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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Ode to the Persimmon

I wish I could say that I have always loved persimmons. My whole life I have prided myself on being an adventurous and unpicky eater. Unfortunately, however, the first time I tasted a persimmon as a child I found it mushy and overly sweet. In kid parlance, it was yucky.

My dad grew up in California, where persimmons were plentiful and part of his food heritage. The orange, bulbous fruit commonly grew in his neighborhood and every Christmas his grandmother made persimmon cookies. My childhood was spent in Seattle, where blackberries grew wild in every alley and empty lot and baked steelhead was as common as spaghetti and burgers. But persimmons were an exotic and unusual fruit only used ornamentally to decorate holiday tables.

One year my dad bought a large persimmon for us to try. I had to wait for what seemed like forever until it was finally ripe enough to eat. The large, conical shaped persimmons are very astringent and will make your mouth pucker beyond belief unless eaten when the flesh of the fruit is extremely soft, nearly gelatinous. Offering me a special treat, my dad handed me a spoon and told me to scoop out the fruit. For a kid raised on birthday cake sweetened with date sugar, it was cloyingly sweet and the texture…well there wasn’t any. It was just gooey mush. And so ended my persimmon foray. Until…

Years later, my parents decided to move to California. After a trip to Paso Robles to sign the papers for the purchase of their new home, my parents returned to Seattle with a handful of small, orange fruit from a tree on their new property. It had taken me awhile to warm to the idea of my family leaving the Northwest, but after one bite of the delicious fruit, I could clearly see the upside of living in California. The fruit they had picked was a Fuyu persimmon, a small and firm variety that lacks the astringency and gooeyness of the Hachiya I had tried as a child. Perhaps this was not as transformative as the Madeleine cookie was for Marcel Proust, but it definitely changed my feelings about persimmons.

When my parents moved to California, I counted the days until the persimmons would be ripe enough to eat, and then each December when I was home for Christmas I would fill large baskets with the ambrosial fruit. One year the persimmons even helped me smooth things over with a man whose headlight cover I cracked while trying to park in a Target parking lot.

Until a few years ago, my family was divided over their persimmon tastes. My mom and I drooled over the smaller, firmer Fuyu and my dad, with bated breath, awaited his crop of the larger, soft Hachiya. (Not long after moving to California, my dad had planted a Hachiya to accompany the Fuyu that was already growing on the property.) A few years ago, I decided to give the Hachiya another try. To my astonishment, it was absolutely incredible. What a pity I had missed out on so many years of ecstasy while scorning the fruit. In the succeeding years, I have bridged the familial persimmon divide since I now love each equally.

In fact, I love the sweet and unctuous fruit so much now, that I’ve been lusting after my neighbors’ tree for the past few weeks. Across the street from me grows the largest and most prolific tree of Hachiya persimmons that I have ever seen. The amazing thing about persimmons is that they ripen in the late fall and winter. When all the leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees and the landscape is barren, the persimmons cling to their branches like bright orbs of sunshine. My neighbors’ tree is taller than the house and filled with the most enticing fruits. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask them if I could pick a few but every time I get close to asking, I think of a reason why I shouldn’t. Most people don’t know what to do with a persimmon and even if they did, my neighbors have more than any person could possibly dream of eating. Reasons why I shouldn’t ask the neighbors:
1) I don’t know them, 2) I don’t want to knock on the door and wake their sleeping baby, 3) They have a sign on the front door that says “Please no soliciting!!! No religious inquiries!!” and 4) They’re out of town. The final reason has been the most convincing. Of course, this has led to a whole other set of quandaries. If I were to sneak over and grab a couple, would anyone know? This of course is just a fantasy as I am shy and a born rule follower; I do not like risk and I avoid confrontation.

While I’ve been eyeing the persimmons across the street and dreaming about the jelly-like flesh of this tantalizing fruit, I’ve done a bit of research and discovered that the Latin name for persimmon is Diospyros Kaki Linn. What are the chances that this fruit that I’m crazy about, originating in China centuries ago, would share my last name?! Fate, right?



Grammie D’s Persimmon Cookies

Grammie D is my great grandmother. She and my great grandfather grew grapes in the Central Valley, but my dad has always called it a “Raisin Ranch.” My dad, his sisters, and their many cousins spent their summers playing in the fields, learning to drive the tractor, and getting into trouble.

These cookies are soft and cake-like. Although I generally prefer pie and gingerbread cookies at Christmas, it wouldn’t be the holidays without Grammie D’s persimmon cookies. My dad can never get enough of them!

1/2 cup shortening (I suggest using butter since it’s more natural)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup persimmon pulp*
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup each walnuts (chopped), coconut, and raisins

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the persimmon pulp and egg. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add dry ingredients to the persimmon mixture. Fold in walnuts, coconut, and raisins. Drop cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.

*Note from my Grandpa Linn: “I prefer Hachiya to Fuyu persimmons [for the cookies]. They are available in November. Let them sit out until soft enough to spoon out the pulp. Pulp can be frozen if not used right away.”




My favorite way to eat persimmons is right off the tree, but here are some other ways to eat them:

Hachiya Slushies:
Freeze ripe Hachiya persimmons and eat right out of the freezer by breaking through the skin with a spoon.

Salsa Fresca with Fuyu Persimmons:
Fuyu are the smaller, harder, and less astringent variety of persimmon. Replace tomatoes in salsa fresca with the persimmons and serve with fish tacos. Yum! Ingredients: peeled and diced persimmon, diced red onion, diced cilantro, lime juice, and salt.

Salade Frisée with Bacon and Fuyu Persimmon:
Frisée is the delicious curly yellowish-green lettuce that tickles your throat. Mix with peeled and sliced fuyu persimmon and sprinkle with crispy bacon (or Prosciutto). I would dress this salad with a creamy dressing or a red-wine vinaigrette. Shaved fennel or thinly sliced red onion would be a tasty addition.

Persimmon Chutney:
I’ve made this with Fuyu persimmons. You could try it with Hachiya, but I think it would be too smooth. Mix diced persimmons with acid (cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or lemon juice), brown sugar or maple syrup, and any assortment of onion, lemon peel, apple, red grapes, nuts, raisins, brandy, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves. Serve with curries or as an accompaniment to pork or poultry.

Persimmon and Pomegranate:
This is a match made in heaven since they are both in season at the same time. Serve together as part of a festive exotic holiday fruit platter or serve with pork or poultry.

And if all else fails, use persimmons to decorate your holiday table. They are such a beautiful and delicious fruit even my mom’s chickens can’t get enough of them!




A Persimmon Acrostic Poem:


Perfectly
Elegant,
Regal,
Syrupy, and
Immensely
Mouthwatering
My
Outstanding
November favorite fruit