The Persimmon Problem
I feel roughly the same way about persimmons as I do about Leonardo di Caprio. Though objectively I realize that both are near perfect products of nature, neither are my type. Ripe persimmons have a sliminess factor that is hard for me to get past (come to think of it, that may just be my hang up about di Caprio, as well) which is a shame, since come late autumn gardens across Umbria offer up the dramatic sight of the stark blackish trees bare but for the perfect orange-red orbs of ripe fruit hanging from each bough like the Earth’s own Christmas ornaments. Framed against a slate-grey autumn sky, the trees have all the spare elegance of a 15th century Japanese waterpainting without the requisite languid kimono-clad damsel.
But then you have to eat the damned things. And, since nature is a prankster, it seems that the less you are partial to persimmons the more your backyard tree is a contender in the persimmon olympics. They don’t keep for more than a couple of days if picked ripe (food writer Sara Bir described the ripe fruit as “supple and yielding, like a breast”. Which may be one more reason eating one gives me pause.) and tend to ripen all at once, so suddenly you wake up one day with crates of persimmons you have no idea what to do with. It is a zucchini-like fruit, in that way.
That said, the tangy-sweet flavor of persimmons is quite pleasant if you can get past the viscid, jellylike texture of the fruit fully ripe (when the flavor is at its best—don’t try to cut to the chase and eat them too soon, unless you enjoy that certain je ne sais quoi of chewing cotton batting). Here are three recipes that cut the slime while highlighting the tang, making persimmons palatable—even delectable—to a self-declared skeptic like myself.
Lava Cake with Persimmon Sauce
In the eighties, this over-the top-chocolate debauchery was commonly known as “undercooked brownies” and eaten with spoons out of a single baking pan with your best girlfriends whilst sitting on the kitchen floor bemoaning boys. Now we are all genXers and have hiply renamed our sinful desserts, make them with organic single bean chocolate in precious little ramekins, and top them with exotic fruit sauces. Though we still tend to indulge with our best girlfriends whilst bemoaning boys. So, get yourself a good Lava Cake recipe among the 124,000 results that pop up when you google “Lava Cake recipe”. And then make yourself a Persimmon Sauce to top it with (the tang of the persimmon is the perfect foil to the oozing sweetness of the cake). Simply simmer 3 persimmons (about two cups cut into pieces) with enough water to keep the pulp liquid (it will depend upon how breast-like your ripe persimmons are). When the firmer pieces of persimmon are soft (about 15 minutes), blend the mixture with enough of the cooking liquid to make a creamy sauce, adding a tablespoon or so of lemon juice to highlight the flavor. You can season with cinnamon or nutmeg, or sweeten with a bit of sugar or honey to taste.
I cribbed this from one of those half-assed low brow daytime news cooking segments, which feature unhealthily thin women instructing the masses on how to cook a meal in twelve minutes or less. Kraft Singles and ketchup often figure prominently. I usually tune out this background noise as I wait for them to get around to the weather forecast, but I was so desperate to do something edible with my persimmons one year that I actually jotted this down. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t delicious, and can be made in twelve minutes or less. Take 2 persimmons (they have to be absolutely ripe) and peel and seed them. Pulse the pulp in a blender until smooth. Whip 500 grams of whipping cream with about 3 T sugar (depending upon how sweet your persimmons are) and a couple of drops of vanilla extract, and fold the two mixtures together until evenly mixed. Spread the mixture in a loaf pan and freeze until solid (about three hours). When you are ready to serve, place the loaf pan in hot water until you can easily turn it onto a plate. During the holidays, I’ve put star anice onto the bottom of the loaf pan which makes it pretty turned out and adds a little undercurrent of anice flavor, which ain’t bad.
Spiced Persimmon and Orange Jam, a.k.a. My Drug of Choice
I have never actually watched frenemy Letizia (I say frenemy because she keeps me about 5 pounds overweight with her irresistible cooking) prepare this highly addictive jam, but I suspect that she sneaks some crack into the boiling pot at some point, because there is no other explanation as to why I find myself thinking about this jam as I drive down the highway, waking up during the night to eat it by the spoonful directly from the jar, and hiding it from my loved ones. The tartness of the persimmons, the bite of citrus, the lingering spiciness. This is the jam version of the best sex you’ve ever had. And jam has to be epically good to be compared with sex, in my book. I especially like it on a crostata (Letizia’s sweet shortbread crust version is perfect for this flavorful preserve), but it also makes a sophisticated Jam Thumbprint for your Christmas cookie plate, or–I may as well admit it—holds its own on butter-spread Saltines. It’s made a persimmon convert out of the most recalcitrant of hold-outs (myself included).