Seeing as this is Christmas week, I decided to do something festive. Bright orange persimmons have always caught my eye at our regular grocery store, but I have never bought or even tasted one before. Since my time is limited around the holidays, I decided to forgo the long drive to Assi and just pick up these little gems at the Giant next to my house.
Persimmons originated in China, were brought to the US in the 1880s and are now grown in California. The Hachiya variety is the most highly available; they are the size of a small apple and shaped like an acorn. Persimmons are high in vitamin A and C, and must be ripe -- they will feel like a water balloon -- before eating to mellow the tannins. Tannins dry your mouth out, which is a pleasant experience with a good red wine. Eat an unripe persimmon, however, and you will feel like you have a mouth full of chalky antacids. The flavor is good, tropical and reminiscent of papaya with the consistency of a juicy ripe mango. Persimmons are at their peak in October, but are available September through December and often make an appearance on Thanksgiving tables. You can eat them raw in a salad with apples, or you can puree them and bake them into bread, cookies, or a pudding.
Mitchell, Indiana has an Persimmon Pudding Contest as part of their annual Persimmon Festival, complete with accompanying pageants, balls, historic walks, and farm equipment show. While I dare not compete with the good people of Mitchell, who have been making this dish contest-worthy for the last 74 years, I did attempt my own persimmon pudding.
For the past five years at work our traditional British Christmas dinner has ended with a flaming plum pudding. Plum pudding is a misnomer to our American minds, though, as it is neither a pudding, nor does it contain plums. It is actually a spiced raisin cake. In the days of yore, however, any dessert in England was called a pudding, and they called raisins "plums." I know I sound like Grandpa Simpson, ["I needed a new heel for my shoe so I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time"] but that is why it is called plum pudding. A persimmon pudding is the same idea as a plum pudding -- not really a pudding at all -- but it is baked rather than steamed.
The recipe I found called for the pulp of 4 persimmons (2 cups), 3 cups of milk, 2 cups of AP flour, 2 cups sugar, 2 eggs, a dash of cinnamon, and 1 tsp each of baking soda, baking powder, and vanilla. Mix all together and bake in a 13 x 9 pan at 350 degrees for 70 minutes. The result is a gooey cake with the consistency of pecan pie that tastes good but nothing like persimmons. I expected it to taste like them the way banana bread tastes like bananas, but it is more like zucchini bread where the other ingredients overpower the flavor of the namesake.
Hardly a first prize winner, as surely the bakers in Indiana would attest, but I'll bring it to our Christmas festivities and top it with whipped cream. Next time I think I'll add nuts to give it a little texture. It is always nice to do a little baking around the holidays, and the 70 minutes in the oven sure made the house smell good!