I’ve seen the most beautiful fruit tree ever- a wonderful old persimmon tree in full fruit, in the garden of a historic property in central western NSW.
The persimmon, or Diospyros kaki, is part of the Ebony family. It’s a highly decorative tree, with a spreading to semi-weeping habit. In autumn its foliage is a blaze of reds, oranges and yellows.
The fruits have a pleasing geometry and contrast of textures- a brown, leathery calyx at the stem end suspends the orange to tangerine-red fruit as it ripens in late autumn.
There are two types of persimmon – astringent and non-astringent. Non-astringent types include ‘Fuyu’ – quite crispy and good to eat like an apple – and ‘Jiro’, which has spectacular coloured fruit. Their fruits are rather squat, pumpkin-shaped, and can be eaten as soon as they are fully coloured up.
Astringent types include ‘Nightingale’ and the ‘Dai Dai Maru’. Tannins in the astringent persimmons make them virtually inedible until they become really soft and juicy, just like an apricot jam texture. Their fruits are more acorn-shaped.
Frost-hardy, persimmons need an open, sunny spot, about 3 to 4 metres away from neighbouring trees. Plant your persimmon in a sheltered area, away from the wind, as the tree’s wood is brittle and can split when in heavy crop. Good drainage is important.
Buy potted trees in Spring. Open-rooted or bare-rooted trees should be avoided as they’re susceptible to disease. Flowers (and therefore fruit) form on the new season’s growth, so tip prune them annually, taking about 30 centimetres from the top,to ensure they branch out into a fabulous, fruit-laden tree.
Insects are rarely a problem but in the tropics, fruit fly can be a threat. Birds and possums are partial to the fruit, so the tree may need to be netted for protection.
Ripe persimmons are simply beautiful to look at and have a unique, very sweet flavour. Returning from my visit to the historic garden with a bag full of gorgeous fruit I decided to try making persimmon jam. My old favourite jam making book makes no mention of persimmons, and the recipes and images of persimmon jam I found online were unappetising. So I made up my own recipe from jam-making first principles (I’ve made a lot of jam over the years so I felt confident to give it a go). Here’s my recipe.
1 kg slightly under-ripe persimmons
Juice of 1/2 lime (could use lemon instead)
4 cups sugar
Slice persimmons into approx. 5mm thick slices and chop each slice into quarters, discarding the seeds.
Place the fruit into a large saucepan with the lime juice and add enough water to just cover the fruit. Boil gently until the fruit is tender, but still holding its shape. Remove from the heat.
Measure the volume of combined fruit and water. Place 1 cup of sugar for each cup of fruit into a baking tin and warm it by placing it in a warm oven (no more than 100 degrees Celsius) for about 10 minutes.
Add the warm sugar to the fruit, and stir until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, then return the saucepan to the stove on high heat and boil quickly until it jellies when tested (*see below how to do this test). Once the jam has jellied, remove it from the heat immediately to prevent over-cooking.
Cool the jam and then bottle in sterilised jars with tight fitting lids.
*To check whether jams have jellied, keep a saucer in the fridge. From time to time during the cooking process, place a teaspoon full of the jam on the saucer and return it to the fridge for 2 minutes. Push the edge of the blob of cooled jam with your finger tip. If it crinkles, the jam has jellied.
[Source of some information used in this post: Gardening Australia Fact Sheet- Persimmons]