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Persimmons

November 23, 2010

With winter almost upon us there aren’t many local seasonal fruits you can use on your Thanksgiving  menu, or for that matter the days after. Fortunately persimmons are now at their peak and the markets are full of them.

Although they are not quite as popular as Meyer lemons you occasionally see trees in backyards around the Bay Area.  A persimmon tree with full grown persimmons is a strange site. A big storm can remove all the leaves and the orange fruit hang like ornaments among the bare branches. It looks as if someone hung each individual fruit by hand to make the tree look less barren.

The name persimmon comes from the Algonquin Indians who lived on the East Coast of the United States and Canada.  California has a good growing climate for persimmons but top world producers are China, Korea, and Japan.

The two most common varieties you see at farmers markets and in grocery stores are Fuyus and Hachiyas. Fuyus are squat and look like a slightly flattened tomato. The acorn shaped ones are Hachiyas.

Fuyus can be eaten firm or soft. On menus you often see them thinly sliced in salads.  I like to combine them with Little Gems, pecans and either a hard cheese like Manchego or a soft blue cheese. This combination is delicious.

Persimmons are eaten dried too. The Japanese have a traditional method for drying persimmons that dates back hundreds of years. For an interesting article about a family in the Gold Country who makes hoshigaki, Japanese for dried persimmons, go to: http://californiacountry.org/features/article.aspx?arID=282.

You have to ripen Hachiya persimmons before you can use them, which can take several days on the counter top. My trick is to put them in the freezer overnight and then defrost them on the counter. Freezing them helps break down the fruit and you have almost instant ripe persimmons. Once they come to room temperature they are soft and ready to use.

Some people like to eat ripe Hachiyas like an apple. Narsai David once told me they were one of his favorite fruits. Since they are full of Vitamin A and C, I tried to eat them straight but just couldn’t do it. Even when soft the tannins make them too astringent and bitter for my taste buds.

But for baking Hachiyas are great. My favorite dessert with persimmons is persimmon pudding. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce it’s a crowd pleaser.

Here’s my recipe.

Persimmon Pudding

Serves 8

About 5 ripe Hachiya persimmons

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups of half and half (or 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Remove the stems from the persimmons and cut the flesh into pieces. Purée the persimmon flesh in a food processor until smooth. Strain the purée through a medium-mesh sieve to eliminate any bits of skin and seed. You should have 2 cups purée.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until blended. Whisk in the melted butter.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add the salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, stirring until combined. Stir in the persimmon purée.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The pudding will sink as it cools.

Serve the pudding warm, scooped into bowls with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

It can be reheat it in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes.

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