Part 1:The Persistence of Memory

 

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…)

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19 Responses to “Part 1:The Persistence of Memory”

  1. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    Waiting with bated breath for the next installment!

  2. Betsyfromtennessee Says:

    Hi Beth, I have never had Persimmons –but have heard of them.. Hope you found your persimmons so that you could make that special pudding for your family. Can’t wait to hear more of your story.

    There’s a special recipe in my family (don’t know how far back it goes) –that I still make on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s easy–called Pimento Beans and I make it every year. I also make Mom’s Orange Balls. I feel as if my Mama is with me when I make them. She was an excellent cook –and I didn’t inherit that talent… But I can make some great Pimento Beans and Orange Balls.

    Glad you have such wonderful memories, Beth… AND–I pray that 2011 is a much better year for you and your wonderful family.
    Hugs,
    Betsy

  3. Sharon Says:

    I sure hope we can get persimmons here, because I KNOW I’m going to like this recipe! How lucky you are to have Grandma’s apron, Grandma’s recipe, and all those wonderful memories.

  4. Martha Says:

    Beth, I swear I’ve never even heard of persimmons; the word is alien to me. Can you imagine? And yet, I’m eager (in total suspense) to know what happens in ‘the quest for persimmon pudding’. Ha ha…you definitely have a way with words, dear friend. Looking forward to part two of this story.

  5. wesley Says:

    Beautiful, as always, Beth. Can’t wait to read the rest…

    Although I’ve heard of persimmons, I’ve never tasted nor seen one. But of course I have my own food -related memories, which your post brings back in full measure.

    You are a lovely writer. I’m glad you’ve decided to revive your blog.

  6. dana Says:

    I am amazed at the readers who are not familiar with persimmons. I’d love a slice, and add lots of whipped cream, please.

    I think the most horrendous part of picking persimmons is when you’re a novice, and someone tells you to bite one before it’s ripe. ARGHHH

    I followed you from Vicki Lane’s.

  7. Jayne Says:

    Can’t wait to hear where you found them and how it turned out! What wonderful memories Beth.

  8. Vicki Lane Says:

    Wonderful memories! I have one of my grandmother’s old aprons (made of feedsack material) hanging in my pantry just because…

  9. pagesofjulia Says:

    What a beautiful post. Thanks. I’m glad Bonnie at Bonnie’s Books http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/ sent me over here.

  10. The Southern Lady Says:

    Hi Beth, I do know about persimmons and what they can do to your mouth if they are not ripe. I have never had persimmon pudding though. The pudding sounds wonderful and I hope you are able to make it for your family for Christmas. I can just imagine you as a child getting so excited over it. TW is the same way when he comes here. He can’t wait to get in the kitchen and see what kind of goodies he can find. My girls were the same way with their grandmother. You will be starting a tradition at your house if you make that pudding. I can’t wait to see what happens.

  11. Darla Says:

    So enjoyable to participate in your memories, Beth. Love the phrase “fixin’ to turn your mouth inside out”…! LOL

  12. CountryDew Says:

    Lovely writing, Beth. I am one of the few people who enjoy eating persimmons, apparently, even when they turn your mouth inside out. I’ve never had persimmon pudding, however, so I am curious to see how it turns out. We actually have a persimmon tree in the field across the way, but generally the critters reach it before I do. Ah well. Keep writing, you’re doing great.

  13. colleen Says:

    I just saw a poignant movie that this post made me think of: Everybody’s Fine with Robert DeNiro. It had love and death and Christmas in it.

    I didn’t know persimmons grew around here and don’t know what a chess pie is (check board?).

  14. Jeff Says:

    What a lovely post, Beth. The words just flowed and I moseyed through the post so pleasantly. You strung thoughts together so well and so easily – I love this piece! Feedsack apron, wood stove, electric stove, persimmons …. I can’t put my finger on what it is that I like so much about it, but please, more!!

  15. sweetflutterbys Says:

    Home is where the heart is and it sounds like for you it was your grandparent’s house! I couldn’t help but feel all homey and warm inside just thinking about having a place to go like that. It’s like a dream.

    I don’t know anything about persimmons. Now I’m curious and off to find a recipe!

  16. Benjamin Says:

    I’m a God? Whoa!

    No, I am a blessed human being. That persimmon pudding is luscious. I’m glad I can feel at home while at home. And I’m glad you felt like you had a home at grandma’s house.

  17. Rider Says:

    I want to comment on three of the numerous poignancies in this posting, Ms. Blue.

    First is your grandmother’s making the persimmon pudding just for you. It was one way she contributed to making you feel at home on the farm, something you never felt when you lived in the parsonages.

    Second is the apron, pictured in your posting. It formerly was owned by your beloved grandmother. You don’t wear it much, you write, because you fear you’ll get it dirty. Then you’ll have to wash it, washing away the essence of your grandmother too.

    Third is Benjamin’s comment. He’s blessed, he writes. He’s blessed because you make a real home for him when he’s home. And because he’s one of the gods for whom you’ve made persimmon pudding.

  18. eemilla Says:

    Food is what makes life for me, but especially around Xmas. All the crass commercialism makes me grinch, but waiting my aunt and uncle’s plates of cookies and candies pulls me through (along with Love Actually and The Nutcracker Suite).

  19. Debi Says:

    It’s really funny that you wrote about this, the holidays and missing loved ones and what reminds us of them and brings us comfort. I just finished a story for my blog about wearing my mother’s clothes and another one of the blog buddies was comforted when someone gave her a bag of Christmas candy that reminded her of her mother. I guess we’re all missing the ones we love who are gone at this time of year especially and looking for ways to feel them again.

    I loved the description of everything in your childhood–the 200 landlords, the mule with gimlet eyes and your grandfather’s own gimlet eyes, the Piedmont stove, the feedsack apron, persimmons pudding, custard… how lucky you were to live all that. Such a different childhood than I lived in Jersey City. But we also moved a lot–whenever a better apartment became available, we moved. It was a great childhood, even though we were very poor and I never tasted a persimmons until I was an adult. Now I’m in the mood to write about it.

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