If pucker and pudding characterize your experience with persimmons, chances are good you’ve only encountered the smallish round orbs of the wild fruit or the elongated, heart-shaped Asian Hachiya. Both possess a taste bud-scouring tannin until they’re ripe enough to tumble from the tree, soft enough to be eaten with a spoon.
However, the flat-bottomed Asian Fuyu is the express version of the fruit, rapidly ready to grab and go. The tomato-shaped Fuyu is the most common variety found, and it’s consumable both firm as a melon and creamy as custard.
“Fuyus start off bright orange and hard; they can be eaten like an apple at this stage,” says Charleston Grill executive chef Michelle Weaver. “But as they ripen, their color becomes a rich pumpkin orange, and you get crunchy, succulent bites. When completely soft, they are sweet like honey with undertones of pears and dates.”
An Alabama native, Weaver didn’t taste a persimmon until she moved to Charleston, but now she happily slices Fuyus into her persimmon, arugula, and country ham salad. “I love the combination of their crispy sweetness with the savory saltiness of the ham,” she says. “The arugula adds just the right touch of pepper, and the sherry vinegar brings depth as well as the acid that pulls the ingredients together. This is my Southern version of the classic Spanish cured ham and sherry tapas pairing.”
She selects Fuyus to make chutney because their dense flesh retains color and shape when cooked. “The ginger, cinnamon, and anise remind me of chutneys I grew up having at holiday time. The sweetness of the raisins and the acidity of the vinegar balance well with the punch of the spice.” Put the chutney on a cheese plate, she advises, or pair it with roast pork or grilled salmon.
Weaver cautions that the Fuyus must be soft to yield the smooth, sweet purée necessary for her Old Fashioned. “The smokiness of the bourbon and the sweetness of the persimmons make me long for a fire pit surrounded by good friends at Christmas,” she says.
When cooking at home, Weaver purchases Fuyu persimmons at Harris Teeter and North Charleston’s H&L Asian Market. In addition, with growers in Ridgeville and Holly Hill, the fruit may turn up at local farmers markets.
“Left at room temperature, they will last a couple of weeks,” Weaver states. “If you need to ripen them quickly, place them in a paper bag with an apple or banana.”
Dishing it up with Chef Michelle Weaver
RESTAURANT: Charleston Grill at Belmond Charleston Place
FIRST F&B GIG: Lagniappe in Decatur, Alabama
EDUCATION: New England Culinary Institute
FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENT: Stone crabs
RECIPE SHE'LL TAKE TO THE GRAVE: “Don’t have one!”