On a cold November night in the early 1990s, as I walked the downtown sidewalks of Northampton, Massachusetts, I stopped in at a produce store.
I don’t recall the name of this store, but I do remember how welcoming the warm and brightly-lit premises felt, with the displays of colorful produce.
This time, I saw something that got me really excited: they had a display of fruits looking like large, pointy, orange-red tomatoes. These were Asian persimmons, imported from some warmer climate zone than Massachusetts. I had recently been reading about this species, along with the many other fruits that grow in areas warmer than the one I was living in, and finally here I was, face-to-face with actual Asian persimmons.
I now know the variety was almost certainly ‘Hachiya’, distinctive for its large size, pointy shape, deep color, excellent flavor, and the fact that it’s one of the forms of Asian persimmon that have a mouth-puckering astringent quality that doesn’t completely disappear until the fruits have fully ripened to a squishy-soft texture.
Because of this last fact, the store had helpfully accompanied the persimmon display with a stack of printed paper slips for persimmon newbies like me. The paper explained that the the time to eat this fruit is when it has softened to the point that it feels “like a water balloon”.
I bought several of these exotic treats, being sure to include at least one which had already reached the appropriate water-balloon level of soft ripeness.
This was too exciting a discovery to wait until I got home to try, so as soon as I stepped out of the store, I pulled the ripest persimmon out of the bag and bit into it, standing right there on the sidewalk in the cold night.
I wish I could have captured that moment on video – this was a fruit unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. Rich and sweet, with a texture similar to pudding, the persimmon was almost like eating a thick smoothie full of a swirl of unfamiliar yet delicious fruity flavors and textures. Anybody passing by would have seen a skinny guy standing on the sidewalk under the streetlight, with a big smile on his face, oblivious to the world, devouring something that looks like a tomato.
This experience was part of what opened my mind to the tremendous diversity of fruits that grow in warm climate zones. I had known that oranges and mangoes and papayas inhabited warm regions of the globe, but I was learning that there were dozens, even hundreds more species of delicious foods growing on trees – but only in climates that don’t experience harsh winters.
It wasn’t many years after that when I decided to move south myself.