My Daddy was a restless soul—always looking, I think, for a place where he might at last feel at home or perhaps, at rest. So during my childhood, we moved seven times. Since he was a preacher, we always lived in parsonages, which were nice enough, but they weren’t really ours. It was sort of like having 200 or 300 landlords, since the congregation owned the house.
But for the first part of my childhood, there was a place where I could have at least some sense of belonging, some sense of place—my maternal grandparents’ farm in Greensboro, North Carolina. Grandpa was a dirt farmer who raised vegetables that he sold at the curb market, along with eggs, milk, honey…and Grandma’s famous cakes and pies. She was known all over Greensboro for her coconut cakes (for which she grated her own coconut) and for her chess pies. I still remember watching Grandpa plow with a mule—he never had a tractor. I was scared to death of that mule. He’d fix his gimlet eyes on me and clack his teeth together, as though he’d like nothing more than to have a taste of my tender young flesh. But that old mule didn’t mess with Grandpa, who had leather skin and his own gimlet eyes.
The farm had plenty of acreage (much of it wooded) for rambunctious younguns to explore, and we did. But of particular interest to me (and to this post) was a small grove of American persimmon trees. As most people probably know, American persimmons are not actually ready to eat until after the first cold snap (preferably frost) when many fall to the ground. It’s those ground ‘simmons that you want to pick up, if you’re lucky enough to get to them before the critters, that is. WARNING: Most of the time, if you pick one off the tree to eat, you’re fixin’ to turn your mouth inside out. Friends don’t let friends eat unripe persimmons.
Even with all the critters taking their share of persimmons, there were always plenty left for us. Grandma had so much, in fact, that she’d end up canning lots of the pulp for later use. It’s possible, I suppose, that she used the persimmons for other things, but there was only one thing I was interested in and only one thing I remember—persimmon pudding.
Persimmon pudding—food of the Gods. At least, that’s how I remember it. Almost every time we visited (I always thought of it as coming home), Grandma would make persimmon pudding (which isn’t really a pudding at all—more like a very moist cake.) When I was small, I called it “brownies” because, in the pan (and sliced) the pudding looked like brownies. The best thing is, she made it especially for me because it was just about my favorite thing in the world, next to her boiled custard, that is. At least, I always figured she did.
I still remember the pan she made it in. She used the same pan every time—an enameled blue spatterware pan, most often in her wood cook stove. Aunt Ellen bought her a nice electric stove later on (about the same time she had an indoor toilet installed) which sat, mostly unused, in Grandma’s kitchen across from the Piedmont wood cook stove. I reckon she felt a true bond and a certain intimacy with the Piedmont—she’d spent a good part of her life right next to it. When I envision Grandma in my mind, I picture her in front of that old wood cookstove, always with a feedsack apron on. I still have one of her aprons that I wear from time to time. Somehow, it still has her essence clinging to it, as well as my Mama’s essence, since she wore it, too. That’s why I don’t wear it much—I’m afraid to get it dirty. Wouldn’t want to wash that essence out. It has some brown/yellow stains that might be burn spots—possibly from Grandma getting a bit too close to the Piedmont.
Like a lot of folks, the holidays are a bittersweet time for us—fraught as they are with remembrances of those who have passed on and reminders of those who linger, of family we’re estranged from. It’s been a tough year for us, so I’ve been thinking more than usual about those who have passed on—those who we held dear, those who loved us unconditionally. I thought about Grandma and her persimmon pudding and how she’d smile conspiratorially and slip me another slice, even if I hadn’t eaten all my green beans, (like Mama told me I had to).
And so I knew I had to have it this Christmas. This year, I really needed Grandma’s persimmon pudding, the memory of which has persisted all these years. I knew I wanted to make it for Tom (AKA Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man), who’d never had the pleasure of eating it. And for Ariel and Benjamin, who’d only heard stories of the Food of the Gods—persimmon pudding. I knew I had to make them a pan full of love.
I had the recipe—Grandma’s, the world’s finest. But where would I find persimmons?
Next post: Part 2: The Quest for Persimmon Pudding
(Is it a brownie? Or is it…The Food of the Gods?? Stay tuned…)