Sunday, October 12, 2008
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.