Persimmon Sorbet


In her charming autobiography, The Mandarin Way, Cecilia Chiang recalls Chinese New Year in Peking, when her mother would bury fresh persimmons in the snowdrifts outside their home and then serve up the frozen fruit with a spoon as a sort of instant sorbet. This recipe, from my cook and writer friend, Jane Helsel, goes a step beyond the snowdrift method to produce a wonderfully festive sorbet with a glorious color and the texture of ice cream.

  • For the sorbet to be successful, the persimmons must be overly ripe—soft and squishy all over, with a mottled look reminiscent of an overripe tomato. A less ripe fruit will be tannic and bitter instead of sweet. To insure overripeness, buy the persimmons a week or two before making the sorbet and leave them out in a warm place to soften. If you need to hasten the process, put them in a brown paper bag and let the gases exuded by the fruit hurry them along.
  • Persimmon pulp freezes perfectly, so you are wise to buy them in the season when they are plentiful and store them for the persimmonless months ahead. Let the fruit turn overly ripe, purée the pulp with a bit of lemon juice to keep it from darkening, then freeze it in an airtight container with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on top.
  • As with most all sorbets and ice creams, you may blend the mixture up to 2 days in advance of freezing and should prepare to freeze it 6–12 hours before serving.

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  • 4 very large, overripe American persimmons, or enough to yield 2 cups purée
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ cup sugar, superfine if available (for fast dissolving)
  • 4–4½ tablespoons freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice


Making the syrup

Combine the water and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is entirely clear. Let simmer undisturbed for 3–4 minutes, uncovered, then remove the pot from the heat and let the syrup cool before using.

The syrup may be made well in advance of making the sorbet. Stored in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator, it will keep indefinitely.

Making the fruit mixture

Slit the persimmons in half, then squeeze or scoop out the pulp. Using a flexible spatula, press the pulp through a fine sieve to remove any seeds, fibers, or gelatinous bits of pulp. Purée the pulp until thoroughly smooth in a food processor fitted with the steel knife or in a blender or food mill. Put aside 2 level cups purée. Extra purée may be blended with a bit of lemon juice to prevent discoloration, then frozen for future use.

Combine 2 cups purée with 1¼ cups syrup and 4 tablespoons lemon juice, stirring well to blend. Taste, then continue to add lemon juice by the drop just until the mixture peaks in a lively, sweet flavor. Remember that the mixture should taste too sweet at room temperature if it is to be just sweet enough when frozen.

If you wish to delay the freezing, the mixture may be sealed airtight and refrigerated 1–2 days. Stir well before using and taste to see if more lemon juice is needed.

Freezing the sorbet

Freeze in an ice-cream maker or sorbetiére according to manufacturer’s instructions. Or, if you do not have an ice-cream maker, freeze the sorbet in a shallow tray and whip it to smoothness in a food processor. Once “frozen,” pack the mixture into a small container, rap it on a counter several times to dislodge any air bubbles that might cause the mixture to crystallize, then seal airtight with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on the surface. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours so the flavors ripen and the texture firms before serving.

For best flavor, serve the sorbet slightly soft. If it has frozen too hard, put it in the refrigerator to soften 15–30 minutes before serving.

Serve in chilled bowls or goblets that will show off the pumpkin color of the sorbet.

Leftover sorbet will keep for about 2 days in the freezer before the flavors fade noticeably. Seal airtight before freezing, with a sheet of plastic film pressed directly on the surface.