(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.