When my daughter made her top 10 fruit list, she decided that the number one had to be kaki, the Oriental persimmon. Not surprising: the scientific name of kaki “Diospyros” means “the food of the Gods” and others have admired the taste since the ancient times. And even though these fruits seem an exotic rarity to us Northern Europeans, it is perfectly possible to grow them in our chilly climate. Last year we visited a nursery called “De Moerbeiboom” in Belgium, near Ghent, that sells more than 20 different varieties of Asian and Oriental persimmons.
Dithmar Guillaume, the owner of the nursery, tasted kaki´s for the first time as a teenager. At that time it was a completely unknown treat from a delicatessen. Because he liked the sweet taste, he planted the seed and grew a kaki tree. His family moved and the tree was left behind before it bore any fruits, but Dithmar´s interest in kaki´s could not be uprooted as easily. Over the years he gradually built an extensive collection of kaki´s and persimmons, testing their performance in North European climate and later opening a nursery specialised in uncommon fruit trees.
Apart from mulberries and other interesting fruit trees, Dithmar grows three different kinds of persimmon: the Oriental persimmon or kaki (Diospyros kaki), the North American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and the Date Plum (Diospyros lotus). Date Plum is mainly used as a rootstock – it improves the hardiness of the grafted varieties. As far as taste is concerned, Dithmar considers the North American persimmons the best to grow and after tasting a few we agreed: they have a rich flavour of overripe apricots with a lovely spiciness and a hint of brandy and they make the taste of Oriental persimmons seem boring.
But there’s more than one reason to plant a persimmon: not only does it bear delicious fruits adored by children, it is also almost maintenance free and very beautiful. Unlike apples or pears, it has few disease and pest problems and requires little pruning. We took the hint and bought the cultivar called “Supersweet” that bears a lot of tasty fruits even without cross-pollination. Earlier on we planted the date plum, but it seems it is a male plant that will not bear fruits. So unless we plant a female plant next to it, no harvest.
So far, we have to buy persimmons at the market, but we hope to be completely self-sufficient in a couple of years!
p.s. the radicchio for this salad was grown at our allotment
Belgian Endive and Radicchio Salad with Persimmons and Pecans
1 small head of radicchio
1 Belgian endive
2 Oriental persimmons
50 g pecan halves
For the dressing:
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
pinch of salt
Separate the leaves of the radichio. Tear the larger leaves in bite-sized pieces but leave the smaller leaves whole. Discard the outer leaves of the endive and separate the leaves. Tear the larger leaves in smaller pieces. Cut the persimmons in wedges. Toast the walnuts in a frying pan until they starts to brown and smell toasted, about 5 minutes.
Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl. Add the leaves and toss carefully to coat them with the dressing. Arrange the leaves on a platter and scatter the persimmons and pecans on top.