oh, the burden
Posted on November 5, 2011
“The orchards were loaded with fruit, and the forest trees showered nuts upon the ground. In every field were groups of persimmon trees, their branches bending under a burden of luscious fruit, which the frost had coated with sheeny purple outside, and made sweeter than fine wine within. Over all bent softly brilliant skies, and the bland, bracing air was charged with the electricity of life and happiness.” – John McElroy, The Red Acorn: A Romance of the War, 1883.
There really is something magical about a fruit this luscious and sweet ripening in the cold season. Persimmons are a food many of you may have seen at high-end markets in places like California, or in recipes on fancy gourmet blogs. These are not the persimmons McElroy speaks of above, but rather the hachiya persimmon, an acorn shaped red fruit that must be so ripe it is like a skin full of liquid pulp when eaten, or else it is bitter. And this is where this post begins to cater to food/ botany poindexters like myself…
They have a flavor that is part honey, part date, part apple, part pumpkin. They grow wild across the south and even in New England and into parts of the Midwest. They were an important food of Native Americans, particularly given their abundance from early fall well into winter, after the harvest season for most other staples had ended. They are, in fact, the largest true berry produced by a tree native to the U.S.
The name is from the Algonquin language family that has many versions recorded by Europeans– pasiminan, pessamin, putchamin. The suffix -men means fruit, while pos/pes- has a few meanings speculated– the most common being “choke” as in chokefruit. This is attributed to the unpleasantness of eating the fruit before it has turned orange, although I am beginning to think it may have to do with overeating it, since it is so sweet and delicious.
In some places, like Indiana, there are persimmon festivals, where people compete with pudding recipes. The fruit is still found wild and foraged in the south. In Mexico and Texas we have some wild varieties known as Mexican or Texana persimmons, which are small and black. Many varieties are also cultivated here, including a Japanese variety known as Fuyu, which can be eaten while firm like an apple.
I learned much of this from a website called, believe it or not, www.persimmonpudding.com. In addition to recipes dating back to the 1850’s, they seem to be devoted to the American Persimmon with the same fervor that teenagers are to facebook. (Wait– did facebook get deleted?!!)
I tried a couple fancy pants persimmon muffin and bread recipes from some trendy blogs and cookbooks, but was pretty disappointed. These did not come from the folksy persimmon pudding website. So, after browsing some dozen or so pudding recipes on there, I noticed that the ones from the 20th century appeared to have double the sugar content of those that dated back to the 1800’s. Why on earth you would put equal amounts of sugar and persimmon in something is beyond me– the fruit is like candy afterall! I was going to make the recipe with the least ingredients and NO DIRECTIONS from 1896, but alas it appeared to be a very large yield, and I did not want more pudding than my 9×13 baking dish could handle. So I chose a recipe with only one cup of sugar, not too much flour, and a good balance of other things.
Pudding, back in the day (oh, circa 1812), was not what we generally think of today as pudding– it was more like a very gooey cake. Something that holds it shape, but doesnt crumble, and is eaten with a spoon. Some of these recipes are more firm, like a brownie, but I chose this one because it had less flour, and more milk and eggs, so I knew it would be very gooey. And of course it has lots of persimmon. I loved the result– but I think I will try it with even less sugar. It came out very rich and sweet– this is definitely a holiday dessert for special occasions–on par with pecan pie. I added two handfuls of pecans, which gave it great texture and, since it is so sweet, they were a welcome addition.
This pudding should be served with whipped cream (even though I dont show it so). Still hot from the oven is best.
Inspired by a recipe by Bob Kelly of Aberdeen, Mississippi.
2 cups persimmon puree (see instructions)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 and 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup pecan pieces
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking pan (I used ceramic or glass). Peel and remove the seeds from about 2 pounds of ripe persimmons. Pulse in a food processor until smooth, if necessary.
Combine the wet ingredients and sugar with the pulp with a whisk. Combine dry ingredients by whisking or sifting. Add dry to the wet and mix well (batter will be a little lumpy and very runny). Add pecans. Pour into the baking dish and bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm with whipped cream (lightly sweetened). This freezes well, and can be thawed in the refrigerator and then reheated in the oven.