Back in my early 20s, I landed a job managing a little hotel in the coastal resort of Buzios, in southern Brazil. Late in the autumn, the chef-proprietor El Gordo started buying cases of these bright orange fruit called kaki. I had never seen them before, but El Gordo treated his purchases like treasure. Every day he would pull the trays out of the big walk-in fridge and carefully inspect each fruit, waiting for the moment it would be ready to eat. It had to be so soft and fragile it almost fell apart in your hands, but had not yet started to deteriorate and rot. Then and only then was it a pleasure to be eaten, he informed me, icy-cold from the fridge.

Finally I was allowed to try one. The fruit, by this stage, was translucent like an orange jewel, with a fragile, jelly-like consistency. There were little flecks of brown through the flesh that I thought looked like the beginnings of rot. I was pointedly informed that to those in the know, these brown flecks were the sign of mouth-watering flavour and sweetness. It was like nothing I had ever tasted before, intensely, insanely sweet. If you shut your eyes it was like eating icy-cold jellied maple syrup.

Some years later, back in New Zealand and wandering the garden of my Parnell flat, I spotted these same beautiful tear-drop orange fruit hanging like lanterns from the branches of an old draping tree. I picked one and bit into its hard flesh. The astringency was so intense that my mouth froze in a total pucker of dryness. It was so unexpected — and so awful.

In fact, there are two varieties of persimmon. The astringent ones can be eaten only when they reach a jelly-like state of ripeness, whereas non-astringent types, such as Fuyu, can be eaten direct from the tree, and are sweet and crunchy, with nary a hint of astringency. You can eat them whole, skin and all, just like apples. Here in New Zealand, most commercially grown persimmons are this crisp, sweet Fuyu variety.

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Each year persimmons become more and more popular. They are mild in flavour and don't have any acid in them to balance their sweetness but they are useful and delicious. They make a great addition to sweet and savoury salads, add a sweet-and-sour note to meat and poultry dishes, and are good in muffins, cakes and puddings. They are a good source of fibre (more than twice the fibre of apples), as well as containing useful amounts of betacarotene and minerals like sodium, magnesium, calcium and iron. They also contain high levels of phenolic compounds, which are thought to help reduce atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). Now there's something sweet to be happy about.

Persimmon, Halloumi and Almond Salad

Ready in 15 mins
Serves 4

g halloumi, cut into cubes or slices
A little neutral oil, to fry
4 handfuls watercress leaves
½ cup almonds, roasted
1 large just-ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
1 large just-ripe persimmon, cut into wedges

Orange Dressing
1 Tbsp each boutique extra virgin olive oil, fresh orange juice and lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

To make orange dressing, shake together all ingredients in a small jar. To make the salad, fry halloumi in a little oil over medium-high heat until golden. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. Divide watercress, almonds, avocado, persimmon and cooked halloumi between four serving plates. Drizzle with orange dressing and serve at once.

Annabel says: The mild taste of persimmon works really well to offset the bitterness of watercress rocket and endive in all kinds of savoury salads, and here the crunch adds a texture contrast with the creamy avocado.

Ginger Chilli Duck with Persimmon

Ready in 2¼ hours
Serves 2

duck leg quarters
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 just-ripe persimmon, cored and cut into 6-8 wedges
2 long red chillies
20 very thin slices of fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Place the duck in a shallow roasting dish and prick the skin all over with a sharp knife to help release the fat. Season with salt and pepper and roast until the skin is golden and the fat has been released (about 45 minutes). Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 180C fanbake. Drain the fat from the duck, reserving it for another use (it makes delicious roast potatoes). Add persimmon, chillies and ginger to the dish. Stir together orange juice, sweet chilli sauce, tamarind and water and pour over the duck. Bake uncovered until very tender (a further 1¼-1½ hours).

Annabel says: Duck goes well with lots of different kinds of fruit — mangoes, oranges, guavas and pineapples, to name a few. Persimmon is no exception, adding real depth to this simple duck bake. If you didn't know it was in there you would never guess.

Flash-in-the-Pan Sweet-and-Sour Pork

Ready in 30 mins
Serves 4

500g pork fillet, finely sliced
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp neutral oil
2 stalks celery, angle sliced
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
1 large carrot, finely sliced
½ red pepper, finely sliced
2 persimmons, peeled and diced, or 2 cups diced pineapple
½ cup water
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3 Tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) mixed with 2 Tbsp water or 3 Tbsp soy sauce mixed with 1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds, to garnish

Mix pork with ginger, salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan and fry pork over a high heat until starting to brown (3-4 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. Drop celery, broccoli, carrot and red pepper into a pot of salted boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Cool under cold water and drain well. Add persimmons or pineapple, water and vinegar to the frying pan used to cook the pork and cook until pulpy and thick (2-3 minutes). Add pork and par-cooked vegetables with the spring onions and kecap manis or soy mixture, and bring just back to the boil. Serve immediately, garnished with sesame seeds.

Annabel says: Just as pineapple works well in sweet-and-sour dishes, so do persimmons. Here they deliver a fresh, un-cloying sweetness in this revamp of a classic favourite, but I've given pineapple as an alternative so you can make this dish when it's not persimmon season.