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Persimmon Perspectives: Featured Produce

 farmerspers2You see them in beautiful sunset colored mounds at farmers’ markets. On the tree, they are a burst of Halloween and Christmas all at once. Giant, brilliant orange globes that the ancient Greeks called “divine fruit.” Diospyros. Kaki. Persimmons.

In Italy, during the season, you can get a perfect persimmon at restaurants to end your meal. (I’ve often wondered why more restaurants in California don’t offer fresh fruit for dessert — it’s quite common in other countries.) The waiter will remove the calyx and quarter the fruit at your table.

The crunchy Fuyu-type persimmons are a common fall fruit in Japan and if you visit someone’s house during the season, chances are, you will be served fresh persimmons, peeled and quartered on a beautiful small plate with a rustic, rough-hewn toothpick.

plate1I never liked them. Beautiful, yes. Packed full of health benefits, yes. But their flavor never appealed to me…until I tried a Central Coast persimmon!

Fully ripe, the soft, jelly-like fruit is not only deliciously sweet, but almost tropical in flavor, with a lovely floral note. Who knew persimmons could be this tasty!

The persimmon has long been regarded as a medicinal tree in Asia. The calyx of the fruit is used as a hiccup remedy, as well as a cough suppressant. The leaf, with tons of vitamin C, K and B, as well as minerals and flavanoids, is a favorite ingredient in Oriental medicine. Herbalists gather leaves in May and June to make a tea to strengthen the circulatory system and act as a general tonic. In the old days, they used to wrap food items like sushi in the leaves because of its disinfectant properties.

The fruit contains high amounts of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which neutralize free radicals, and phytochemicals like catechin and betulinic acid which is being used in anti-cancer research. That means it’s a great preventative for things like aging, cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration.

If you doubt that the persimmon is a miracle food, just do a quick search on the ‘net and you will find even more benefits:

– Weight loss. The fiber rich fruit also reduces the craving for sugar and processed foods!

– Healthy eyes. The antioxidant vitamins and the phytonutrient zeaxanthin prevent retinal damage.

– Better digestive system. Yup, back to all that fiber.

– Prevention of DNA damage. If you are worried about all that radioactive contamination from Fukushima, eat more persimmons!

– Younger skin. Keep those free radicals at bay and protect yourself from aging.

– Boost immunity. The nutrients will protect you from common winter ailments like colds, flu and infections.

– Cleaner colon. It’s a great detoxifier!

persimmons2

No wonder the Japanese had sayings like “When the persimmons turn red, doctors turn blue.”

In the U.S., they appear in a bit of historical trivia from the Civil War. Some regiments were nicknamed “Persimmon Regiment” because they would stop to consume persimmons. The 35th Ohio Infantry lost 15 of their soldiers to the Confederate Army when they chose to pick persimmons rather than fight the Rebels. Meanwhile, the 100th Indiana Regiment had to live on persimmons when it was cut off from its food supply. Thanks perhaps to persimmon power, the soldiers showed such determination on the battlefield that their nickname became a source of pride.

Central Coast persimmons are terrific just as they are but the non-astringent types (like Fuyu) are great in salads, too.  If you have too many, you can try air-drying them like the Japanese and Chinese do. Peel them when they are still firm, string them up so that air circulates between the fruit.

They are many recipes for persimmons in baked goods – bread, cookies, pudding – but here’s one for an easy persimmon pudding that everyone seems to like. It has quite a lot of sugar but it caramelizes during the baking and that seems to cut down the sweetness a bit. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe depending on the sugar content of your fruit.

Buon appetito!

 

plate3Persimmon Pudding

Ingredients

* 2 cups persimmon pulp

* 1-2 cups white sugar

* 2 eggs, beaten

* 1 teaspoon baking soda

* 1 cup all-purpose flour

* 1 pinch salt

* 1 teaspoon baking powder

* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

* 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

* 1/4 cup heavy cream

* 1 tablespoon honey

* 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil or butter a 9×13 inch baking pan.

Mix the persimmon pulp with the 1 to 2 cups sugar in a large bowl. (The original recipe calls for 2 cups but that was way too much for our super sweet persimmons.)

Whisk together the eggs and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add the egg mixture to the persimmon mixture and beat well.

Whisk together the 1 cup flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir 1/4 of the flour mixture to the persimmon mixture. Add 1/4 of the buttermilk and mix well. Continue alternating flour and buttermilk, adding 1/4 each time, and mixing well after each addition.

Stir in cream, honey, and melted butter until well combined. Pour the pudding batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until set, about 1 hour. While baking, do not stir; Turn off the oven at the end of the baking time, but do not remove the pudding from the oven. Leave it to cool in the oven for another 20 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

In the original recipe, they had something called “the sauce” which you poured onto the pudding after it had baked for an hour. I feel like the pudding is already so moist, it doesn’t need this extra step, but if you’d like to try it, here it is:

Ingredients

* 1 cup water

* 1/2 cup white sugar

* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

* 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Boil the water in a small saucepan. Whisk 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon flour together, and whisk sugar mixture into the boiling water, whisking until smooth. Boil the sauce for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

After turning the oven off, pour the sauce mixture evenly over the pudding, and leave the pudding to cool in the warm oven for 20 more minutes.

–Written by Carole Hisasue, photographer and food writer