Of course it was the yeon shi I wanted.  It is beautiful–bright, deeper orange-red color than the firm regular persimmons but still a little translucent, with tender and juicy flesh you can spoon right out (hence reserved as baby food for my cousin).  On a rare occasion that I would get one (if our family received a box of them as a gift or something), I would let it sit on a table and watch it ripen over days, touching the skin gently each day to check the firmness, holding it in my palms to feel the weight.  I won’t eat it unless it’s very soft to touch, right before big black spots appear.  I knew better than to eat it when it’s not ripe and experience the astringency.  More ripe and soft, less astringent.

The New York Times article on persimmons gives out a persimmon pudding recipe but if you have a seasonal, perfectly ripened yeon shi (Hachiya persimmons), you really don’t have to go through all the work to make the pudding.  It will already have the pudding texture and will be delicious as is, a perfect panna cotta but unadulterated, simple and pure.  I’d put the ripe Hachiya persimmon in a small bowl and use the spoon to crack open the skin.  You can then gently pull the thin skin away and start digging in.  Even the soft seeds are edible and delicious.  One warning, though: there will be a opaque stem in the middle of the fruit.  DO NOT EAT THE STEM.  Eat around it or gently take it out.  Most astringency is in that stem and it will ruin the whole experience (or at least render it not as pleasing as it should be).  At least at the Korean market I go to, yeon shi has even shorter season than the firm persimmons.  If you see it, take home one or two and wait for them to ripen.  It never is fully ripe right when you buy it.

I’ve grown to really enjoy the firm persimmons as well.  It’s usually cheaper, more readily available, easier to handle and enjoy.  You want to pick ones that have no translucency in color, only a few small brown spots and firmness to touch.  The ripe ones will smell slightly sweet.  There is no risk of eating them before they are fully ripen and deal with majoy astringency as they are probably ripe when you buy them.  I usually just peel the skin, cut them up into quarters and eat them but the NY Times pudding recipe actually sounds very nice if using the Fuyu persimmons.

Now I leave you with another food poem:

Persimmons by Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down the newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew on the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down,
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.


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