Persimmons

Persimmons can be tricky, but worth the effort.

Sweet and plumlike, persimmons are a sure sign of fall. The orange fruits grow on trees throughout Missouri, Illinois and eastern Kansas, and according to Ozarks folklore, they’re even said to predict winter snowfalls. Chefs use them to add spice and depth of flavor.

Jina Yoo's Asian Bistro

Dried persimmons were one of chef-owner Jina Yoo’s favorite snacks growing up in South Korea; she loves the texture, which reminds her of apricots, and the darker flavor. After Yoo moved to the U.S. 23 years ago, her mom continued to send her dried persimmons from home. When Yoo opened Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro nine years ago in Columbia, Missouri, she knew she needed to incorporate dried persimmons onto the menu, which led to the restaurant’s Gorilla in the Kitchen dessert. “I thought about how cinnamon really goes well with banana and sweet potato and persimmon – why don’t I just put it all together somehow?” Yoo recalls. She also drew inspiration from a Chinese dessert with a deep-fried banana egg roll. She starts with a halved banana stuffed with a mixture of dried persimmons, cinnamon, brown sugar and mashed sweet potatoes, which is then rolled up in a thin spring roll. She deep-fries the roll and tops it with vanilla ice cream, caramelized walnuts, chocolate ganache and caramel. “Columbia is a transitional city; when people move, the one thing from my menu they miss is the Gorilla in the Kitchen,” Yoo says. “When they come back to visit, they make sure we have it.”

Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro, 2200 Forum Blvd. #108, Columbia, Missouri, 573.446.5462, facebook.com/jinayoos

Justus Drugstore

The flesh of persimmons is usually the part that’s eaten, but Jonathan Justus, chef-owner of Justus Drugstore in Smithville, Missouri, likes to use the seeds as a spice. “We’ve constantly been trying to work out flavor profiles that are about here and not about other places,” he says, pointing to a wild persimmon seed-rabbit terrine, a longstanding component of the restaurant’s popular Farmer’s Platter. The terrine, made of both chopped and ground rabbit sourced from The Rare Hare Barn in Leon, Kansas, is seasoned with Madeira (although Justus hopes to find a Missouri white wine he can oxidize and use instead), onions, garlic, bay leaves, salt, lovage leaves, rabbit stock and a house pâté spice. The pâté spice combines spicebush – a wild shrub native to both Missouri and Kansas – toasted ground persimmon seeds, toasted ground sumac, cassia, star anise and white pepper. He’s also making a persimmon pulp-dandelion wine sauce this fall. At home, Justus recommends drying the leaves to steep in tea or toasting the seeds and grinding them in a spice or coffee grinder, although you’ll need to sift and regrind the mixture a few times. “Or, heck, don’t even sift them – steep the toasted, ground seeds in cream and milk, then strain it out and make persimmon seed ice cream,” he says, musing that he might just do that himself at the restaurant. “I know the flavors we’re gonna get – it’s gonna be kind of tropical and chocolatey and coffee [flavored]. It should be fantastic!”

CHEF'S TIP: Don’t try to purée persimmons: It will release tannins and make the fruit extremely bitter. Jonathan Justus uses an old-fashioned potato ricer to keep the persimmons from getting too agitated. “Finding the right fruit is the first thing, and not all persimmons are created equal,” he says. “Even though there’s supposedly one species, some are much better than others. You have to handle it really gently because [the flavor] can get weird really fast.” 

Justus Drugstore, 106 W. Main St., Smithville, Missouri, 816.532.2300, drugstorerestaurant.com

Schlafly Bottleworks

Chef KT Ayers of Schlafly Bottleworks didn’t encounter persimmons until she was in her late teens or early twenties, but for her father, Andy Ayers of Eat Here St. Louis, however, a new supply of persimmons from a local farmer was a major nostalgia trip. He remembered the persimmon trees in his parents' backyard and his mother’s persimmon spice cake and persimmon apple sauce. So KT set to work finding ways to use the tiny fruits, which she gets from Ivan’s Fig Farm in Dittmer, Missouri, at the brewpub in Maplewood, Missouri. This month, she’ll be using persimmons to make a glaze for a bone-in, center-cut pork chop. She combines the persimmon pulp with browned onions, garlic and thyme for a little roundness and balance, plus Nebraska white-wine vinegar and perhaps even some orange peel. The pork chop – sourced from Missouri farmers Todd Geisert of Todd Geisert Farms and Mike Crowden of Root + Holler – is spiced with warm flavors like cinnamon and then grilled. The persimmon glaze is added on the last turn of the grill to really let it set without masking the pork flavor. "[Persimmons] are sweet, but not just sweet," KT says. "Because it’s got such a good structure, it’s kind of a full flavor experience on the palate.”

Schlafly Bottleworks, 7260 Southwest Ave., Maplewood, Missouri, 314.241.2337, schlafly.com 

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