Part 2: The Quest for Persimmon Pudding

(Our grape-sized persimmons)

Perhaps some of you who read my previous post about persimmon pudding would find it hard to understand how such a simple and humble dish could inspire such passion and yearning. Well, it’s impossible to explain, really. Clearly, it’s a hunger—but a hunger far deeper and more profound than a mere physical craving. After my Grandma passed away when I was a teenager and they were preparing to sell the farm (Grandpa had died years earlier), Aunt Ellen asked me if there was anything I’d like to have. Of course, there were a number of valuable antiques at the farm, but this is what I asked for: a picture of five kittens (representing the five senses) that hung in the bedroom where I always slept, two tiny celluloid swans that I’d played with as a child, and the last two pints of Grandma’s persimmon pulp left in the cellar. Soon afterwards, I made my very first persimmon pudding with that pulp. Years later, before Mama passed on (she had ALS), she gave me two treasured family heirlooms: Grandma’s pie safe and Grandma’s handwritten recipe for persimmon pudding.

When we first moved here in February of 2008, I was thrilled to see that we had a persimmon tree in our yard. At that time of year, there were only a few black, shriveled, desiccated persimmons left hanging, but when I looked at them, I saw a bright future full of luscious, toothsome persimmon puddings. I could hardly wait for the next fall (fall having more than one meaning here, as mentioned in the previous post.) I pulled out Grandma’s handwritten recipe—yellowed now, the spidery handwriting splotched with evidence of long-ago persimmon pudding batches.

But the following October I was crushed to see that, apparently, American persimmons grow considerably smaller here in the Appalachians than they do in Piedmont North Carolina. Ours that year were the size of grapes, with a number of huge seeds to which the infinitesimal amount of pulp stubbornly clung. I was heartbroken when my efforts at squeezing out a modicum of pulp were unsuccessful. My pudding dreams were to be, alas, only dreams.

But this year I was excited to see, after a previous spring of plenteous rain, that our persimmons were slightly larger—some even the size of small walnuts! I tried not to get my hopes up, but there were definitely visions of pudding dancing in my head (by the way, what IS a sugarplum anyway??).

So, after the first cold snap, I could hardly wait to pick up the first ground ‘simmons. I took out the potato ricer that I bought just for the purpose of extracting persimmon pulp, put in a few persimmons, and squeezed. Oh, praise be to the Lord of persimmons, I got pulp! Sure, it took about 150 of the tiny persimmons and over one and a half hours to get the pint of pulp to make a batch, but I’m here to tell you—it was worth every tedious minute.

I should give big credit here to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, who faced grave danger standing on a ladder on our steep hillside to pick the persimmons too high to reach. We had to—the critters here never left enough on the ground for us. I had to laugh as cars slowed, heads turning to look at us as we picked persimmons from another small tree we found near the road. I wondered if they were thinking, “Heh,heh…those folks are in for a BIG surprise when they bite into those persimmons they’re pickin’!” (Perhaps you recall my previous post, warning of the puckery perils of prematurely-picked persimmons.) Well, thanks be for the Internet, where I found that others had frozen the unripe persimmons they picked from the tree for at least 24 hours as a substitute for the night of frosty temperatures that persimmons need to ripen. That, along with a week of refrigeration seems to do the trick.

For those of you that aren’t lucky enough to have a persimmon tree, there is an Asian variety of persimmon called Hachiya that’s a good alternative for the American variety. They’re expensive, though ($1.28 a piece at our local Ingles!), not easy to find, and far more bland than the American (but don’t have the huge seeds, either, which simplifies things considerably). I found out, too, after I mistakenly bought a variety called Fuyu, that the Fuyus stay crisp, like apples, so don’t work for pudding.

(Top: The Fuyu persimmons I bought [NOT good for persimmon pudding].  Bottom:American persimmons from our tree. Note slight size difference.)

It’s impossible to explain what I felt as I took my first persimmon pudding in almost forty years out of the oven. It smelled exactly the way I remembered. After it had completely cooled (Grandma always refrigerated it before serving—it’s really not at its best warm), I cut it into slices with great ceremony and put two slices on my most beautiful Corelle. I was thrilled to be able to give Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man his very first persimmon pudding. As I savored the first forkful, my taste buds shouted Hallelujah and my eyes filled with tears. It tasted almost exactly like Grandma’s. Which is to say, it tasted like love, like kindness, like years of sweet memories.

“It tastes almost like Grandma’s,” I said to Tom.

“I like it a LOT,” said Tom, scraping the last bit from his empty plate. “It’s really, really good.”

I smiled through my tears and cut him another huge slice. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is. It is so, so good.”

Happy Holidays to all!  May you find joy, peace, and comfort, whether it be in sweet memories of those who are no longer with us or the sweet company of those who linger. 

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20 Responses to “Part 2: The Quest for Persimmon Pudding”

  1. sweetflutterbys Says:

    What a beautiful story! And it all came full circle too. I bet your grandma is smiling now in heaven after seeing you honor her memory in such a heartfelt way.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    What I love is the way you so perfectly prepared the photograph of the recipe your grandmother wrote out. Having the measuring spoons in the picture makes it perfect. Stories are what make us human, and you are a great storyteller.

  3. Martha Says:

    Oh, Beth, thank you for sharing such a lovely (and even funy!) story. It’s always these simple things in life that warm our hearts and touch our souls. I’m so glad you finally made the persimmon pudding. I’ve no doubt it brought back some wonderful memories for you.

    Happy holidays to your and your family! May you all be blessed with peace, happiness, love and good health in the New Year.

  4. The Southern Lady Says:

    I am so glad you finally got your persimmon pudding and it turned out to taste the way you thought it should and BRBC man liked it, too. I thought those things were leaves in the picture when I first looked at them. There sure was a difference in the sizes. I think it is something like your persimmon pudding that makes Christmas. I spend it with my girls at the farm every year and we have the best time cooking, baking, laughing, and reminiscing about the times when they were children and such. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and there are lots more persimmon puddings in your future. Love and hugs, Judy

  5. Elora Says:

    How absolutely lovely, Beth! What a reward for your dedication and joyful redux of family tradition! A revival, of sorts! Have a wonderful holiday and thank you!

    Elora

  6. wesley Says:

    Beautiful. Just…beautiful.

    Happy Christmas my friend.

  7. Ruth Says:

    Great post!! Good food is such an experience… and when combined with good memories, so much the better!! Merry Christmas to you and your special family!!

  8. Jayne Says:

    Well glory be… there were those trees right there waiting for you to come along and enjoy the bounty! What a wonderful story Beth. So glad it was everything you remembered it to be, and more.

  9. Ariel the Persimmon-Pudding-Eater Says:

    If a sugarplum is a persimmon, then I had visions of sugarplums dancing in my head last night! I can’t wait to come home and have some. :) This is a wonderful post.

  10. Jeff Says:

    What a wonderful story, Beth! The break you took from blogging and writing certainly shows! I saw some persimmons in the local grocery store and now I see the difference – I wondered why they were so big! Bigness, as usual, does not equate to flavor. Oh, sugarplums. I always wondered what they were, myself, since they figure so prominently in “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Quite a few years ago, I did the research. They are simply balls of diced fruit coated with powdered sugar. I use apricots, dates, currants, prunes, and sometimes nuts. Dice the fruit, combine and form into 1″ diameter balls, and coat with sugar. They are really messy to make (so sticky!), but they sure taste good!

    Merry Christmas!

  11. Jeff Says:

    Here’s a fascinating website devoted to persimmon pudding:

    http://www.persimmonpudding.com

    If you follow the links, there is all kinds of interesting information to be found! I wish I had a persimmon tree!

    • blueridgebluecollargirl Says:

      Thanks, Jeff. You’re right…that is a fascinating website! I laughed out loud when I read a quote on there from 1612. Captain John Smith was writing concerning the eating of an unripe persimmon:
      “…if it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment.” I can personally testify that that is true. :-)

      Thanks to everyone else, too, for your wonderful comments and good wishes for Christmas! I wanted to report that we were able to gather enough tiny wizened persimmons to rather painstakingly make our fourth persimmon pudding! I wanted Ariel and Benjamin to have persimmon pudding to come home to. And there are plans afoot to find enough Hachiya persimmons to make another one for Ariel’s fiance when he comes next week. Everyone should get to eat a persimmon pudding at least once!

  12. Vicki Lane Says:

    I love this post! We have two wild persimmon trees but I’ve always been daunted by the prospect of getting enough to do anything.

    Next year! But in the meantime, maybe I’ll look for some Hachiyas.

  13. eemilla Says:

    I’m so glad that after all the yearning and hard work and risk to life and limb that your pudding lived up the memories. This is the perfect Christmas post. Happy New Year!

  14. Angie Says:

    What a beautiful memory to share with us!! You know, I’ve never had Persimmon Pudding—and I have several trees here on my land. :) I just may have to give your Grandma’s recipe a try. :) And I’m sooooo glad it tasted ‘almost like Grandma’s’, like you remembered it; I’m doubly disappointed when I get to have something from a memory that doesn’t taste like my ‘memory’. :D

  15. CountryDew Says:

    Lovely writing, Beth. Thank you very much for sharing that precious moment in time. And I am glad your Tom liked your creation, too!

  16. Debi Says:

    “The Five Senses” is one of my favorite pictures! I have it hanging upstairs! I discovered it many years ago when I was a nurse’s aide. It was hanging over an old lady’s bed in the nursing home where I worked. She was in a “baby state,”–in a fetal position and out of it and I had to feed her like an infant. It would take a long time. I’d carefully spoon oatmeal or mashed potatoes into her mouth and I’d gaze at the picture. Years later when I was working in a furniture store, the picture was in one of the catalogs that we got. I ordered it and have loved it ever since. Now if only I could find some real persimmons pudding!

  17. Jes Says:

    What a beautiful effort! I can only imagine how good the memory must have tasted when it was realized. Hopefully next year you’ll get some even bigger ones! What a joy to have a persimmon tree in your yard!

  18. Angie Says:

    Couldn’t find your email addy anywhere, but I wanted to thank you for ‘visiting’ my blog. :) I hope you enjoyed your visit, and that you will come by again.

  19. Randy Emmitt Says:

    I’ve eaten this puddin a few times a delight no question! I,ve a few bird planted persimmons in the yard, the squirrels ate every last one, not anywhere enough for a pudding. I’ve heard you can graft the larger persimmons onto the local persimmon and it will be hardy here. I think you can also buy grafted trees as well.

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