Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Sweet and Exotic Persimmon

Growing up, we had a small persimmon tree in our garden that never got very much attention, although it didn't seem to need it. We never ate them - I guess we didn't know how, but it makes me smile to remember our miniature dachshund jump into the tree, grab one of the unripe persimmons with its teeth, and shake until it came loose. Although for us humans, Carla Emery points out: "Persimmons are memorably puckering - just like a walnut hull, until they ripen; don't even try it"

Persimmons make excellent additions to gardens, as they are virtually disease-free in the United States. They thrive best where there is generous sunlight, but can make it in even the poorest soil. They are quite drought-resistant as well; some can get by being watered just once a month. Once persimmons ripen, they become incredibly soft and "make a sudden, miraculous transformation, and become - and one of the most delicious - of all fruits."

If you're thinking about planting a persimmon tree, or have one in your garden already and are wondering what to do with the fruit, here are a few helpful tips and recipes:

Ripening Persimmons in a Hurry

Put them in a plastic bag together with a few ripe apples. Close the bag so that it is airtight. Leave at room temperature for as long as 4 days. The apples release a gas that has a ripening effect on the persimmons.

Using and Preserving

Low-tannin persimmon varieties can be eaten while still crisp, like an apple. For high-tannin types, wait until the fruit is very soft, then eat it with a spoon; or substitute it in any recipe calling for applesauce or bananas. Persimmons are traditionally eaten either raw, dried, or in a pudding. A dried whole American persimmon resembles a dried fig except there are no seeds inside (if you have a seedless fruit). In modern times, we also freeze them, or even can them.

Persimmon Roll Candy

Start with 2 c. fresh or frozen persimmon puree.

Mix in 1 c. sugar

1⁄2 c. brown sugar

1 lb. smashed graham crackers

1 c. chopped nuts

1⁄2 lb. miniature marshmallows

Lay out a sheet of waxed paper and spoon 1⁄3 of persimmon mixture onto the paper in a roll shape about 3-4 inches wide. Roll it up in the waxed paper, with a sheet of aluminum foil or plastic wrap on top of that, and freeze it. Do the same with the rest of the mixture. To serve, partially thaw a roll, and cut about 8 slices, each of which will be an individual dessert serving.

Canned Persimmon Pudding

Phyllis Bates, Tangier, IN, invented this, and her husband, Allan, learned how to can it. "It's yummy."

For every 2 c. persimmon pulp

add 2 beaten eggs

1 c. of either dark or white sugar

1⁄2 t. double-acting baking powder

1⁄2 t. baking soda

1⁄2 t. salt

1⁄2 c. melted butter

2 c. milk

2 t. cinnamon

1 t. ginger

1⁄2 t. nutmeg or allspice

To eat right away, bake the pudding in a 9-inchsquare greased baking dish, at 325˚F for 1 hour. To can it, fill pint jars only two-thirds full. Can at 15 lb. pressure for 25 minutes.

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