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tidewaterreview.com

Squishy when ripe

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

January 16, 2011

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The persimmon caught my eye, just when I was packing up the sweet potatoes and arugula. All cheeky orange, lolling in a basket full of like-minded fruit, it gave me a look that said: "Where have I been all your life?"

Good question. I have fond memories of a children's book, rendered in line drawings, that featured a stately lady gazing at a persimmon. But I could not call up a single taste memory.

"Persimmon?" I asked the vegetable guy. "Right," he confirmed. "In season."

I took one home. It was heavy, smooth, heart-shaped and soft. Or so I thought. "Try it when it's squishy," the vegetable guy had advised. It seemed plenty yielding to me. I took a bite. And experienced assault.

Persimmon is all rosy good looks outside and tannin-packed bad attitude inside. Not the pleasantly dry sensation offered by a glass of aged red. An all-out attack that coats the taste buds with furry sandpaper. Persimmon means "dry fruit."

Later I learned that the persimmon comes in two common varieties: the firm sort, called Fuyu, good to crunch, apple-style; and the soft sort, called Hachiya, good for spooning into vinaigrette or baking into pastry — when ripe.

I came to appreciate the wisdom of dessert authority David Lebovitz, who notes that the Hachiya persimmon is ready for kitchen duty when it flaunts the body mass index of a water balloon.

By then it has outgrown the surly stage and mellowed into good company for savory salad or sweet cognac-scented cake. Next time a persimmon looks my way, I'm armed, with knowledge.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

leahreskin@aol.com

Persimmon dressing

Prep: 10 minutes

Makes: 3/4 cup (enough to dress salad for 6)

1 ripe Hachiya persimmon

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves

1 clove finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup mild oil, such as canola

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Swirl: Wash persimmon and cut away leaves. Scoop pulp into the blender or food processor. Swirl smooth. Measure 6 tablespoons (any extra can be refrigerated or frozen).

2. Thicken: Return pulp to the blender. Add vinegar, sage, garlic, mayonnaise and juice. Swirl smooth. With motor running, slowly pour in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Serve: Goes nicely with a salad of butter lettuce, avocado and red onion.

Provenance: Adapted from that California classic, Sunset magazine.