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My Family History is Filled with Persimmons
When I was growing up, there was always Uncle. In actuality, this man was my father's uncle, my grandfather's brother. Uncle (and I can't remember calling him anything but that, though his name was Bob) lived on his farm in Fallbrook, California. On this modest farm, and around his more than modest white clap-board house, Uncle grew a variety of fruits and vegetables.
I was raised to enjoy the sour taste of kumquats and loquats, and the slimy squish of the cherimoya. I would pick and eat lemons and oranges and let the juice dribble down my thin arms. My father taught me how to crack macadamia nuts in a vice in Uncle's dilapidated garage. Of all the flora available to me at Uncle's (I was too young to appreciate the free bushels of avocados), the treat I loved most was the persimmon.
For my family, the trip to Uncle's revolved around Thanksgiving. Mom, Dad and I in the old VW bus, along with my grandmothers and an aunt or cousin. Often as not, family friends caravanned with us to Fallbrook (sometimes as many as 17 -- not including pets).
We had a set schedule: leave Manhattan Beach around eight a.m. and get to Uncle's around eleven. Then, a quick tour of his house. Actually, the quicker the better. (My great-grandfather had long ago passed away and Uncle just didn't feel like keeping up with the house chores after that.) After the house visit, we all took our walk down the lane to see the neighbor's bull. After the walk, we'd all retreat to the cool of the orchards.
This is where pure memory and absolute fantasy collide. I remember the feel of the orchards more than the actuality of them. As it was November, the floor of the orchard was covered with persimmon leaves -- a tapestry of oranges, golds and yellows. My mother once chose a few leaves and put them in a dish on our dining room table, it was the most beautiful bouquet I'd ever seen.
Uncle would walk us through the orchards, talking of each section as if it were a close personal friend. I believe he often had little spats with individual trees.
The ripe persimmons were everywhere: on the ground, in the trees and in baskets waiting to be taken to market. For a time, Uncle actually made a living off his persimmons and avocados.
The day ended with a grand feast at the Twin Inns in Carlsbad. Fried chicken, corn fritters with honey, fresh peas and mashed potatoes filled the bill. A giftstore downstairs held my fascination each year. The hour-long wait for a table was made easier by the restaurant's proximity to the beach.
My Thanksgiving rituals have changed somewhat, and Uncle can no longer host such an adventuresome visit. I heard some time ago that the Twin Inns had closed. One thing remains, the persimmon: succulent and sweet, a deep indescribable orange, the wondrous fruit of my childhood.
How Do You Eat the Darned Things?
There are two types of persimmons generally at the market. The first is called the Fuyu and is small and somewhat squat. Uncle grew the Hachiya variety. This type is longer and shaped like an acorn. Both begin a deep orange. The Fuyu should be eaten while firm, like an apple. The Hachiya, on the other hand, are to be eaten when very soft; when they look like they're just about to go bad. Once they're to this stage, you can use them in sweet baked goods or freeze them for later use.
My father's favorite method of eating a persimmon is to scoop the flesh of a frozen fruit with a spoon, much like a sorbet. He is also the family member responsible for a number of failed Steamed Persimmon Pudding experiments.
The traditional Lahmeyer way of eating Uncle's bounty is in...
Grandma's Persimmon Pudding
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp, mashed
4 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sherry
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place first six ingredients in a bowl and blend. Sift dry ingredients together and add, a little at a time, to the wet mixture. Add the walnuts and stir to incorporate. Pour batter into a greased, 8 x 8-inch or 8 x 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
This "pudding" is really more like a persimmon brownie. It's great as is, with whipped cream or with my father's famous, cornstarch-thickened hard sauce.