Most fruit trees are admired for the fruit they bear--and not looked upon for their beauty. One of the prettiest exceptions is the persimmon tree.
Persimmons are handsome enough with their large, leathery leaves still intact, but they really begin to shine in fall and winter. After the leaves drop, the deep, glowing orange fruit hangs like a jewel.
And now is the time persimmon fanciers can obtain some of those sweet, juicy jewels grown locally.
"We have about a dozen trees that bear the Hachiya persimmon, a pear-shaped variety," said Bill O'Leary, owner of O'Leary Apricot Ranch in Santa Paula.
The roadside stand at the ranch will be offering its harvest of persimmons starting Nov. 1.
O'Leary said the persimmon, considered an exotic fruit, originated in China.
"There are various varieties, but the two common ones that you see in supermarkets are the Hachiya and Fuyu," he said.
The Fuyu has the appearance of a somewhat flattened globe.
"It has a firm flesh that can be eaten before fully ripening because it will still be sweet," O'Leary said.
Not so for the Hachiya. Beware of eating this variety before it turns a mushy-ripe. Given its astringency in an unripe state, your mouth will be sure to pucker.
O'Leary said the Hachiya fruit should be picked before reaching its optimum mushy condition and allowed to ripen indoors.
"When its a deep orange--almost red--and soft, its ready to eat," he said, "they're really very sweet by then."
O'Leary said the Hachiya is sweeter than the Fuyu, "its a very rich fruit."
Local persimmons, not abundantly grown in Ventura County, will be available through December, O'Leary said.
"We're selling them 45 cents a pound for under 30 pounds, and 30 cents a pound for 30 pounds or more."
The O'Leary Apricot Ranch roadside stand is located at 6780 Wheeler Canyon Road, Santa Paula. Note: Although a fresh apricot harvest won't come until July, the dried version is available year-round. Call 525-6358.
Noren's Market in Ventura is featuring a "Triple Wash Spring Salad Mix," produced by a local roadside produce outlet.
"It has 12 varieties of exotic baby lettuces and garden greens that are washed so they are ready to eat," said Brian Kwasny, who works in the produce department. The salad mix is going for $5.89 a pound. "That may sound expensive, but it's real lightweight--you can fill a whole bag for about a dollar," he said. Noren's is located at 5171 Telegraph Road, Ventura. Call 642-7007.
SERVING SUGGESTION: PERSIMMON BREAD
O'Leary said many of his customers use persimmons as dried fruit and in various recipes, including cookies and puddings. He suggested using the pulp for persimmon bread. Following is a recipe for it.
2 cups flour, sifted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup oil
2 cups pureed ripe persimmon pulp
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and sugar. Stir in raisins and nuts. Beat eggs with oil. Add persimmon pulp and lemon juice. Add flour mixture. Turn into two greased 8-by-4 inch loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees (325 degrees for glass dishes) one hour or until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean.
LOCALLY GROWN: PRODUCE AND SEAFOOD
* Somis Farm--"We're going crazy with pumpkins," Manager George Kohatsu said of their patch. Also, watch for a weekend special on asparagus. 3766 Somis Road, Somis. Call 388-4901.
* Bennett's Honey Farms--Offers four varieties of honey; this week watch for clover and avocado. 3678 Piru Canyon Road, Piru. Call 521-1375.
* Brandon King Seafood--Fresh daily catch of live local lobsters and local spot prawns offered this week. Manager Hipolito Marin said, "We're running a special on the lobster--only $8.95 a pound." 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard. Call 984-5826.