Sunday, October 12, 2008

Persimmons:



Some years ago I was served something, a dessert presumably, announced with some fanfare as persimmon pudding. It is important at this point to attest that I do not remember by who, or where it was, or when. This persimmon pudding was said to be the result of an old family recipe, and simply the best thing you ever tasted. Such statements are often received with trepidation, and in this case warranted, because what I was served resembled and tasted like nothing so much as a congealed square of old-fashioned wallpaper paste ~ recipe: boil flour and water, apply. I really doubted that it could have had any persimmon pulp in it. The hose and high heels of the lovely lady who served it appeared to be fairly permanently attached. It was hard to imagine her making her way to a persimmon tree and back in that condition.












































I suspected that what she'd used in her old family recipe were unripe specimens of the much larger Japanese persimmon, or Kaki, only recently and rarely available in grocery stores here in Kentucky. In the yard of Mr. Ohashi's beautiful new but traditional home in Japan I was delighted and amazed to see a familiar-looking tree silhouette, and a trunk with nearly identical bark to the neat aligator-scale-like pattern of the persimmon trees here on the hill. It was a Kaki. Sometimes the delicious date-like fruits, dried on open air racks, are served as a sweet for an Autumn tea ceremony.

Cebah's persimmon pudding is easily my favorite fall dessert, and lucky for us, this year the persimmon trees are bearing an extraordinary crop. Bud, one of the two farmers tending the farm here, noted yesterday that this year is a boom for all sorts of mast; black walnuts, beechnuts, acorns, and persimmons, and that he thought it might be a sign of a bad winter to come; "The Lord takes care of wild creatures just like he does us." I've never seen the ground littered with persimmons before, so if that is a true indicator, then the ice age is coming back.




Not wanting to be beaten by possums to the tree, Cebah and I headed off in October's bright blue weather yesterday to gather what we could. It's a little early to go after them - usually we wait until after the first frost, typically a bit later in the month here. But this year is different in that regard too, I tested the persimmons on a walk the other day, and some are already ripe.
Without the frost, taste-testing is the only way to be sure that a persimmon is truly ripe, softness alone is not a sure indication. This curiousity allows certain country comedians, like Cebah and my late dad, to profer a novel fruit to the uninitiated visitor, usually from a naive or urban area, whose pursed face when they realize that the initial sweetness is followed by an alum-like mouth pucker, provides a dependable hilarity. Living in the country can be a lot of fun.
























Cebah certainly enjoyed our expedition, picking up the prettiest of the fallen leaves and exclaiming at the beauty of the deep blue sky. She made a remark, plain for her, poignant to me, that there was a time, meaning last winter when her health took a blow, when she didn't think she'd ever get out and walk like this again. Winter is still hard on age. But on this day, we gathered up our windfall in relative bliss and headed back to the kitchen.



The recipe calls for a cup of persimmon pulp. To that end I got out our ancient and treasured Foley food mill to seperate out the plentiful seeds from the pale orange pulp, combined the few ingredients in this easy recipe and popped it in the oven to bake,



Cebah's Persimmon Pudding:

Combine 1 cup of persimmon pulp with 1/2 cup of brown sugar and beat in 3 eggs. Sift together a cup of flour with one teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend this dry mixture by into the first, alternating by thirds with a cup of milk.



Pour the batter into a buttered 9 inch square baking pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Remove the pudding from the oven, pierce it here and there with a fork, and pour over 1/8 lb (a half stick) of melted butter. Serve warm or cold with a drizzle of heavy cream.

18 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Ah Dan, like a sip from Pete’s magical spring, your work always brings me home again!
This time my heart has flown back to our last Kentucky home, a 12 acre farmlet atop a small hill out in J’town. The steep drive was lined with specimen trees, one of which was a persimmon. Each autumn it put forth dozens of quarter sized, button shaped fruit. They were indeed sweetest after the touch of frost and took on a deep burnt orange hue.

Trudging up the hill on my way home from school, I’d stop beneath that tree to savor the fruit. With a hard stone center, you really didn’t get to slurp up more than a sweet little nibble or two, yet what a flavor! What an experience to have a your feet covered in golden leaves, your pockets filled with sticky persimmons, and the birds singing your to your own front door!

I’d give anything for just one taste of a sweet little Kentucky persimmon again. You’re right, the great big Asian ones in the supermarkets don’t even come close. Lord, I’m homesick!

Nancy said...

Thanks for the recipe Dan! Phyllis warned me the possum might get my persimmons. I hope not. They are still hard. I may wait for a frost.

Anonymous said...

Danny, the magician's daughter here. Dad said that you had a blog and I thought Iwoud check itout. It was goo to see you again. You need to visit again. My kids want to see the artist. Alyson wants to be an artist/fashion designer when she grows up. We should keep in touch.
~Shelly

Dan Dutton said...

Hi Shelly! How great to read your name here! It was wonderful to see you at your folk's ~ & I've been hoping for an opening to come back over. Surely I'll get a little break soon.

I saw pix of your kids and they are so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

We were walking through the woods today and dad was saying that you had taken some pictures of the woods to put on your blog and I was telling him that I have the picture you drew of me when I was 6years old. I also have the storybook you gave to me and Nathan in 1985. We were also talking about the highchair that you painted for me when I was a baby. It has held really well to be 30 years old. All I can say is that you are a talented person!
~Shelly

Cathy said...

When Dan first mentioned Cebah's persimmon pudding to me, he described it thus: "a bit like a cross between a brownie and a pumpkin pie, maybe with the best medjool dates combined in there somehow." Three of my favorite treats.

So why haven't I made it?? No wild Kentucky persimmons here, but that's a lame excuse. Could I use dead ripe Hachiyas for an approximate version?

Mary Beth, I love the image of a little girl with persimmon-filled pockets crunching through autumn leaves.

Dan Dutton said...

I think it's worth a try. If it gets even a little close it will be very close to heaven indeed.

Apifera Farm said...

OK, firstly, I love Cebah's green tennis shoes!! Another farm-woman-fashionista! My heart pumped faster with the words that Cebah wondered last winter if she wouldn't walk there again. What a good day.

We've already had two light frosts, allowing me to pull up a lot of the messy garden. And the giant pumpkins. But alas, no persimmons. But I can almost taste it through your words.

SBD said...

Permissions are a rite of passage in rural Kentucky...
I can still hear the gleeful sounds when the uninitiated take the first puckery bites of persimmons....
A memory:
Mom, her sister, Audrey and I went to the Amish Village a few years back. We packed a picnic and set off.....
On the way, is a large persimmon tree, right along the side of the dirt road. Mom had me climb atop the car to reach a limb on the tree...she and her sister yelled, shake, shake, shake those 'simmons down, as I teetered on the brink of extinction.
It was a day for the memory book....

Mary Beth said...

Persimmons and the Civil War ~ impossible to pair the two? No Sir! During the Civil War and the Reconstruction period women had to make do with what food stuffs they could lay their hands upon. God Bless the dear old soul who invented "Possuum Toddy." It is a "beer" which is said to taste a bit like mead. Old folk lore tells that it was a prize that foraging soldiesrs of both the North and South loved to find!

This recipe is not one I've tried but is the oldest one I can find in print.

Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South
Martha McCulloch-Williams (1913)


PERSIMMON BEER:
The poor relation of champagne--with the advantage that nobody is ever the worse for drinking it.

To make it, take full-ripe persimmons, the juicier the better, free them of stalks and calyxes, then mash thoroughly, and add enough wheat bran or middlings to make a stiffish dough.

Form the dough into thin, flat cakes, which bake crisp in a slow oven.

When cold break them up in a clean barrel, and fill it with filtered rainwater.

A bushel of persimmons before mashing will make a barrel of beer.

Set the barrel upright, covered with a thin cloth, in a warm, dry place, free of taints.

Let stand until the beer works--the persimmon cakes will rise and stand in a foamy mass on top.

After three to four weeks, either move the barrel to a cold place, or rack off the beer into bottles or demijohns, tieing down the corks, and keeping the bottled stuff very cool.

The more meaty and flavorous the persimmons, the richer will be the beer.

Beware of putting in fruit that has not felt the touch of frost, so retains a rough tang.

A very little of it will spoil a whole brewing of beer.

If the beer is left standing in the barrel a wooden cover should be laid over the cloth, after it is done working.

Fermentation can be hastened by putting in with the persimmon cakes a slice of toast dipped in quick yeast. But if the temperature is right, the beer will ferment itself.

Mary Beth

Dan Dutton said...

WOW! I'd never heard of this & I thought I'd heard of everything! If ever there was a year to try it, this is the one. Oh for a little more time!

Thanks Mary Beth ~ this hits the spot, interest-wise, in every way!

SBD said...

A Persimmon Beer Party...Cathy and Mary Beth....might you come?

Mary Beth said...

Should the school year, the price of airfare, and the money in my pocket all align favorable with the ripeness of the persimmon beer, I'll be there with bells on!

MB

Dan Dutton said...

The elegance of serving persimmon beer is boggling. Now that I think about the honey/coconut/date flavors of wild persimmon, it seems perfect for beer. If only my library responsibilities would relent this wk! I'd be picking up & brewing.

megpots said...

Thanks for the fall writing. It looks very dry there as you come up to the persimmon. I love Cebah's pudding. Yum Yum.
Miss it.

SBD said...

Dr. Polly read the blog and is making persimmon pudding for Elosie...she has a bumper crop on her tree~~~~~I loaned her my ricer, could not find my Foley food mill~~~~ :-D

Dan Dutton said...

Cebah is itching to get back to that tree to pick up more, but I've been swamped. Tomorrow, surely, we'll find time.

Meg, it IS awfully dry here. Officially it's not as much of a drought as last year, because we had some rain earlier in the summer, but I think it's actually worse, that this year's dry on top of last year's is having more impact. The springs are drier than I've ever seen.

I think Dr. Polly may have had a taste of that very same wallpaper paste style pudding I mentioned. If so, Cebah's will be a homeopathic cure for the memory.

Dan Dutton said...

Without a Foley, I think you could press them through a seive with a spatula...