There is something about a persimmon that seems to make grocery store clerks go apoplectic. “Is this a tomato? What’s this? What do you do with it? What’s it taste like?”
When I am in a curmudgeonly mood I might answer their question of “What is it?” with a retort like, “If I have to tell you then it must be half price.”
More often I’ll offer what I think is a perfectly good suggestion; that they ask the produce manager to, once a week, have a tasting for all the clerks. He picks two items from the produce department and has everyone taste them. Raw, if appropriate, or otherwise cooked in some simple way. I contend, that regardless of whether they like the taste of the item or not, the clerks will remember the difference between a mango and a papaya, or between a rutabaga and a parsnip, or between oyster mushrooms and shiitake. No clerk I have suggested this to has ever thought it was a good idea.
I know why. None of them eat vegetables or fresh fruit.
I do like persimmons. The persimmons available in our markets are botanically called Diospyros kaki and originate in Asia. The two generally available varieties are fuyu, a squat rounded fruit and hachiya, a somewhat larger heart-shapped fruit. The fuyu can be eaten while still firm, like an apple or, if they were pretty ripe when picked, they can be left to continue ripening until they are quite soft. The hachiya are very astringent when not fully ripe and are not considered edible when still even slightly firm. They are best left to ripen to the stage where they start to feel like something has gone wrong and that they’re on the verge of going bad because they’re so soft. That’s when you want to eat them. At this stage they’re a somewhat pulpy jelly-like consistency that is best eaten with a spoon. I like mine with a light sprinkling of black pepper.
Persimmons are not something I grew up on. The first I can remember seeing a persimmon in the store, I must have been in my 30’s but I didn’t buy them to eat them. These were the hachiya variety and I convinced the produce manager that they were overripe and instead of throwing them out he should give them to me to use as still-life material in my drawing class. Amazingly, he went along with the idea. After my class drew them, I used the fruit, that actually turned out to be perfectly ripe, to make a persimmon pudding from a now long-lost recipe. So I suppose if a produce manager can’t tell a perfectly ripe persimmon from an overripe persimmon, I shouldn’t expect a clerk to be able to tell the difference between a persimmon and a tomato.
In the art world persimmons hold a small but very revered place, aside from providing still-life material for my drawing class. One of the most famous Chinese Zen paintings is a sumi painting by Mu Chi, a 13th century Chinese zen monk that shows 6 persimmons arranged in a row. It’s spareness echos the astringency of the unripe persimmon.