As any foreigner who lives in Italy and learns the language well soon discovers, Italian is not a uniform language: Accents change dramatically from place to place, as do expressions and ways of saying things.
In the town of Murlo, south of Siena, persimmons are called pomi, in Rome they're called cachi (both c's hard) and in Florence they're called diospri. I recently saw a tree laden with fruit at Conte Pierlavise di Serego Alighieri's home in the Veneto, and said, "I like your diospri." He looked blank, followed my gaze, and said, "Oh. You mean cachi. Never heard anyone call them diospri before."
Though they originated in the Orient, Italy has lots of persimmon trees, both in people's yards and in the gardens of estates. Their popularity is actually not that surprising. The trees are quite pretty, and the fruit -- bright golden-orange orbs -- adds a pleasing splash of color during late autumn, when most things look rather drab. The fruits themselves are quite firm until they ripen, at which point they become voluptuously soft, and almost gelatinous in texture. There are many varieties of persimmon that ripen over the autumn months, from September through December.
About the Different Types of Persimmon
Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two groups: Non-astringent and astringent.
Astringent persimmons contain a high level of tannins, and are bitter, chalky, and "puckery" before they are fully ripened and softened, at which point the chalkiness fades: The sweetness of the fruit comes forth, and one suddenly understands why they were associated with the Gods. The most common variety of astrigent persimmon is the long, acorn-shaped Hachiya. These are only edible once they are ripe, and when they are ripe they are extremely soft, mushy even. They are ripe when their skins loose their opacity, develop a full brilliant red-orange color, and give rather the way a water balloon does when pressed with a finger. The flesh becomes translucent and jelly-like when ripe.
Non-astringent persimmons (a popular variety is the Fuyu) are already sweet, and are best eaten when firm and crisp, like an apple. They are usually squatter than the astringent Hachiyas and resemble orange tomatoes or even miniature pumpkins. They have a pleasant, fall-like flavor, faintly reminiscent of cinnamon and pumpkin.
How to Select and Store Persimmons:
Ripe astringent persimmons are too delicate and soft to travel well, and though I have seen them in Italian markets and Asian markets (carefully packed in padded trays), the only kind of astringent persimmon I've seen in American markets are the unripe ones. To hasten ripening at home, place them in a paper bag together with a banana. When they are ripe, they should be refrigerated.
Non-astringent persimmons should be firm, with no soft spots or blemishes, and stored at room temperature, or in a cool, dark place, but not refrigerated.
How to Use Persimmons
Given the considerable number of persimmon trees in Italy, one would expect lots of recipes for them. Oddly enough, no: Since what's available in Italy is chiefly the astringent kind, people either buy them ripe or ripen them, and then simply eat them by discarding the stem, quartering them, and scooping out the flesh with a spoon, discarding seeds and avoiding any white veins the persimmon flesh may contain.
Here below, though, is a simple recipe for preparing a slightly more complex dessert with ripe, soft Hachiya persimmons and the liqueur of your choice.
A few more simple recipe ideas, using Fuyu persimmons:
- Wrap wedges in slices of bresaola (dry cured sliced beef) for a fall version of prosciutto e melone.
- Toss thin slices of crisp Fuyu persimmon in a salad.
- 7 ripe, soft Hachiya persimmons
- 2 shots of Strega, Amaretto or any liqueur of your choice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
Quarter the persimmons and scoop the flesh into a bowl, discarding the seeds and any white strings.
Mash the flesh with the back of a fork, removing any whitish strings you may see, then stir in the sugar and the liqueur and mix well. Chill for at least 1 hour, or longer, spoon the mixture into cups, and serve.