Pantry: Celebrate persimmon season
It’s not the time to cry over the end of tomato season or bemoan the lack of fresh green beans, zucchini and chilies. There is plenty to celebrate at this time of year and not just the glorious rain we’ve enjoyed recently. It’s time for citrus, for Meyer and Eureka lemons, Mandarin oranges, pomelos and more, for pomegranates, cranberries, pears and late ripening apples, for kiwi.
It is also time for persimmons, which are everywhere at our farmers markets but also in full view throughout the country. Sometimes all you have to do is look up and there they are, bright jewels glistening in the fog and mist. Most trees produce more than a single family can use and it’s common to see boxes filled with the beautiful orange globes, an inviting sign declaring “Free!” attached.
Although there are many varieties of persimmons, to understand them it is easiest to focus first on the two most common commercial varieties, the Fuyu and the Hachiya. The Fuyu has a flat bottom and flat top, with thickish skin; it is a firm-ripe fruit that you can enjoy as you enjoy an apple or cut into thin slices and tossed with, say, arugula and pomegranates, for a delightful winter salad. Pair it with sliced avocado, sliced pears and a mound of Dungeness crab, roasted turkey or roasted chicken for a light lunch. It is delicious with lamb, especially rare lamb chops. This persimmon is available dried, in thin crosswise slices.
The Hachiya is elongated and nearly heart-shaped, with broad shoulders narrowing to a pointed tip. When fully ripe, it’s skin is very thin and its pulp very soft; eat it before this point and it makes you pucker from its strong astringency. It is the persimmon typically used in persimmon cookies, cakes and puddings.
Before they are ripe, Hachiya persimmons are used to make hoshigakis, in which the persimmon is peeled and dried whole in the open, a process that takes several weeks and results in a delicious, chewy dried fruit. If you are vigilant and rigorous in your attention - each persimmon must be gently massaged daily - you will be rewarded with a delicious morsel covered in white, sugary crystals.
If you already love persimmons, look at your local farmers markets for some of the less common varieties, the deeply-colored Chocolate Persimmon, for example, and one with a taste of coffee and cinnamon known as the Coffeecake Persimmon.
Persimmons ripen when we most need them, after trees have dropped their leaves and days have turned a monotone gray. They are an underrated fruit, used at least as often as table decoration as for food, but they are delicious. Here is a yummy way to use the Hachiya persimmon, the one many people find daunting because of its texture when fully ripe.
Broiled Persimmons with Kiwi and Pomegranates
4 ripe Hachiya persimmons
? cup, packed, dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons butter, chilled and very thinly sliced
8 firm-ripe kiwi, peeled and chilled
4 tablespoons créme fraiche, chilled
¾ cup (from 1 large) pomegranate arils
4 thin lime wedges
Set the broiler rack at least 3 inches from the flame or heating coil and preheat the broiler of your oven. Cut each persimmon in half lengthwise. Set the persimmon halves on a baking sheet and sprinkle brown sugar over each half, covering the entire surface of the fruit. Top each persimmon with a few thin slices of butter. Set the persimmons under the broiler and cook until the butter and sugar have melted and begun to sizzle.
Cut the kiwi into 1/4-inch thick crosswise slices and scatter on individual plates.
Remove the persimmons from the oven and set 2 halves on each plate. Stir the créme fraiche to loosen it, and drizzle some over each portion. Scatter pomegranate arils on top, garnish each portion with a lime wedge, and serve right way.
Hachiya persimmons make beautiful vinegar, perfect for gifts and for your own pantry. Begin with a vinegar you like and it’s a foolproof process; making vinegar from scratch, while a rewarding project, is a bit more challenging.
Makes 1 to 2 quarts
6 to 12 dead-ripe Hachiya persimmons
1 to 2 quarts unseasoned rice wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Cut the persimmons in half and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh. Place the flesh in a large bowl and use a fork to mash it. Place the flesh in a large glass jar or crock and pour the vinegar over it, using 1 quart for 6 persimmons. Stir well, cover and set in a cool dark cupboard for a week.
Strain the vinegar through several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, pour into clean bottles and close with corks. Use within three months.
Of all the recipes the late Marion Cunningham shared with the world, this one is my all-time favorite; it is from “The Breakfast Book” (Knopf, 1987). If I’m asked to contribute dessert to a holiday dinner, this is almost always what I bring. This pudding is closer to what Americans think of as cake; it has a cake-like texture, not the smooth creamy texture we associate with, say, butterscotch pudding. I use brandy instead of the rum Cunningham recommends, and occasionally I’ve used Southern Comfort, too. It’s the only change I make in the original recipe, which is one of the best desserts I have ever come across. If you like, serve the pudding with freshly whipped cream (unsweetened) or whipped creme fraiche.
Marion Cunningham’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding
1 cup pureed Hachiya persimmons (from 3 to 4 persimmons)
2 teaspoons baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons brandy
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup broken walnuts
1 cup raisins
Fill a kettle that is large enough to hold a 2-quart pudding mold with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Let the water come to a boil over medium heat while you are mixing the pudding batter. The mold must have a lid or be snugly covered with foil while steaming.(A coffee can with a plastic lid works well). Also, there must be a rack or Mason jar ring on the bottom under the mold in the kettle to allow the water to circulate freely while the pudding is steaming. Grease the mold.
Put the persimmon puree in a small bowl and stir in the baking soda. Set aside while mixing the other ingredients. (The persimmon mixture will become quite stiff.)
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, lemon juice, and brandy, and beat well. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt, and stir to blend. Add the persimmon mixture. Beat until well mixed. Stir in the nuts and raisins.
Spoon the batter into the mold, cover and steam for two hours. Remove from the kettle, and let rest for 5 minutes. Turn onto a rack to cool, or cool just a little and serve warm.
Michele Anna Jordan has written 18 books to date, including the new “More Than Meatballs.” Email Jordan at email@example.com. You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.