Vivid displays of burnt orange lantern-shaped fruits caught my eye as I walked around our local farmer's market at the weekend. I am referring to sweet persimmons, which are in bountiful supply throughout autumn months.
With their unique texture and mild flavour, persimmons are the perfect addition to autumn dishes, such as puddings and salads. They can also be baked into cakes and muffins; or sliced with a cheese plate, and enjoyed fresh from the hand.
Sweet persimmons are the most commonly found variety and account for nearly 95% of Australian production. They are round in shape, with a diameter of about 10cm. The fruit has a slightly flattened top with a green stem (calyx), and ranges in colour from pale orange to a deep red-orange. This non-astringent variety is best eaten crunchy and firm like an apple, but can be left until it is soft and mushy, like the original (astringent) persimmon.
Original (astringent) persimmons are large, heart shaped fruits, also ranging in colour from pale orange to deep red-orange. This variety must be harvested once it is fully mature. The fruit is ready for eating only when the flesh is soft, jelly-like and sweet. If you can taste any astringency, allow the persimmon to ripen further. Put the persimmon in a paper bag with a couple of bananas to speed up the ripening process.
Persimmons make a wonderful edition to an overall healthy diet and are a good source of vitamin C and beta carotene, high in fibre and fat free. I have it on good authority that sweet persimmons contain twice the dietary fibre of an apple, as well as higher levels of minerals and antioxidants.
In her tome, The Cook's Companion (Penguin), Stephanie Alexander offers a sumptuous description of the fruit:
'Cradling a ripe persimmon is like holding a fine purse that feels heavy and liquid in the hand. The fruit is translucent, glowing red-gold and has a delicate but haunting flavour.'
That fine, exquisite flavour was the inspiration for my sweet persimmon jam with just a hint of lime. I was also enticed by Helene's fuyu and hachiya lemon jam. For my recipe, the sweet persimmons should be over-ripe, almost jelly-like.
SWEET PERSIMMON JAM WITH A HINT OF LIME
1.25 kg (about 10 large) sweet persimmons (non astringent)
500 g jam setting sugar*
a large lime
a teaspoon of butter
You will also need:
a heavy-based 6 litre pot
a heat diffuser (optional)
a saucer or two, or perhaps 2 soup spoons (use to test jam for setting)
3 x 350 ml (12 oz) clean jam jars and lids
a pouring ladle
a wide-necked jam funnel
heat-proof gloves or oven mitt
Place the two saucers or the soup spoons into the freezer.
Sterilise your jars and lids by putting them onto a tray in a cold oven. Bring the temperature to 120 degrees C. The jars need to be in the oven for at least 30 minutes.
Peel the persimmons. Discard the leaves and any seeds. Place the persimmon pulp into a deep bowl, and mash it using a potato masher.
Wash the lime and peel wide strips from the skin with a potato peeler. Cut the lime in half, juice it and set the juice and strips of the lime zest aside.
If you have a heat diffuser or SimmerMat, place it onto a hotplate. This will help to stop the jam from catching in the bottom of the pan, and also from spitting as it cooks. Set the temperature of the hotplate to low-medium.
Pour the sugar into the base of a deep saucepan (I use my vintage Rena-ware soup pot) and gently warm the crystals. Add the prepared persimmon pulp, together with the strips of lime zest and the juice. Stir with a wooden spoon.
Increase the heat slightly, and bring to a simmer, stirring to ensure that the fruit does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Now add the butter and turn up the heat again. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and let it cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the stove top and check to test if the jam will set on the icy cold saucer or soup spoon.
If the jam has still not reached setting point, pop the pan back onto the stove briefly, allowing it boil again. Test the jam again. It has set when it is no longer runny on the plate or spoon. A skin may also form on the jam.
Remove and discard the strips of lime. Cool the jam for five minutes and ladle it into the sterilised jars. Seal the jars immediately. Turn the jar upside down briefly, and then back on its base. Once cool, store the jars in a dark corner of your larder, and transfer them to the refrigerator once they have been opened. Makes 3 x 350ml jars.
Cooking and preparation time: about one hour.
* Jam setting sugar is a blend of sugar, apple pectin and citric acid. Use white sugar if you cannot source the jam setting sugar.
Thank you kindly to the folks at Persimmons Australia, who sent me a massive box of persimmons.
Your turn, dear readers. Do you enjoy persimmons? And have you ever used them in your cooking?
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.