The Pleasure of Persimmons
Wanna get into the spirit of Thanksgiving? Get your hands on a persimmon. The subject of much discussion in this week’s What’s Cooking, the persimmon (diospyros) is that orange-tomatoe-y thing you may have seen recently in the produce aisle. It’s in season right now, and it sticks around for just a month or so, so now’s the time.
Native to China but cultivated in Japan, Asian persimmons arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1800s. The two most commonly grown varieties are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. The Fuyu is round and squat, kind of like a pumpkin, and it can be eaten out of hand like an apple. Some cooks suggest throwing into salads for a little extra fiber and Vitamin C, of which there is plenty in that little morsel.
The Hachiya is more oblong and has a pointy tip. It’s loaded with tannins, which means if you take a bite while the fruit is still immature, you’ll get a nasty astringent mouthful. Wait until she’s super soft, almost liquidy (don’t worry; she’s hardy); it almost feels like a hacky sack in your hand. Its color will also change as it ripens, from that glorious red-orange to red-brown, like an autumn leaf. Only then can you can tuck in, or use in baking.
North America is also home to the persimmon -- the diospyros virginiana, to be exact -- a small, round variety known as the putchamin, an Algonquin Indian word for “dry fruit.”
I love this quote about the persimmon from Captain John Smith, who wrote the “General History of Virginia” in 1624:
If it be not ripe, it will draw a man’s mouth awry, with much torment, but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.
If you grew up in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee or Captain Smith’s Virginia, you might have grown up with a persimmon tree in your backyard. (Share your tree tales in the comments area!)
This is my maiden voyage baking with Hachiya persimmons, and I’m sad that I waited this long. What a fun treat! Raw, it feels like a cross between a mango, apricot and tomato, which I inhaled in about three bites; baked, it eats like pumpkin, which makes for an interesting twist on all those Thanksgiving classics. The recipe below comes from Rick Rogers’s new book, “Autumn Gatherings.”
Grandma Edith’s Persimmon Cookies
From “Autumn Gatherings” by Rick Rogers
2 very soft, ripe Hachiya persimmons
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp (I presume equal amounts of Earth Balance non-dairy spread would work equally well)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Coarsely chop the fruit, discarding the calyxes and any seeds. Puree persimmons in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender. You should have one cup.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Using an electric mixer set at high speed, cream butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture is light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in egg. With mixer on low speed, beat in persimmon puree, then flour mixture. Stir in nuts. (I did everything in the food processor: After pureeing the fruit, I washed and dried food processor bowl and creamed butter and sugar, using the dough blade. When it came time to add dry ingredients, I used the “pulse” function to slowly incorporate flour mixture to avoid overbeating. Nuts were added by hand.)
Using a tablespoon measure for each cookie, drop the dough, two inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake, rotating trays from top to bottom, midway, until edges of cookies are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.
Makes 30-32 cookies.
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