At the Santa Monica farmers market yesterday morning, farmer Jeff Rieger of Penryn Orchard Specialties wanted to talk about persimmons. On the table were crates of Muscat de Hambourg grapes (the last day for them). Yali Chinese pears, with their “hint of star anise” (a couple more weeks). Mutsu, also called Crispin, apples (a month or so). And at the other side of the stand, boxes of 3 more varieties of Asian pears–Chojuro, 20th Century, and Shinseiki. All very nice, but in a week or two Rieger and girlfriend Laurence Hauben will be bringing persimmons, specifically chocolate persimmons, from the farm in Placer County, in the Sierra foothills way up near Sacramento. (If you think farmers just mosey in from a few miles away, Rieger will be happy to correct the impression.)
Chocolate persimmons are “richer, more complex,” said Rieger, who grows 9 different kinds of persimmons, among them 3 varieties–Maru, Hyakume and Tsuru Noko–of the chocolate. He's already eaten a couple, and early reports are very good.
“My trees are irreplaceable,” says Rieger, who has owned and operated Penryn Orchard Specialties since 1980. “There's no root stock or records at all,” he says of his persimmon trees. Because persimmon trees hybridize, there are, according to the farmer, “an infinite number of persimmons.” To read more about Rieger's persimmon obsession, check out his website, or just ask him the next time you're walking by at the market. Either Rieger or Hauben, a French-born cooking teacher, will be happy to speak persimmon with you.