Fresh From the Farm- Katie Malich

Persimmon season is in full swing. My friend Rob is drying hachiya persimmons in his Korea-town backyard. The rows of sensually rounded teardrop fruit strung like Halloween party lights in his back yard looked stunning in the afternoon light. After two to three weeks of air drying, Rob will bring them inside and finish the drying process with several days of heat.

Rob’s Do It Yourself project follows centuries-old traditions in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Soft persimmons can easily bruise or even split open. Dying the fruit before taking it to market was benefited farmers and consumers alike. Farmers didn’t have to worry about spoilage in transit and their consumers could enjoy the sweet and healthy fruit year round.

There are several edible species of persimmons around the world. The word persimmon is derived from the Powhatan (a language of the Algonquian peoples) for dried fruit. The fuyu and hachiya persimmons at the Culver City farmers market are cultivars of the Asian persimmon.

Native persimmons still grow wild along most of the Eastern seaboard, west of the Alleghenies through southern Indiana and Ohio, and south to the Gulf Coast. They have been cultivated by Native Americans since prehistory. Old fashioned persimmon pudding is a family holiday tradition in many areas of the country. The native persimmons are naturally astringent, but left to ripen on the tree, they sweeten as they soften. Here in California, you can substitute ripe hachiyas for the native persimmons. Just remember, in the immortal words of New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, “There is no such thing as an overripe persimmon.” The more gelatinous they become, the more delicious they taste.

This weekend, some friends brought an amazing fuyu persimmon salad to a potluck. Fresh, sweet-tart firm slices of persimmon lightly dressed in yogurt dressing, minced fresh ginger, and a little chopped green onion. It was a definite hit. Someone even stood up in the middle of the event and asked who’d brought it and – of course – asked for their recipe.

It seemed like everyone had a persimmon story to tell. Luckily, no one had personally experienced the shock of eating an unripe hachiya persimmon. Those heart-shaped fruit with pointed ends must be fully ripe – squishy and soft enough that you have to eat them with a spoon – before consuming. The unripened fruit contains a very high level of soluble tannin. A single unhappy encounter with the astringent and bitter taste of unripened hachiya was enough to scare me off from eating this wonderfully sensuous fruit if there’s any hint of firmness. When they’re firm, I leave mine out on the counter. Exposure to light over several days renders them palatable, as does wrapping them in paper. Sometimes you’ll find perfect ripe-enough-to-eat-today hachiyas in cardboard containers at the farmers market. If you see a tray of them, definitely grab it. You haven’t lived if you haven’t eaten a perfectly ripe persimmon.

The smaller, squat fuyus are another story. Their astringency is lower that the hachiya. You can eat them firm, soft, or ripe. Firm, they have the crunch of an apple. You can peel the skin off or keep it on. It’s a matter of individual preference.

Firm, unpeeled fuyus were used in the persimmon salad which was such a hit at the potluck. The small fruits were cut in half from end to end, then sliced into ¼ inch pieces. This is one of those recipes where you can use a generous pinch of this and a dash of that. I’m a big fan of fresh ginger, but one of the other guests found the dish far too spicy for his taste. Best to taste as you go. The firmer persimmons have a wonderful crunch but are a bit more tart.

Grandmavintagerecipes at blogspot.com posted a persimmon pudding recipe with looks simply divine. Don’t forget to top each serving with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Grandma’s Indiana persimmon pudding.

2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup milk

2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup cream

¼ tsp vanilla
½ c melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat together pulp, and sugar until well blended. Combine buttermilk and baking soda. Stir until foaming stops. Blend into pulp mixture. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add to mixture a bit at a time, stirring gently. Combine cream and vanilla. Melt butter in pan. Add the melted butter and the cream/vanilla to the other ingredients, stirring gently to combine well.

Grease a 9×13-inch pan with butter. Pour pudding batter into pan and bake at 325 degrees 45 minutes to one hour. The surface should be dark brown. This is a pudding, not a cake, and it is not supposed to rise. In fact, if it hasn’t fallen, drop the pan once or twice so that it falls.

Katie Malich reminds everyone that this coming Saturday is your last chance to shop at the Culver South Farmers Market before its annual holiday break.

The Tuesday downtown Culver City Farmers Market is held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. The Culver South Farmers Market is held on Saturdays from 730 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the northeast corner of Westfield Culver City at the intersection of Hannum and Slauson Blvds.

 

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