By Leah Eskin
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.
Prep: 10 minutes
Servings: 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
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).
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.
Goes nicely with a salad of butter lettuce, avocado and red onion.
Adapted from that California classic, Sunset magazine.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor. Contact her at email@example.com
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