Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oh, Fuyu...Persimmons, that is!

I grew up in a Southern California track home neighborhood that bordered what we would now call semi-rural development- larger parcels of land, zoned for horses, chickens and other "farm animals". Back in the day, we called this area The Heights, as in La Habra Heights. Citrus trees abounded - this is in Northern Orange County after all - as did avocados trees.  As kids, my siblings, friends and I considered the Heights our backyard, spending entire afternoons running through the orchards or navigating the banks of the Hacienda Creek. It was the Creek that provided the most fun, and it was the Creek with a capital C. Its course would change each year depending on how much rain we'd had the previous winter. Whole new islands and inlets would be created on which we'd pitch a make-shift camp as our base of operations. We'd role play as orphans, left in the Creek by ne'er-do-well parents to fend for ourselves on crayfish (never caught one, though they were reputed to live in the Big Six Foot Deep Pond) and what we could pilfer from friendly neighbors' (our real parents') pantries. My friend Keri and I actually convinced some children, not from our neighborhood but traversing the Creek one day, that we were orphans and they brought us candy for 2 days! OK, maybe I'm only imagining that that happened, but it just goes to show what fun we had playing in the Creek.

One other thing the Creek had, in addition to crawdads and faux-orphans, were persimmon trees,
a whole orchard of them. I'm not sure to whom they belonged but they never seemed to get harvested. Every fall our neighbor Cora would wander down to the creek side orchard and pluck enough fruit to make persimmon cookies.

My family were among the lucky recipients of these cookies. They were puffy, doughy and ample enough to give a youngster a nice enough sugar high, but in all honesty, they didn't taste very good. I don't know if it was Cora's recipe, her baking ability or that persimmons just didn't taste very good. I loved the cookies because I loved Cora, but I didn't really love the cookies - do you get my point? I gave up on persimmons after that.

Like many foods I've grown to love as an adult - figs, and oysters among them - persimmons now whet my appetite come Autumn. The Hachiya is the soft-skinned fruit, astringent varietal. This is the fruit that Cora picked to make her cookies. They need to be totally soft and ripened to be used in any culinary enterprise. Maybe because I didn't love Cora's persimmon cookies, I've avoided the fruit all together for lo' these many years. But...

...I discovered the Fuyu varietal and I rediscovered persimmons!

Squat, taunt, and a stunning orange, the Fuyu is eaten easily out of hand and provides crispness and a somewhat herbal flavor to salads and fruit platters. I love adding them as a surprise. Are they apples, oranges? What is this mystery fruit? I then discovered a beguiling appetizer - Goat Cheese Persimmon Wedges...

Goat Cheese Persimmon Wedges
photo by Kameron Flores-Maxfield
This appetizer is so easy, so colorful, so flavorful, it makes me wish that persimmons 
were available year round. But if persimmons were available year round,  I'd miss all the anticipation I have for autumn, when persimmons make this time of year so special.

    • 1/2 cup salted roasted almonds, very finely chopped
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
    • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
    • 4 Fuyu persimmons, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
    • Aged balsamic vinegar, for serving


    1. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of the almonds and the parsley with the goat cheese. Divide the mixture into 6 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out 12 rounds from the persimmon slices.
    2. Sandwich each goat cheese ball between 2 persimmon slices, pressing to flatten slightly. Roll the edges in the remaining almonds and refrigerate until firm, at least 10 minutes or overnight. Cut each round into quarters and transfer to a plate. Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and serve.

And why do I now love Hachiya persimmons? Because of my friend Lois' Persimmon Pudding. I may not eat Hachiya's any other way.

I joined a book group in 1994. We were a gathering of women with young children and I was one of the members with the youngest kids. I learned from my sisters with older children and I grew up as a mother, and as a person,  with this amazing group of women. We have not only shared our opinions about books - and boy, have we read the best of them over these nearly 20 years and have had some pretty intense discussions - but we have share triumphs, disappointments, and more importantly, the every day stuff that is life. Lois' Persimmon Pudding is always the dessert at our December gathering.

Lois Ballentine's  Persimmon Pudding 

1 cup sugar
1cup flour
1 cup persimmon pulp
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (or ½ tsp vanilla and 1 tablespoon rum)
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients.  Add rest.  Stir well.  After filling, cover mold tightly with foil and put in top of double boiler. Add lid and steam on top of stove for two hours.

 For a double recipe I like to pour the pudding batter into a metal bowl that has been put into the basket of my pasta cooker (with and inch or two of water in the bottom of the pot).  I cover the bowl with aluminum foil and then put a lid on the pot.

I have tried a variety of sauces.  Whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with vanilla is the simplest and is well liked.

Lois, thank you!

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