9/29/2011 12:52 PM
"Possum up a 'simmon tree
Raccoon on the ground
Possum says you son of a gun
Lay my 'simmons down."
The favored fruit of my, and many, Kentuckiana childhoods, the native persimmon or possumwood (D.virginiana) is so personal and magical I hesitate to share it’s mysteries. It belongs to the genus Diospyros, or "fruit of the gods”, but I confess I still believe it belongs largely to me, my sister, and our grandmother, and to those frosty, October mornings of memory. As sweet, luscious, and spicy as it is when fallen ripe from the tree, it is as equally odious, astringent, and mouth puckering if picked or eaten green, or at any point before it’s totally ripe. Captain John Smith wrote, "Plumbs there be of three sorts. The red and white like our hedge plumbs. But the other which the Indians call Putchamins, grow high as a palmetto. The fruit is like a medlar, it is first green, then yellow and red when ripe. If it not be ripe it will draw a man's mouth awire with much torment. But when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot."
The native persimmon has been around longer than almost any fruit in North America. Appreciated by the Indians and the first European settlers, the best varieties grow in the east and Midwest, north to zone 5 where hardwoods thrive and temperatures can plummet to -20°. The small, 1-2 inch fruits with large, flat seeds, are more flavorful and desirable than the larger Asian persimmon (D.kaki), but have their difficulties—or virtues, depending on how much you covet them for yourself. The American persimmon is slow to mature and bear fruit, has a long tap root which makes transplanting difficult, and a fruit so soft when ripe that it’s not easily harvested or transported commercially. If the fruits escape the nightly harvest by raccoons, deer, possums, they usually burst with a splat when they fall and have to be peeled from the leaves, and gently placed in a box lined with newspaper.
Our farm, we’ve been told was once a commercial persimmon operation, and there are still many mysterious varieties here, those that fall before the frost, after the frost, are larger, smaller, sweeter. etc. That’s about as technical as it got for me, so I was amazed to discover that the varieties have names like Meader, Early Golden, Garretson, John Rick. And I was equally amazed to discover that there’s a whole persimmon culture all around me: a persimmon festival every year in September in Mitchell, Indiana (www.Mitchell-Indiana.org/persimmon.htm); orchards that cultivate them (www.claypoolpersimmonfarm.com); organizations like North American Fruit Explorers or NAFEX (www.nafex.org), and the Indiana Nut Growers Association (www.nutgrowers.org) that have culture information and detailed lists of crosses and cultivars. There are recipe books for persimmon cookies, ice cream, cake, pies, and fudge. But personally, there’s only 2 things I want to do with a persimmon-- eat it fresh off the ground as I pick, or pulp it for persimmon pudding, the true ‘food of the gods’. This pudding was always the hands-down, childhood winner when my sister and I played the “what-is-the-one-food-you-would-take-to-a-desert-island?” game. Our grandmother’s version, redolent with persimmon pulp, eggs, brown sugar, and butter was wonderful warm with her bourbon sauce and Cream Chantilly—but equally memorable cold for breakfast. The pudding process began with the picking, early in the morning before the day warmed and the “sweat” bees arrived for their share of the fruit. If the farm dogs came along, and they usually did, we had to pick fast, as they loved them too. If we picked more than one layer of fruit, the bottom layer was always squashed. None of that mattered much because the fruit was to be pureed anyway. Once collected, the real work, the slow and messy pulping process began. After all the kitchen counters were covered with newspaper, handfuls of persimmons were added to the in a funnel shaped sieve to catch the seeds, and slowly worked with a wooden pestle until all that was left was a handful of flat, black seeds with a bit of fruit. I still prefer this method to a metal food mill which tends to break up the bitter seeds. As the pulp oozed out of the sieve and the mound of mushy seeds piled up for the chickens, our enthusiasm for the pudding grew as heavy as our tired arms. This was work! There was always a quart or so needed immediately and then several more to be frozen for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and, for my sister and I, every week in between. While some versions of persimmon pudding are cake-like and some very soggy, my grandmother’s has always seemed the perfect compromise of butter, eggs, spices and a lot of persimmon pulp. Just moist enough to be cut in squares and picked up but never solid enough to be aware that one ingredient is flour. The raw fruit is in itself somewhat spicy although it’s difficult to define what the spice is—perhaps a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon in the profile—so it lends itself to the spices of fall.
Flora Persimmon Pudding
This was my grandmother's recipe and makes one 8x8 square pan of pudding. For our family, I usually double the recipe & use a little more persimmon pulp. I like for it to sit for a day & eat the next day with warm sauce
1 oz butter (my grandmother's recipe said "butter the size of an egg")
1c. persimmon pulp (a little more)
1c. brown sugar (packed)
1t. baking powder
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 t. ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in baking pan & put in oven to melt. Put persimmon pulp in mixing bowl & add sugar, beating thoroughly to remove lumps. Beat in 2 eggs. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, soda & spices. Add to pulp mixture alternating with milk, mixing thoroughly. Add melted butter & mix again.
This is all a guess since I do it by look & feel but this will be close.
1c. packed brown sugar
1/3c. soft butter
1 T. vanilla
Mix the brown sugar & flour in a saucepan & with back of a wooden spoon or with hands, mix in the butter. Should be a solid mass. Over low heat, add boiling water stirring constantly until the thickness you like. If it becomes too thin can simmer a little longer. If too thick add more water. Simmer at least 5 minutes to get rid of the flour taste & stir in the vanilla. Serve warm over the pudding & top with whipped cream. Can also add a few tablespoons bourbon to the sauce.
While the fresh pulp is certainly the most desireable, the frozen is also good if done correctly. The pulp should be a lovely bright orange, but the tannins in the skin will turn it dark unless it’s protected from the air. Several tablespoons of melted butter over the pulp in the container will help to solve this and seal off the cool fruit. It should be used in several months after freezing. There are sources for this pulp, but none are available in quantity and are without mixed reviews as to quality. The best way to have it is still to find a tree or to grow one.
2 comment(s) so far...
By Robert Dickinson on
2/4/2013 1:47 PM
This morning I purchased six pints of pulp from a local grower. I had used my last two pints of frozen pulp a few weeks ago. I made your Flora's pudding x4 for an after the wedding brunch for my sisters son. Dark and lovely and just sweet enough. It gets even better the second or third day. Another sister was helping and recalled how she and her husband had made persimmon pudding thirty some years ago. Thanks so much for sharing, Rob
By Gail on
2/4/2013 1:48 PM
Re: “Fruit of the Gods”; the American Persimmon (Pudding)
I'm so glad that I found this recipe, It's wonderful, and I am making it an Autumn tradition.
Thanks so much for posting.