Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fuyu for You

I wait all year for this fruit

About fifteen years ago I was a regular shopper at a Korean grocery in the East Village of Manhattan that has since closed. The owner had an unbelievably cute grandson who would visit twice a year from Seoul and fascinating stories to share about her attempts to connect with relatives in North Korea. She also had a lot of information about the produce she sold.

"Try this! It's good!" she told me one day, pointing at her persimmons display. "No thanks," I replied hastily. "Last time I tried a persimmons it nearly took out my mouth!" I made a face. Eating a persimmon had all the appeal of chewing on some aspirin - and a pretty similar taste.

"Oh, that is Hachiya," she said knowingly. "That needs to be soft, like pudding. This is different. Fuyu. It's okay if it's hard like an apple. It's still sweet."

Mrs. Kim was a nice lady and the persimmons were two for a dollar. I could be a sport.

I tried the fuyu. I was hooked. In retrospect, Mrs. Kim's recommendation was probably the single most important bit of Produce Proselytizing in my life. I needed to pay it forward, and I have.

I approach strangers looking at the strange fruit - fruit that has gotten a little less strange of late, since fuyu seem to have crossed over into the mainstream - and encourage them to try one. "It tastes kind of like pumpkin pie," I tell them. "You can eat them when they're still hard," I tell others. "They're not like the persimmon you might be thinking of. They're different. Better."

I slip them into fruit platters and I offer colleagues a slice or two when they see me snacking. Often they graduate to acceptance of a whole fruit or two.

Fortunately, I don't need to go to Chinatown or particular Asian markets to get fuyus anymore. Turkish and Bengali vendors are happy to stock them. Amazingly, the fuyus sometimes sport supermarket code labels, demonstrating even at humble fruit stands that they're ready to be rung up after the milk and toilet paper.

Fuyus hitting the big time - with the  supermarket produce stickers to prove it. 

Some basic shopping hints:
1) Look for very firm fruit with as deep a color as possible
2) Store in the refrigerator
3) Regard the peel as your friend. A recent New York Times article about persimmons (another piece of evidence that fuyus are crossing over into the Big Time) claimed peeling "made a world of difference" but I find that advice utterly baffling. 

Serving hints:

You can slice the fuyu, cut it in sections or even eat it with a spoon (more on that later). I like them plain, but if you want to decorate, you could drizzle with honey, any kind of fruit syrup, chocolate sauce or balsamic vinegar.

A slice is nice

You could share this fuyu with seven fuyu newbies and still have a segment for yourself!

This fuyu is going undercover as a hachiya

An overripe fuyu like the one above essentially tastes the same is a "ripe" (i.e., overripe) hachiya. Hachiyas, I should add, are also crossing over into the mainstream. The guys below also feature this season's must-have accessory, the supermarket fruit label. No offense, guys, but I see no reason to buy you. If folks like the custardy consistency, they can just buy the fuyus and forget about them until it's nearly too late. But if they eat the fuyu a little sooner than planned, they won't have to scour their mouths.

Hachiya persimmons. They don't know that I am insulting them.

One final note. The end of fuyu season is often marked by the appearance of a Sharon or Carmel fruit, which looks a lot like a fuyu but with a greenish undertone and generally a less rounded appearance. Sharon fruits do not taste as good as fuyus. Personally I regard them as impostors and give them the stink-eye whenever I see them. Sometimes they have the decency to be labeled "Sharon Fruit" or "Carmel Fruit" but they could easily be mistaken for a fuyu that undermines your love for the species.

Large fuyus from Brazil sometimes show up in Spring, aka Brazil's Fall. I don't know the history of this crop in South America, but I assume it caters to Brazil's not-inconsiderable Japanese community. I find these fuyus less flavorful and generally ignore them.

Two days ago I went fuyu shopping in Chinatown and came back empty handed. This morning on the way to work I saw a fruit stand with Sharon fruit. No point being in denial. The season is over.

But there's always next year.


  1. I have been seeing these around and wondered about them. I figured you could bake them. I didn't know you could eat them like apples. Thanks for the article.

  2. As a person introduced to persimmons by Sally herself, I can say they are a revelation! I've eaten them whole lately. Think about persimmon bread pudding, something I've seen in menus here in the Bay Area. Think about naming your newborn daughter Persimmon.

  3. Yikes! I almost ended up with a hachiya the other day. My husband asked me to get him a persimmon "if it looked good." I was of course clueless at the store. Now I'll know better. Thanks for your insights!

  4. We just had parsnip and dried Fuyu salad -- more like vinegar-marinated -- a typical New Year dish here in Japan. The color contrast of red (persimmon) and white (parsnip) is considered to be festive for New Year's Day table.
    Some unripe Fuyu persimmons can be really astringent and bitter (from too much tannin), then you can peel them and hang them to air-dry. Dried persimmons have very concentrated sweet flavor, almost like dried dates!

    1. Dried persimmons and chestnuts. Two of my favourite foods!

  5. The phrase "play it forward" should be "pay it forward"
    --H Gleanie

    1. Thanks for the catch! I've corrected this typo. If anyone else catches me with spinach caught in my teeth, please let me know.

  6. You're right, of course, but fuyu persimmons look like a baseball someone sat on while their hachiya cousins have that elegant spade-ish shape. I end up buying hachiya and, when tucking in, concluding once again that I have lint for brains.