Quiet tea, talky tea

Butsuma--a space for the Buddha. Chanoma--a space where people drink tea, eat, chat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Athens of the persimmon belt

Do you like persimmons?

Have you ever eaten one? I had not even seen one, I think, before I came to Japan in 1978. They are really popular here. Growing up in the US, my father used to refer to his birthplace, Wheatland, Indiana, as 'the Athens of the persimmon belt.' I thought this was just a sarcastic reference to a small town that didn't have much to brag about. It turns out, the real persimmon capital of Indiana is Mitchell, which is maybe not far from Wheatland. Maybe they had a lot of persimmon trees in Wheatland. But still, I never knew anyone who had eaten a persimmon (unless my father used to eat them in Indiana).

Wikipedia tells us that there are many varieties of persimmon around the world. Some of the Asian varieties have 'kaki' (the Japanese word for persimmon) in their Latin botanical name. China also has many persimmon varieties. The wild variety in Indiana seems to be pretty unique in the persimmon world.

But what is all the fuss? My Japanese friends frequently cut up a persimmon to offer to a guest, but I was never impressed by the taste. I would challenge them, saying, 'Persimmons have no fragrance. There is no persimmon soda pop or persimmon-flavored candy.' I thought this would be persuasive, since most Japanese appreciate the aromas of foods as much as the taste. But my arguments did not work.

Many people have persimmon trees in their gardens. They are valued for their decorative value as well as the fruit. It seems that even within the same variety of tree, there are some trees that produce bitter persimmons, and others that produce sweet ones. Indeed, some persimmons have such high tannin levels that they are inedible (without processing to reduce tannins and increase sugars, like soaking the fruit in alcohol). But the color is very attractive, adding a bright accent to autumnal landscapes. Lately, some of my friends have had big harvests from their trees, big enough that they are ignoring my protests and gifting me with large amounts of fruit. (I think there is a similar situation with zucchini or tomatoes among US home gardeners.) So now I have a large haul. One popular tactic is to peel them, tie them on string and allow them to air-dry hanging from the eaves. I think a large part of the overall crop is eaten this way. But I am not going to go to that much trouble. I will just eat as many of them as I can while they last. One good point about persimmons is that they are considered delicious even when they have become soft enough to eat with a spoon. So, in that sense, they will last a long time. I wonder if I will end up liking them.

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