As the leaves started falling on the hills surrounding Barga we began to see the shape of the mountains, houses and barns and even roads snaking up the mountainside which for months had been hidden from view by overhanging trees.
The green verdant colours of the summer had gradually been replaced by orange, yellows and browns until all was bare and almost monotone until that shocking burst of green once more fills up our eyes in the spring.
All this paring away of the vegetation does reveal some interesting things though – not least of which, the Cachi or to give them their botanical name: the Diospyros kaki, better known probably as the Japanese Persimmon
Once upon a time, more or less every house that had some land surrounding it would have a Japanese Persimmon tree growing close to the buildings. Their orange fruit stands out as probably the only bright colour in an otherwise drab winter landscape.
Nobody is really sure when these plants actually arrived in this area but what is known is that once they’d taken root in Garfagnana soil they also took firm roots in the local culture as they became the fruit of the winter season.
Long before freezers, heated greenhouses, long distance freighting and hypermarkets offering the possibility of eating strawberries and other fresh fruits all year round, they were a prime source of vitamin C and a vital component to an otherwise fairly nondescript winter diet.
Although its first published botanical description was not until 1780, the Persimmon is among the oldest plants in cultivation, known for its use in China for more than 2000 years. It was grown there behind walled gardens and was consumed mainly by the women (also kept hidden behind the walls). Even 2000 years later it would seem that the taste of the Persimmon is enjoyed more by women than men.
That kind of data is difficult to find but asking around in Barga many more women expressed a liking for the fruit than men and very few younger people liked it at all. But then, times have changed and diets and habits change with them. The Persimmon is probably looked on as a throw back to the past – it would seem that very few young people actually want to taste these fruits. In fact, very few younger people have ever tasted these fruits. They have almost disappeared from their diet. They can still be found on sale at the local fruit and vegetable shops in Barga but it is an older generation who mainly shop for them.
Kaki is a sweet, slightly tangy fruit with a soft to occasionally fibrous texture. This species, native to China, is deciduous, with broad, stiff leaves. Cultivation of the fruit extended first to other parts of east Asia, and was later introduced to California and southern Europe in the 1800s, to Brazil in the 1890s, and numerous cultivars have been selected.
In many cultivars, known as the astringent varieties, the fruit has a high tannin content which makes the immature fruit astringent and bitter. The tannin levels are reduced as the fruit matures. It is edible in its crisp firm state, but has its best flavor when allowed to rest and soften slightly after harvest. The Japanese cultivar ‘Hachiya’ is a widely grown astringent cultivar. Some cultivars, such as Fuyu, do not contain tannins and are good-tasting even before they are soft. These non-astringent varieties are considered to have a less complex flavour.
When ripe, this fruit comprises thick pulpy jelly encased in a waxy thin skinned shell. “Sharon Fruit” (named originally after Sharon plain in Israel) is the trade name for D. kaki fruit whose astringency has been chemically removed. It is also known as the “Korean mango”. – source Wikipedia