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Tricks in the persimmon

The persimmon competes with autumnal leaf colours in this district. There is a street in Griffith I always drive along at this time of year, just to admire the persimmon tree hung with amber fruit and crimson foliage.

On a recent visit to Manning Clark House in Forrest, a basket of persimmons, whose four-lobed calyx give oriental design to the shiny, smooth fruit, lent a glow to the kitchen windowsill.

Emiko Davies' persimmon cake from her blog.
Emiko Davies' persimmon cake from her blog. Photo: Emiko Davies

The botanical name of the oriental persimmon, Diospyros kaki, means divine food, but it can be tricky. When a friend asked me to buy her weekly supply of persimmons at the Southside farmers' market, I found them at a stall run by the Andonaros family, who farm on old Cooma Road at Googong, and are known for also their honey.

They had astringent and non-astringent varieties of persimmon so I bought both. The non-astringent type was crisp, sweet and refreshing and could be eaten like an apple. The astringent fruit was not yet jelly-like to the touch, but, unwisely, I ploughed on. That resulted in mouth-puckering tannins. Neither variety bore seeds. My friend decided hers were ripe so ate two and was left with ''a palate feeling like a very dusty carpet''.

Persimmon, an unusual seasonal treat.
Persimmon, an unusual seasonal treat. Photo: Emiko Davies

Louis Glowinski, in The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, says the Japanese have developed treatments to remove astringency without softening the fruit. ''The traditional method is to place persimmons in empty sake (rice wine) casks, where the alcohol fumes remove astringency,'' he says.

At Pialligo, growers have ''flat seedless'', and nightingale or hachiya, which has conical fruit, best seen with a blue-sky backdrop. Early ripening dai dai maru has been grown in home gardens in Canberra for decades, and the most often seen non-astringent variety is deep-orange fuyu.

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The Japanese ambassador's chef, Kohei Shioi, has shared a recipe for pickled permission, translated by Sumie Davies, of the Japanese Embassy. In Japan, persimmons are eaten simply on their own, but since they are very seasonal and signify autumn and winter, they're used in traditional cooking as well. Davies' daughter, Emiko Davies, remembers her grandparents' house just outside Tokyo where plump, orange persimmons lined a windowsill, ripening with a heater burning underneath. These were eaten when jammy and slurped from a spoon.

Emiko Davies, who now lives in Melbourne, lived for seven years in Florence and says persimmons were growing everywhere in Italy. On a visit to her friend Rosa Salzberg in Trento, northern Italy, she was served a moist and delicate persimmon cake which included hazelnuts from the garden. Emiko Davies is a food writer and photographer and has shared the cake recipe from her blog: emikodavies.com/blog/the-winter-fruit.

Persimmons on the tree at Pialligo Apples.
Persimmons on the tree at Pialligo Apples. Photo: Rohan Thomson

ROSA'S TORTA DI CACHI, OR PERSIMMON CAKE

2 whole eggs

170g brown sugar

50ml olive oil

zest of 1 lemon

600g persimmon pulp - about 6 ripe persimmons

200g flour

100g ground hazelnuts

1 packet dry yeast, or use 1 tsp baking powder, plus a pinch of salt (or substitute a little package of Italian raising agent for cakes, available at some Canberra Italian delis)

icing sugar for dusting

Take out the stem of the persimmons and scoop the flesh and break it up with a fork. Preheat the oven to 170C. Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the oil in a thin, steady stream while mixing. Then add a pinch of salt, the lemon zest, the persimmon pulp and mix. Finally add the flour, hazelnuts and raising agent and mix until just combined.

Pour the mixture into a lined and greased cake tin (about 26cm in diameter) and bake for 40 minutes.

When cooled, dust the cake with icing sugar. Serve with a dollop of ricotta or freshly whipped cream.

Recipe from Emiko Davies, emikodavies.com

PICKLED PERSIMMON, CARROT AND DAIKON

Serves 4

200g daikon - Japanese white radish

⅓ of a carrot

½ a hard persimmon

pinch of salt

Vinegar mixture

¼ cup vinegar

⅓ cup dashi stock or water

3 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

Peel the daikon, carrot and persimmon and cut into 4cm long julienne. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and toss with your fingers.

In a saucepan, put all the ingredients for the vinegar dressing and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the stove and allow to cool.

Squeeze the liquid out of the persimmon, carrot and daikon and quickly wash them water. Put them into the vinegar mixture and mix briefly, then drain the mixture off (reserve the vinegar mix), then put them back into the reserved vinegar mix again. This retains colour and helps remove bitterness. Serve after one hour.

Recipe from Kohei Shioi, chef to the Japanese ambassador.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.

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