Fresh U.S.-grown persimmons appear in markets around Hallowe’en and disappear by late – December. It’s a time for rejoicing in the Leposky household. My husband will eat every persimmon I can find.
When I stop to select persimmons in a grocery store or farmer’s market, someone almost always asks how I use them and what I know about this strange fruit.
The origin of persimmons is diverse. One species (Diospyros virginiana) is native to North America; another (Diospyros kaki) is Asian.
The native persimmon is small and tangerine-shaped. It grows in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, north and east to Appalachia, and as far south as Florida.
Asian persimmons (kaki or Sharon fruit) are commercial and backyard fruit trees in California. Several years ago, when we were visiting a California friend, my husband was delighted to be offered a backyard-grown persimmon ripening in a friend’s kitchen window. Two varieties of Asian persimmons grow in California:
• The larger, pointed Hachiya (Japanese persimmon). When ripe, it is soft, creamy, and tangy-sweet.
• The smaller, flatter, tomato-shaped Fuyu. When ripe, it is firm, with no tangy aftertaste.
Darcy Williamson and Lisa Railsback in Cooking with Spirit: North American Indian Food and Fact (Maverick Publications, 1987), advise: “Collect the fruit (persimmons) in fall or winter. When fruit is very soft it is ready to eat.
“Persimmons grow on small forest trees. The fruit ripens after the leaves have fallen, but do not attain their full sweetness until after frost.”
The Web site for Rhodes Family Farms, a California persimmon grower, has over twenty persimmon recipes.
In our household, one of the favorite ways to use persimmons comes from a small book by Frances Wheeler.
Two persimmon recipes are in Indian Cookin (Nowega Press, 1973) by Frances Wheeler. Her grandson, David Crawford, former publisher of the Cherokee Post in Cherokee County, Alabama, told me how the book came to be written:
“In 1970, my maternal grandmother, Frances Wheeler, who is one-sixth Cherokee, stopped at Eagles Nest Gift Shop in Cherokee, Tennessee, to buy souvenirs. Grandmother asked the clerk about a Cherokee cookbook. The clerk brought my mother slips of paper collected by a deceased Cherokee lady. My grandmother decided to finish the project.”
Mrs. Wheeler’s persimmon pudding recipe makes a welcome addition to anyone’s Thanksgiving table and is one of my family’s holiday favorites.
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 pound butter
2 cups sifted flour
2 cups sugar (This amount can be reduced to taste.)
2 cups persimmons pulp
Through a colander sitting over a bowl, press enough persimmons to make two cups of fruit pulp. Into another bowl, crack and beat the eggs. Beat the eggs with a whisk or hand mixer. Add the milk, sugar, and melted butter. Whisk in the flour, and stir in the persimmons. Mix well. Butter and flour the inside of a 9-by-12-inch baking dish, and pour the batter into it. Bake at 400 degrees F. until the top browns evenly.
NOTE: This temperature may be a little high for modern ovens. As is typical of many older recipes, no baking time is recommended. Experiment with your oven and keep an eye on the pudding as it bakes to find the right temperature and cooking time.
NOTE: Recipe can also be made with honey. Carefully sweeten to taste and thicken with extra sifted flour as needed.