Persimmons, or kaki, are very particular fruits. They have a sweet, delicate flavour, somewhat like browned sugar with a slight floral aftertaste. Their season is quite brief, starting in late autumn and finishing before the winter frost sinks its teeth in. If you don’t live in an area where they grow, they can be hard to come by. When ripe, the plump orange bulbs swell with a golden goo and the thin skin easily splits apart. For this reason, they don’t do well in grocery stores and certainly can’t be shipped across the globe like apples.
Growing up in Northern California, I never saw persimmons, nor ever tasted one. If it hadn’t been for my father talking about them being his favourite fruit, I may never even have known of their existence. Fortunately, they are very common in Italy and the hills of the Cinque Terre are speckled with these bare trees, branches weighed down by heavy orange fruits. My first experience was in Sicily when we bought a flat of ‘cacchi’ from a guy in a parking lot. This if often where you’ll get the best produce in Sicily--from the back of a truck in a random parking lot.
So with a flat of two dozen ripe persimmons that I had never tasted before, I set about experimenting different ways to eat this gorgeous fruit. The simplest is to just cut it half and eat it with a spoon (make sure to use a bowl, because they are a mess!). The pulp also mixes well with mascarpone cheese to make a delightful topping for spice cake. But the best way, for me, is to make a crunchy tart. It turns out that the pulp solidifies very easily when baked. And it is so sweet that there is really no need to add any sweetener, but if you prefer it on the sweeter side, a drizzle of maple syrup goes well. A small squeeze of fresh lemon juice will prevent it from browning.
I like to make a cookie crust, which is easy, fast, and gives a nice crunchy texture to contrast the smooth filling. I prefer a whole grain cookie for a more rustic outcome, but any dry cookie would work, either shortbread or ginger snaps or even digestives (although I don’t recommend using buckwheat—I tried that and it overpowered the delicate persimmon flavour). It can also be made with a regular pastry crust as well.
Persimmon Tart recipe
3-5 ripe persimmons
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)
For the crust:
3-4 Tbsp of chilled butter
200 grams cookies
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F or 150 C. Add the cookies to a food processor with the cubes of cold butter. Pulse until well ground and mixed with the butter. The consistency should be such that it sticks together when you pinch the crumbs. If it feels dry and doesn’t take shape when pinched, process with another pad of butter.
2. Pour the crumb mixture into a 9in or 23cm tart pan and slowly start pressing the crumbs into the pan and up along the sides until a firm crust takes shape. This is the most time consuming part, but it's worth it!
3. Puncture the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork and bake the crust for about ten minutes.
4. To prepare the filling, scoop the pulp of the persimmons into a medium bowl and mash up any chunks with spoon. Add the lemon juice straight away and let the pulp sit. Taste the mixture and if you would like it sweeter, add some maple syrup.
5. Take out the crust and let it cool. When the crust is no longer hot to the touch, pour the persimmon mixture, give the pan a jiggle to let any air out and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the centre of the tart is solid. Let cool before cutting.