(Find the full essay, and persimmon pudding recipe, at the link)
“Hold on a minute, let me get the recipe. Can you hold a minute?”
I held a minute.
“Found it on the first look. Alright, you know you need really ripe persimmons, right?” I knew that. “First, run ’em through a colander…”
Nana kept her persimmon pudding recipe closely. I’d phoned her in the fall of 2012 for instructions on the pudding, prompted by a food writing class assignment to document a personally meaningful recipe. I had foraged really ripe persimmons from a Chapel Hill tree and run ‘em through a colander, and I kept one eye on the pulp oozing through my makeshift press — sieve over mixing bowl with stone mortar and pestle for weight, all precariously balanced — while Nana recounted her directions and I documented.
Nana lived next door to my childhood home and I was circling back to her classic recipe after several years of experimenting with persimmon oatmeal cookies and persimmon and pork crockpot concoctions. I wanted the pudding that we’d baked with fruit from her Uncle Emmel’s tree, the one that we’d devoured from Nana’s avocado green dessert plates during after-school games of gin rummy.
This is this my first persimmon season without my Nana to call as I bake, but I hear her never-lived-more-than-sixteen-miles-from-Salisbury-North-Carolina accent in my notes as I re-read them and it’s her pudding that will be on my holiday table this year.
Persimmons are delightful not only because they remind me of Nana. They’re a fruit worth noting because they are rooted here. And because they grow in the forest, ripen in late fall, and boast a bit of a mystique around how and when to eat them. And they taste good too. “Honey sweet with hints of cinnamon” is what April McGreger says about their taste. McGreger claims North Carolina is a persimmon epicentre…
The common name ‘persimmon’ is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, all Algonquin words used by the Delaware and Cree nations meaning “dried fruit.” Native to the eastern United States, persimmons were used by American Indians in a variety of ways. Women mixed the pulp with corn meal and ground acorns to make breads while the fruit wriggled its way into cultural lore, turtles and opossums and persimmons, oh my.
Early settlers roasted the seeds of the fruits to make a coffee-like beverage and then African Americans used persimmons to make candy and sweet puddings. In Appalachia, seeds were, and still are, dried and brewed for beer and wine…
In 1923 Artemas Ward wrote that peak persimmons — or as he described them, “the oddly wrinkled lumps of richly concentrated sugar-flesh hanging among the varicoloured leaves of autumn” — taste like ‘veritable sugar-plums..”
…But any collection of notes on persimmons carries an essential responsibility with it. One thing that you, dear reader, must know. Use caution tasting persimmons, for an unripe fruits bears an utterly unpleasant texture. Ripe persimmons squish to pulp when squeezed. Any firmer, and let the fruit continue ripening. Unripe persimmons inhabit your mouth like an oversized cotton ball with a linger starchy aftertaste. Captain John Smith described it this way: “If it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment.”
…Foraging for persimmons in the wild is relatively straightforward. They’re easy to spot (look for orange orbs hanging from leafless trees) and easy to harvest (gather fallen fruits from the forest floor). Ripe this time of year, ignore the confusion around whether persimmons can only be gathered after a frost (it’s not true) and just eat them when they’re ready. You’ll know because they’ll taste like veritable sugar-plums.