Farmers' Market Spotlight of the Week: Persimmons

Cooler temperatures mean that the City Hall Farmers Market is open once again and that more Houstonians will be heading out to enjoy the many other excellent farmers' markets across the city. Each week, we'll be spotlighting a produce pick from the Urban Harvest network of farmers' markets by showing you how to select it, what makes it special and what to do with it.

This week, we're spotlighting persimmons -- a fruit that's native to the United States as well as China, where it's inspired such poetry as Li-Young Lee's lovely ode to the fruit called, simply, "Persimmons."

"I'm a big fan of the astringent variety current at our market from Lightsey Farms out of Mexia, Texas," says Urban Harvest market manager Tyler Horne. "Did you know that most golf clubs used to be made of persimmon wood because it was so dense?"

Persimmons themselves aren't dense, however, but have a fleshy sweetness that gets even juicier the riper they get. Fully ripe persimmons can be eaten like portable puddings: Just cut off the stem on top and dig into them with a spoon.

Picking persimmons can be tricky, however, because of the huge array of different varieties available. Because of this, I'd advise you to trust the farmer who's selling you the persimmon. They should be soft and heavy when ripe, but can easily be left to ripen on your counter at home -- so if you're not going to eat them for a few days, ask for a couple of unripened fruits (if there are any) to take home.

American persimmons (unlike Chinese persimmons) can't be eaten until fully ripe. At that point, though, the juicy, apple-flavored flesh can be used in a variety of different ways, including simply cut into quarters and sprinkled with sugar as seen above.

In the Midwest, persimmon pudding is the most popular application: It's easy to prepare, makes a tasty dessert and is a lovely, unusual fall dish to bring to a potluck or simply to end a meal with at home. Joy the Baker has a terrific recipe for a persimmon pudding that she calls a "sweet and super moist bread pudding meets spice cake."

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Katharine Shilcutt