Last month, I bought the most beautiful Hachiya persimmon at H-Mart, the magical Asian grocery store in Burlington. I let it ripen on the counter for more than a week, because an unripe persimmon is absolutely dreadful, astringent and foul. I ate it greedily by myself, skin and all, devouring it like a piece of candy. It was delicious.
It was such a wonderful persimmon that I devised a salad with Fuyu persimmons — the spherical, squat kind, that need to be peeled and sliced up like an apple — escarole, hazelnuts, feta and a shallot lemon vinaigrette. I set the persimmons on the counter to ripen, and told Rich about my exciting salad.
“I won’t eat that,” he said firmly. “They look like unripe tomatoes.”
That Friday, I called my parents as I do every week to wish them a Good Shabbos. My mom picked up. “How was your week?” I asked her.
“Well, let’s see. I had book club on Tuesday, lunch with Bette on Thursday. Oh, and I had the most scrumptious persimmon.”
Now, to some, this might sound a bit strange, but it was completely normal to me. My sister and I have been known to call each other mid-bite about a perfect plum.
I sighed. “Mom. There’s a persimmon situation.”
“A persimmon situation?”
“Yes. Rich won’t eat persimmons.”
“I don’t understand,” she replied, confused. “Why won’t he eat a persimmon? They’re delicious, wonderful, luscious bites of sunshine during this season. You know, when your grandparents were in France, their farm was covered in persimmon trees.”
(I should explain: My grandparents, German Jews, spent the war hiding in Provence. As a result, my grandmother’s cooking was more French countryside than shetl, a trait passed down to my mother, and on to me and my sister. From what I understand, there were many, many, many sweet potatoes. And persimmons.)
“Don’t worry Mom,” I assured her. “The persimmon situation is under control.”
My plan was simple: Add sugar, eggs and dairy, and make it so unbelievably delicious that one would have to be a fool not to devour it. My plan worked — perhaps a little too well. Rich ate about eight servings of persimmon pudding; I had two. Every night for a week, he would settle in with his serving of persimmon pudding, reheated for about 30 seconds in the microwave, and whisper “Mmm, persimmon pudding.”
The persimmon situation really got me thinking. Some people shun a strange fruit or vegetable or unusual cut of meat, just because it’s unfamiliar. If you see a strange vegetable or foreign piece of fruit, give it a shot. I guarantee there are directions on how to clean it and prepare it on the Internet somewhere. It never hurts to try something new.
The recipe I have here is from Deborah Madison’s The Vegetarian Table: America. It calls for a food mill, but you can accomplish the same thing with a blender. That said, my mom always remarks that she used a food mill constantly when I was a baby. Whatever they ate, I ate, persimmons included. There were no grown-up foods and kids’ foods, just food. I’m a better eater, and cook, as a result.
As Madison writes: The large acorn-shaped Hachiya persimmon are ideal for this dessert. They should be dead ripe, the consistency of jam. If you’re planning to make this for a specific day, buy your persimmons a week or even two ahead of time to allow for ripening. Persimmon pulp can also be frozen until needed. The pudding is especially wonderful when served with cold cream poured from a pitcher, or with softly whipped and sweetened cream.
3 or 4 soft, ripe Hachiya persimmons
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2-to 3-quart baking dish or souffle dish.
Using your hands, break up the persimmons then pass them through a food mill, skins and all. If you don’t have a food mill, squeeze the pulp out of the skins, remove the seeds, and then puree the pulp in a blender. There should be 2 cups.
In a bowl, mix the pulp with the brown sugar, eggs, milk, baking soda, melted butter and vanilla. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the persimmon mixture to make a smooth batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until well-browned and set, about 1 hour. The pudding should be firm to the touch but still a bit wobbly in the center. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly (the pudding will fall as it cools). Serve warm.