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Thanksgiving persimmon salad. November 20, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. For years, we’ve been trying to grow persimmon trees here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the middle of nowhere, PA. And basically, we’ve been failing, our poor little ‘Meader’ American persimmon still hardly coming much past my waist, and a new American persimmon we found this year at Meadowview Farm in Bowers, PA, no taller than my knee.

American persimmons, like Brussels sprouts, need frost to sweeten up. This is also true of the Japanese Hachiya persimmon. But it’s not true of the Japanese Fuyu persimmon, which is available in grocery stores now and is the star in Chef Marc Vetri’s Persimmon and Arugula Salad, featured in the past weekend’s Wall Street Journal (check it out at www.wsj.com). I was really thrilled by this salad, since it looked absolutely delicious and perfect for fall, and I happen to love arugula, Parmesan, lemon juice and persimmons.

Best of all, it’s so easy! To make the salad for four, buy 3 Fuyu persimmons, 4 cups baby arugula, Parmesan shavings, and 1 or more lemons. Chef Vetri suggests trimming the persimmon tops and ends, and peeling them if you choose, then halving and thinly slicing them. Toss the persimmon slices with the juice of one lemon, a pinch of fine sea salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Give them five minutes for the fruit to release its juices and the salt to dissolve, then taste and add more lemon juice or salt to taste.

Now it’s time to plate your salad. Put a cup of baby arugula on each plate, then top with 1/4th of the sliced persimmons. Drizzle with the sauce from the fruit bowl, garnish with plenty of shaved Parmesan, top with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, and sit back and watch your guests wolf down the most amazing Thanksgiving salad ever! So good, so easy. Yum!!!

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Persimmons for Thanksgiving. November 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. For the past week, we’ve been getting a lot of blog searches here at Poor Richard’s Almanac for the persimmon pudding recipe from Laurel’s Kitchen. Now, Laurel’s Kitchen in all its incarnations is one of my favorite cookbooks, for the heartwarming stories, delightful woodcut illustrations, and earnest attempts to turn us all into healthy vegetarian cooks as much as for the recipes.

Determined to find the persimmon pudding recipe and share it in time for Thanksgiving, I grabbed The New Laurel’s Kitchen (Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal, Ten Speed Press, 1986) off my shelf. But the only mention of persimmons suggested adding “1 large, ripe persimmon, peeled and cut up, and a tablespoon of raisins” to a cup of yogurt. I’ll bet that’s good, but it’s not my idea of pudding.

Moving on, I checked the original Laurel’s Kitchen (Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey, Nilgiri Press, 1976). But alas: Not only was there no persimmon pudding, there were no persimmons, period. The index moved straight from pernicious anemia to pesticides with nary a persimmon in sight.*

Undaunted, I reached for the last of my Laurel’s Kitchen books, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book (Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey, Random House, 1984). Maybe it was a persimmon bread pudding? Again, I failed to find persimmon pudding, but this time, at least I found persimmon-nut bread. Here’s the recipe:

               Persimmon-Nut Bread

Rich in flavor as well as festive in spirit, this bread makes an occasion of dessert, with or without homemade vanilla ice cream. 

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup honey

1 egg

1 cup persimmon pulp

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour [Today's cooks might want to try white whole wheat instead.---Silence]

1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour [ditto]

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch ground cloves

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 4″ loaf pan. Cream the butter and honey. Beat in the egg and then mix in the persimmon pulp. Sift the dry ingredients together. Stir in the nuts. Add them all at once to the liquid ingredients, stirring lightly just until well mixed. Turn the batter into the pan, place it on a cookie sheet, and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until done.

Okay, fine. But what about that darned persimmon pudding? Who would have a recipe for that? A Southern cook, I was betting. And sure enough, there it was in Bill Neal’s great Southern cookbook Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie (Knopf, 1990). He even notes that “Persimmon pudding was formerly a traditional Thanksgiving dessert in the South.” So, persimmon-pudding lovers, here’s the recipe:

                    Persimmon Pudding

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 cups persimmon pulp

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

zest and juice of 1 orange

1/4 cup plus 2-4 tablespoons dark rum

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

 Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cream the 1/2 cup butter and sugar well. Add the eggs, one by one. Stir in the persimmon pulp. Sift the flour, spices, and salt together. Add to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk. Stir in the orange zest and juice and 1/4 cup dark rum [we like Gosling dark rum---Silence]. Pour into a greased 9 x 12″ baking dish and bake for about an hour, until lightly browned and set in the middle. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. Let settle for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the 2 tablespoons butter, powdered sugar, and the remaining dark rum to taste. Prick the top of the pudding well with a fork. Spread the butter-sugar-rum mixture over the top of the pudding; it will be absorbed by the warm pudding. This is delicious warm, cut into small squares, with a little Milk Punch Ice Cream. Serves 16. 

Hmmm, sounds sort of like persimmon cake to me. Needless to say, American persimmons would traditionally have been used in this recipe, but if you can’t find them, I don’t know why you couldn’t try it with oriental persimmons, as long as they’re quite ripe. If you make it, let us know what you think!

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

* Reader Beth came to the rescue with the authentic Laurel’s Kitchen Persimmon Pudding recipe, from a calendar they published in 1981. See her comment for the recipe.

Persimmon surprise. June 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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No, this isn’t one of Silence Dogood’s recipes. It’s a shock our friend Ben received earlier this week while inspecting our ‘Meader’ American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana ‘Meader’).

First, a bit of backstory: Our friend Ben grew up with a huge American persimmon tree in the front yard of our Nashville home. That tree must have been 80 feet tall. Every year, it produced an abundance of persimmons, which typically fell to the ground and fermented, doubtless to the joy of local wildlife and wasps. My parents didn’t consider persimmons edible—citing their sour, astringent flavor—and would always sing us a song about a ‘possum and raccoon eating them. I grew up thinking that persimmons were good for wildlife but useless as far as people were concerned, though I loved looking at the fruit with its matte blue-purple blush over the orange skin and flesh, a color combination unlike any I’d ever seen.

Our friend Ben would probably have continued assuming that American persimmons weren’t fit to eat (I knew by adulthood that Japanese persimmons, Diospyros kaki, were supposed to live up to their generic epithet, Diospyros, which means “food of the gods”), were it not for two things: the gift of a batch of homemade persimmon cookies, and a visit to Lennilea Farm Nursery in nearby Huff’s Church, PA during persimmon season.

The cookies were delicious. And when I arrived at Lennilea, Bob Seip, its knowledgeable and amiable proprietor, was gathering fallen American persimmons from under his row of persimmon trees. “Here, try these,” he said, offering a handful. Well, even our friend Ben wasn’t going to scream “Eeeewww, no, you’re not supposed to eat those!!!” when Bob Seip was eating them in front of my eyes. (And besides, I remembered those cookies.) So, trying not to look too appalled, I bit into one, expecting a mouth-puckering astringency to hit my tongue at any second. But no, it was juicy and delicious. Shock surprise, in the immortal words of Ruby Ann Boxcar.

After that, I was damned and determined to grow an American persimmon of my own here at Hawk’s Haven. And the best on the market appeared to be ‘Meader’, a selection by the famed fruit specialist Dr. Meader of New Hampshire. If it was good enough for the famed professor, it was certainly good enough for our friend Ben.

I ordered my first ‘Meader’ persimmon. It died. I ordered my next ‘Meader’ persimmon. It died. I ordered a third ‘Meader’ persimmon. (Our friend Ben is nothing if not determined, and besides, I couldn’t say for sure if it hadn’t been my haphazard watering that had killed off the first two.) This one, too, appeared to have died when the puny little thing failed to leaf out the following spring. But I didn’t have the heart to pull the pitiful stick out of the ground. And one day, long after I’d lost all hope, I saw that it had actually leafed out. Mirabile dictu! Still, the tiny tree struggled mightily over our third drought season in a row. It barely grew at all before dormancy set in.

Sure enough, the next spring, I thought it had died again. But eventually it bore leaves, though the main trunk had died back about 6 inches, causing a wealth of side branches to come out (fortunately, above the graft, so I knew they were still ‘Meader’ stock). That was last spring, and we had a lot of rain all year. Still, it seemed like poor ‘Meader’ was barely clinging to life.

This spring, I held my breath as I watched the still-puny plant refuse to leaf out yet again. I had to warn the neighbors not to mow down the seemingly lifeless stick by mistake. But eventually, it did leaf out, and this time, it leafed out with enthusiasm. To say that it looked like a tree would be a ludicrous exaggeration, since it still doesn’t come up to my waist. A luxurious shrub would be more like it.

Finally, let’s get on to the point of this post: A few days ago, our friend Ben was wandering over to say a few words of encouragement to little ‘Meader’ when I saw something that took my breath away: flowers. My ‘Meader’ persimmon was literally covered with flowers! I’d never thought to see a persimmon flower in my life, since the diminutive greenish flowers would hardly be visible if you were staring up into the canopy of a 60- to 80-foot tree. But thanks to the struggles of my hapless plant, I was staring down. And those flowers were just amazing.

At first, our friend Ben thought that the pendant green lantern-like structures I was seeing were the flowers. But a couple of days later, I saw that pale yellow bell-shaped flowers had emerged beneath the green shell, which I realized was a calyx. Small but simply beautiful! And what a gift to be able to see them up close.

Rushing to Google “American persimmon” to see if I could find a better description of the flowers for you all, I stumbled on some fascinating and some alarming information. First, the fascinating: Did you know that ebony is a species of persimmon? Who’da thunk? Next, the alarming: Wikipedia assured me that you needed both male and female trees to get fruit set. Yikes!

Our friend Ben should have remembered that prolific tree in my parent’s yard, but I panicked instead. Searching again, this time for ‘Meader’ persimmon, I saw to my relief that it’s supposed to be self-fruitful, so I shouldn’t need a male tree after all. (There was a good deal of controversy about this on the web, with some claiming that it was only self-fruitful in the pacific Northwest, and others stoutly asserting that their ‘Meaders’ were bearing fruit without benefit of male pollination in the Mid-Atlantic area.) Fingers crossed!

What about all that astringency stuff? The accepted lore is to let American persimmons stay on the tree until a frost hits and sweetens them, but I’ve been reliably informed that by the time the fruits are ripe enough to drop off the tree (or be shaken off), they’ll be just as sweet. Certainly that was the case with Bob Seip’s trees! If you’re worried about astringency, you could always freeze your persimmons, then eat them frozen as a delicious treat or thaw them and add them to puddings, pies, sweet breads, or, of course, cookies!

Needless to say, our friend Ben has been enthusiastically drawing Silence’s attention to the flowers and hinting about persimmon cookies. (I try not to mention them more than four or five times a day.) If you need an attractive shade tree for your yard that will also bear fruit, I recommend an American persimmon. Unlike my micro-‘Meader’, yours should grow tall and strong. So you may not ever have the chance to see the wonderful flowers, but you should get a wealth of delicious persimmons year after year. Eat and enjoy, but please leave a few for our wild friends, too!

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