fuyu persimmon ripe on tree © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Persimmons are a fruit I grew up eating in Los Angeles, as they are a winter fruit my parents cherished while growing up in their Lebanese mountain village of Douma. Native to Asia, the fruit arrived to the Middle East, Western Asia, and the Mediterranean likely via the Silk Road, much as the silk worms my mother tended in Douma along with her mother and other village women, feeding the worms shredded leaves of local mulberry trees. Silk worm breeding in the village produced income for women and silk for weaving. This traditional artisanal activity was practiced by many families in Lebanon according to The Silk Museum, which is situated north of Beirut. Next trip to Lebanon, this is a place I will surely visit, inshallah!
One of my most precious family heirlooms is an artwork done by my sitto, Dalal, over 100 years ago in the village: an embroidery of silk worm cocoons with gold thread on black velvet, with the year 1909 in fine gold thread. The large piece was to be a fabric “frame” for a portrait that was never put in, but years later, my mother had my grandmother and grandfather’s initials D and A embroidered in the holding place.
silk cocoon embroidery by my grandmother, Dalal 1909 © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Oh yes, back to persimmons which the Greeks called “fruit of the gods”: names for this fruit vary from those that are straight from the botanical name: diospyros kaki, which contains “dios” or “God” within it, to other names that translate to “apple of paradise” in Turkish, in Italian they may be called diospri, cachi (pronounced kaki), or pomi which relates to apple. In Spanish, it is also named caqui pronounced kaki, and in Arabic and Japanese it is called kaki. My Lebanese friend, Josephine, knows this fruit in Arabic as khorma, which is like the Russian and Turkish khurma. In Persia, the fruit is khormaloo, meaning date-plum, as a combination of date sweetness with plum-like texture.
my garden fuyu persimmon tree in three stages © linda dalal sawaya 2015
No matter what it is called, this luscious fruit has two major types that are important to know the distinction between: astringent or non-astringent. My parents brought home the hachiya variety which must be very soft before they’re eaten, otherwise, as we learned the hard way—the mouth suffers with extremely astringent puckering. These astringent, unripe fruits contain tanin, which is only minimized with full ripening. Hachiya persimmons have a point on the bottom, and must be ripened soft before eating. Then they become sweet, sensuous, fragrant, and flavorful; they can be eaten with a spoon and are excellent for making into cakes, puddings, and in a dessert blended with a liqueur. There are no Arabic recipes that I could find where they are cooked; they are simply enjoyed as a raw and succulent, gelatinous fruit. In China they are dried to preserve them and are eaten at New Year’s, and said to bring joy and luck.
The flatter, non-astringent fuyu variety, I came to know as an adult in Northern California, where they were abundant and inexpensive at farmers’ markets. These became a winter favorite as they can be eaten hard, just like an apple when firm, sliced into slivers to add color and sweetness to a winter salad in lieu of out of season tomatoes, or dried, used as a condiment, and have a fabulous fragrance.
What to do with persimmons? We Lebanese just eat them fresh and raw. The Italians make cakes and salads with persimmons by serving persimmon slices over a bed of arugula, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. The possibilities are endless.
I’ve made a rather unlikely combination by pairing fuyus with a habanero chili goat cheese dip made for a party. Other than the cheese being goat cheese chevre, this is not Lebanese, but it was such a pleasure to photograph these sumptuous and succulent fruits. My dip was raved about at the holiday dinner party with a Mexican theme. We are entering the holiday season, and persimmons are an elegant and exquisite addition as a garnish or as creatively as you can imagine.
fuyu persimmon garnish on spicy dip with habanero chiles © linda dalal sawaya 2015
The sweetness of the persimmons plays off the spicy flavors of the dip and saltiness of the the corn tortilla chips. The colors served in blue glass and ceramic bowls are an artist’s dream of complementary colors. On top the garnish is a sweet yellow chili pepper added to the habanero chevre mixture in the food processor, along with a bit of lemon juice. Home grown habanero chiles were roasted over the flames of my gas stove top and then cooled, peeled, and blended with the chevre.
fuyu persimmon slices on left and soft hachiya on right © linda dalal sawaya 2015
The fruit ripens after the leaves have fallen. My friend, Andrea and her persimmon tree with her chicken coop beyond inspired me to plant my own fuyu persimmon tree just in time for the new year. After only a short time, my fuyu persimmon tree is producing beautiful fruit and it has been an easy addition to my front garden, that happy for me, the deer do not seem to enjoy, and that I have loved watching through the seasons.
colorful fuyu persimmon leaves fell today in the garden © linda dalal sawaya 2015
Happy Fall and happy cooking! Sahtein!
—Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking
Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”