As a somewhat seasoned baker, I can look back on the past five years and say with great certainty that my Achilles heel, my physical albatross, has been pie dough. Many an attempt at pie-making...
Notes on the Persimmon
There has been much excitement this week. Perhaps a little too much, as evidenced by the refrigerator ring-around-the-rosy that has been played out in the past few days. It’s a little nerve-wracking to hear two grown and capable men speculating that the house must have been built around the refrigerator because that is the only manner in which to explain its presence.
Well, a door taken off its hinges allowed the refrigerator to squeak through, as perhaps you might have seen an octopus in a nature documentary do through a small glass tube to escape an aquarium. It would be an unpleasant, though not utterly unthinkable sight to witness our refrigerator escaping our clutches, burdened to desperation by the sheer volume of condiments we keep within its insulated shell. But this post is not about refrigerators.
As I was saying: excitement. The new website design is humming along, and with any luck we may see it before the end of the year. I have also managed, though it was no small feat, to have a load of compost tilled into my garden to ensure the fruitfulness of next season. When you live in a place as remote as we do, accomplishing most anything seems an impressive feat. Small wonder that folks in these parts believe in miracles.
This compost is not to be taken lightly, though. The single most inhibiting factor for this year’s garden was the poor soil. I am now at least confident of some moderate increase in the fertility of the soil, and thus, in my eventual harvest. In anticipation of plenty, I planted some hardneck garlic, which will be ready late next summer.
I am also preparing for the arrival of some clucking companions this weekend. That’s right. Chickens. I have long awaited this day, imagining perfectly curled omelets, lofty soufflés, quiche redolent of garlic, and lovely fried eggs on sourdough toast. Chickens, as most animals, require no small preparation on the part of the receiver, though, and we have endeavored to prepare a predator-proof mobile chicken coop (a “chicken tractor”). This way, we have the benefit of the eggs (and the occasional impudent but tasty rooster), and the chickens have the benefit of fresh grass, insects, and exercise. I’m also hoping that rotating the chickens around the garden will inhibit the growth of the Bermuda grass that threatened my garden all summer, much as Moby Dick threatened the Pequod.
Similarly exciting, however, is the find I made at the local Asian supermarket yesterday. When I was a kid, the persimmons that fell from my grandmother’s tree this time of year were little more than objects of disgust. They were sticky and had a sharp sweet-sour smell that intensified as the season wore on. They stuck to the bottoms of my shoes, and it never occurred to me to eat them, although they figured in some of my earliest cooking “experiments.”
Now, however, I know better. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the nearly vermilion fruits was far greater than my knowledge of how to use them. Upon further study, I learned that the variety I found is called Fuyu. These are squat-shaped, like pincushions, and they are sold firm to the touch. Their ripeness is indicated by how soft they are, and when they are ripe, they will be very, very soft. You may eat fuyus either unripe or ripe. They will be sweeter when ripe, but the crisp, unripe fruits have a delicate honeyed sweetness to them that many find irresistible.
The variety that I remember so vividly from my childhood is a completely different type of persimmon called the American persimmon. These fruits are smaller and very astringent (think about the horrid feeling you get in your mouth when you drink vastly over-steeped tea) and can only be eaten after they are jelly-soft. A science teacher once told me to wait until after the first frost to collect them, and they would be ready to eat or cook with. If you live in the Midwest or the South, you may have stumbled upon a persimmon tree growing wild.
Fuyu persimmons may be eaten skin and seed and all. They have a very mild flavor and are barely sweet when unripe, much sweeter when ripe. American persimmons, when ripe, have a more pronounced and sweet flavor, as if their bitterness were translated directly into sugars. However, unless you know of an American persimmon tree in your area or happen to have one growing in your yard, it is highly unlikely that you will find these in any supermarket. They are much too fragile for extended transport.
Persimmons are fairly common in Japan, and so there is much folklore surrounding the fruit. The mythic origin of the persimmon tree was said to occur when the mere child Yoshitsune, a great samurai leader of the twelfth century, toppled the giant Benkei. When he fell, the earth split open from the sheer weight of him, and a persimmon tree grew from that rent in the ground.
In Asia, persimmons are often pickled or dried. However, in the United States and Europe, persimmons are usually eaten fresh or in a baked pudding. They can be used in all manner of creative applications, though, such as in fruit chutneys, salads, cakes, and pies. Their mild flavor is conducive to many different seasonings, and they make an agreeable addition to any meal as a light dessert served with softly whipped cream.