California orchardists just cannot get a break this year. The long, very cold winter we had was followed by a finicky spring that teased trees into blooming and then spanked them with a hard frost. Some crops were lost altogether; some were delayed. The latter is the persimmon grower's lot. Set back some two to three weeks, the persimmon harvests are just now kicking into full gear.
If you prefer the Fuyu fruit -- the harder, squat, tomato-shaped persimmon variety -- you're in luck. Several farmers market vendors, including Burkard Organics, Peacock Family Farms, Rancho Santa Cecilia, and Walker Farms, have gorgeous fruit available now. The Giant Fuyu, one of the varieties currently available, and so named because it is usually incredibly large (think small baby's head-sized), is disappointingly, well, medium. Still sweet and crisp. Just not as impressive.
That's for Fuyu lovers. Hachiya afficianados are usually a patient group of people. Their persimmon of choice requires a long, slow wait as the fruit they buy must gradually transform from rock hard to pudding soft, preferablly on the kitchen counter, attractively lined up like bright orange autumnal ornaments. To rush ahead would result in an astringent mouthful of tannic yuck.
Sadly, the Hachiya season is pushed back almost past Thanksgiving for some growers, forcing the Hachiya crowd to crunch on the available Fuyus. This is a classic dose of First World Problems for local persimmon eaters. But it smacks the growers hard since they stand to miss out on selling near-ready persimmons in time for our chief food holiday.
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No matter the type of persimmon you prefer, the fruit itself is actually categorized as a berry, and it has a pedigree that traveled along the Silk Road during the same time that it was being harvested in North America by the Blackfoot, Cree, and Mohicans. It's hardy and a generally reliable crop, which is why our local growers even have any fruit at all after the late frosts we had.
"It's pretty late," said Scott Peacock, of Peacock Family Farms. "Ask Mother Nature. Probably due to the long, cold spring we had. We'll have them through December, but the Hachiyas probably won't be here until after Thanksgiving."
Fuyus are ready to eat once you bring them home. Choose solid fruit with smooth skin. Some persimmons have a black, mottled brindling across the shoulders or on the blossom end, but this should not be confused with bruising or a flaw. When the heart-shaped Hachiyas come out, you'll likely buy them rock hard, but don't eat them until they go soft.
Persimmons, both Hachiya and Fuyu, have heavy glucose loads, making them some of the sweetest fruit that you can buy. This manifests best in the ripe Hachiya, making it seems like more of a dessert than an actual fruit, which is why people who wait for the Hachiya tend to be patient. It's worth the wait.