Ingredient Focus: Persimmons

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In any Japanese home, it’s likely you’ll find a persimmon-shaped candy dish somewhere in its kitchen or among its collectibles. At least, that’s the case in my family – my mom, grandma, and great aunts have multiple persimmon-shaped ceramic dishes that don’t seem big enough to hold anything substantial. Considering that none of them seem to be huge fans of the fruit, the persimmon-shaped dishes seemed impractical and a random choice of home decor.

It just so happens that the persimmon is the national fruit of Japan and symbolizes good fortune for the New Year. The Japanese aren’t the only culture to revere the persimmon, either – its Greek name, Diospyros, literally means “fruit of the Gods.” Here in the good ole’ USA, there’s a local superstition in the Ozarks that you can predict the severity of the coming winter by inspecting a persimmon’s seeds. Spoon-shaped seeds predict that the winter will be harsh, knife-shaped seeds means weather will be average, and fork-shaped seeds indicate a mild winter. With so many fans across the globe (and because persimmons are a fall staple) it’s the perfect time to give the persimmon its due and try our hand at a new recipe!

There are many varieties of persimmons, some more exotic than others (like the chocolate or cinnamon persimmons, for example) but persimmons are usually categorized as astringent or non-astringent. The most common astringent type is the Hachiya persimmon, which resembles a pointy orange tomato. Astringent persimmons are more acidic and leave a “furry” feeling in one’s mouth if eaten before they’re ripe, which is why they’re only edible once they’re plump, soft, and juicy. The Fuyu persimmon is the most common non-astringent type, and people eat it when either firm or ripe. Fuyu persimmons look like small, stout pumpkins, and their whimsical appearance is another reason why they make such excellent candy dishes (I’m assuming).

Ripe Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons have a jam-like texture that goes well with breads, puddings, soups, or even ice cream. Firm Fuyu persimmons add a satisfying crunch and sweetness to salads, sandwiches, and salsa. I left my persimmons sitting on my counter for too long, so in order to take advantage of their jam-like consistency, I made a persimmon chutney to go with grilled pork chops. The result was a sweet, spicy, and savory dish that will fill your belly and usher in the rich flavors of autumn.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what the prognosis is for the coming winter, my persimmons didn’t yield any answers because they were seedless. I wonder what that means in the Ozarks…

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Pork Chops with Persimmon Chutney (Yield: 5 servings)

5 pork chops
2 cups Fuyu persimmons, mashed or pureed
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup red onion, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, minced
½ inch piece of ginger, minced
3 birds eye chilies, chopped finely
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon curry

1. Fry onions, garlic, chili peppers, and ginger in a little bit of oil. Sauté for 1 minute.
2. Add dry spices and sauté for another minute until fragrant.
3. Add vinegar, lemon juice, and wine and allow to boil. Dissolve brown sugar in mixture.
4. Add persimmons and cranberries. Lower heat and cook for 20 minutes on low.
5. Cut excess fat off of pork chops and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill pork chops on medium-high heat for 5 minutes on each side, or until done.
6. Serve pork chops with a dollop of persimmon chutney on top.

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