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I Love Persimmons

The persimmon is native to China and Japan and very popular to Asians in the fall and winter when they are in season and plentiful.  There are two varieties available ... and they are both delicious.  My father favored the  Hachiya persimmon.  It's shaped like an acorn and should only be eaten when soft to the touch and fully ripe.  When ripe it's not only sweet, but juicy, so we would place it stem side down on a plate and eat it with a spoon.  We had these grapefruit spoons that were serrated at the ends.  This allowed us to scoop up the soft, juicy pulp and avoid the juice from running down our arms.  The Hachiya persimmon should never be eaten when hard.  It will be very astringent and unpleasant.

It was on a November visit to Japan many years ago that I tasted my first Fuyu persimmon.  This persimmon is rounded, like a tomato, and may be eaten when firm or soft.  The first time I tasted a Fuyu persimmon I fell in love with the delicious sweet flavor and crunchy texture, much like an apple.  It made for neater eating and serving.

I always peel my persimmon.  Some people eat it with the skin, but I find it slightly astringent and prefer to concentrate on the fruit itself.  In Japan, the firm Fuyu persimmon is peeled,  cut into quarters and served on a small plate with toothpicks.  It's a great way to end a meal -- something sweet and fresh and not too filling.

Lately I've been buying Fuyu persimmons by the box at a local Asian market.    I store them in our cool basement to slowly ripen since I've come to enjoy them when they are slightly soft.  My husband doesn't care for persimmons, so I have the whole box to myself.  Goodie!

With Chinese New Year approaching on January 23 persimmons take on a more symbolic importance. When persimmons are depicted with tangerines this grouping symbolizes the wish for good fortune in all undertakings.

Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all!

 Fuyu persimmon on left and Hachiya persimmon on right

Fuyu persimmon peeled and quartered for serving.

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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.