Notes From Hairenik
November 3, 2007

A couple of weeks ago when I saw the first persimmons being made available on the market I bought a kilo from the fruit stand just below my apartment then went home and promptly devoured them. A few minutes ago I returned from the Gomidas market where hundreds of vendors sell fruits, vegetables fresh live fish, frozen chickens, shelled walnuts, eggs, homemade cheese or pickles, and so forth. I couldn’t find anything I liked offered by fruit sellers directly on Gomidas Street so I decided to walk into the heart of darkness so to speak entering the area behind the actual building housing the market, which is always half-empty for some reason. Nearly every vendor there who sold fruit had persimmons displayed of all different shapes and sizes—some were elongated, about half the length of a long banana. It took me a while to find ripe ones at the right price, which was about 300 dram per kilo on average although one woman was selling them for 500 dram. I paid 350 dram but was thoroughly satisfied with their plumpness. The fruit will be around until February or so.

Persimmons are imported into Armenia from various places, most notably Georgia. There are excellent persimmons from Meghri near the Iranian border as well. Most certainly persimmons from neighboring Azerbaijan also manage to make their way into the country—I know for a fact that pomegranates from there are sold up north in Vanadzor, so since both fruit trees thrive side by side as they do in Meghri, I daresay my hunch is right. The trees can be rather tall, well over 50 feet in height as I saw.

The problem with persimmons is how to pick them. If they are still yellowish and are barely revealing an orange hue, they will be hard to eat, sort of like apples, and they will have a bizarre effect on your mouth by drying it out leaving a faintly bitter aftertaste coupled with a strange fuzzy coating on the tongue and gums in its wake. It might be a defense mechanism of some sort that has obviously lost its relevance.

So you have what is known as the “garalyok,” which is undoubtedly a Russian word, and “khourma,” which is also used to describe dates and is the sort I always look for. The khourma should be soft to the touch almost like an overripe tomato, and the more bruises it has the better. Supposedly when the persimmon is exposed to cold temperature (e.g., the freezer) it becomes tender, but the persimmons I chose today seem to simply be ripe, as they’re bursting with nectar the second you bite into them. The garalyok can be sweet but firm at the same time. Then there is the issue regarding the male versus female persimmon—my mother used to argue this point claiming the same about eggplants and corn. Some of these things when they get ripe form concentric black circles at the base, while others do not. The whole thing is a bit of a mystery. I remember getting into a steamy debate with my wife once about the male-female theory. Here’s what I found out:

Persimmons can be classified into two general categories: those that bear astringent fruit until they are soft ripe and those that bear nonastringent fruits. Within each of these categories, there are cultivars whose fruits are influenced by pollination (pollination variant) and cultivars whose fruits are unaffected by pollination (pollination constant). Actually, it is the seeds, not pollination per se, that influences the fruit. An astringent cultivar must be jelly soft before it is fit to eat, and such cultivars are best adapted to cooler regions where persimmons can be grown. The flesh color of pollination-constant astringent cultivars is not influenced by pollination. Pollination-variant astringent cultivars have dark flesh around the seeds when pollinated. A nonastringent persimmon can be eaten when it is crisp as an apple. These cultivars need hot summers, and the fruit might retain some astringency when grown in cooler regions. Pollination-constant nonastringent (PCNA) persimmons are always edible when still firm; pollination-variant nonastringent (PVNA) fruit are edible when firm only if they have been pollinated.

It’s still not exactly clear. Yet apparently I prefer astringent persimmons rather than the apple-like nonastringent ones. But don’t ask me to identify which of the two is the boy or girl.

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Blogger nazarian said...
There are two types of karalyok; one is extremely tart when not ripe and leaves your mouth dry as you described. These need to become very ripe and are delicious then. These are known as khourma.

The second type is excellent when not so ripe. They have a mocha taste.

It's difficult to differentiate the two. The seller will tell you whatever you want to hear. I doubt that they themselves know the difference as the same batch may contain both the types.

Blogger Big Ideas said...
Although the risk is worth the flavorful reward, if mistimed, eating an unripe parsimmon can put you off the fruit.

For those who have never tried one, I suggest they sample it with someone with experience.

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