Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki)
An excellent medium-sized specimen tree for a small, sheltered garden, the persimmon has glossy tropical-looking leaves which turn orange to burgundy in autumn, and delicious orange fruit which holds into winter, providing food for birds (waxeyes) and humans. Try them baked with honey and star anise, as a sorbet, or eat them fresh: the non-astringent varieties can be eaten when crisp like apples or used in salads, but the astringent ones which are high in tannins must be left to ripen to a jelly-like consistency and spooned out. In Asia the persimmon leaf is often dried to make tea, Kaki-No-Ha-Cha. In Japan the fruit is dried to make Hoshigaki, a ‘fudgy, fragrant’ sweetmeat like a ‘date crossed with an apricot’, while in Korea dried persimmon is used to make a spicy punch, or the fruit fermented to make a vinegar. Usefully, dried persimmon is also said to scare away tigers.
The Japanese persimmon was introduced to California and southern Europe in the 1800s and to Brazil in the 1890s. Its Latin name Diospyros is popularly thought to mean ‘pear of the gods’. There is also a North American form of the tree: indeed the word ‘persimmon’ comes from the Powhatan language of the Eastern USA, and means ‘dry fruit’, referencing its astringent nature.
The persimmon belongs to the same genus as ebony but its wood, although hard, cracks easily. In Asia it is used for furniture panelling whereas whereas the American form is used for making billiard cues, weaving shuttles, drum sticks and high quality heads for golf clubs.