A while ago I posted about persimmons and how to pick them. Soon after, I embarked on another attempt to cook with them! I met with mixed success, and will tell you all about it.
A year ago, I tried making Chickasaw persimmon cookies from the recipe in Ilimpa’chi’, a Chickasaw Cookbook, by Vicki Penner & JoAnn Ellis. This is an amazing book, full of linguistic and cultural information as well as traditional family recipes featuring native flora and fauna. The authors recommend harvesting persimmons only after the first frost to make sure they are sweet, and pre-cooking the persimmons in water before using them in the recipe, which I thought was very interesting.
They came out with a chewy, cakey texture rather than that of a stereotypical cookie, with a pleasant, slight crustiness around the bottom edge. Unfortunately, this recipe is how I first discovered that heating persimmons seems to destroy their flavor — the cookies tasted deliciously cinnamony, but practically all the persimmon flavor had been lost.
Suspecting that I might’ve done something wrong and should give cooking with persimmons another chance, this year, I attempted a persimmon-topped cake based on a fruit-topped cake my family makes.
Before I get into that, I’ll show how to make persimmon pulp. It’s easy to get about 75% of the pulp, and gets into diminishing returns if you really want to clean each seed, but I did figure out how to do it and will show you how.
First, clean the persimmons and peel them into a strainer over a bowl.
Push them down with a spoon, and bright orange gel should begin flowing out the bottom of the strainer into the bowl. Help the process along by scraping the bottom of the strainer from time to time.
This is what you get, and it takes very little time! You’ll be left with a lot of seeds surrounded by equally flavorful but more tenacious gel that is much easier to eat than to remove from the seed in any other way. If you want to cook with this, too, it’s not as impossible as I once thought — but it’s pretty close. I mostly did it just to see if I could, but if you’re in a situation where you have less pulp than you need, this is a way to get more.
Scrape the top of a seed with a tine of a fork until you see the gel envelope has a hole in it now and is wrinkled slightly off to one side in a shape like the bow wake of a boat (see arrow). Scrape with the broad part of the tine in the direction of this ”wake” until you’re able to work the clean seed free of the envelope.
This process is labor intensive, especially when you consider how many seeds wild persimmons have! But it’s nice to know it’s possible to get all the pulp.
So, back to the cake. Normally we make it with two chunky-sliced peaches and peach liqueur, though pears (with elderflower liqueur) and apples (with cinnamon in the topping) have also done great. To avoid masking the flavor of the persimmons, I left out the two teaspoons of liqueur or vanilla that normally belong in the recipe, and topped the cake with white sugar instead of brown.
Fruit-Topped Cake (Persimmon pulp version):
1 cup flour
1/4 cup optional toasted pecans
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup persimmon pulp = pulp of ten to twelve persimmons
1 added tablespoon white sugar for topping
Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter and flour a round 9” cake pan. In bowl, combine all except the fruit and 1 T sugar for topping. Add batter to pan and smooth the top. Arrange fruit on top — in this case, persimmon-sized spoonfuls of persimmon pulp. Leave some space between pieces or dollops of fruit. Sprinkle with topping sugar over all.
Cake before baking. Note my artistic impression of a calyx drawn on top!
Bake 50 minutes at 350º until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cake after baking
So, did it work?
Not really! I was able to taste the barest hint of persimmon flavor only at the center of the thickest dollops of pulp, and to boot, the cake came out looking sunken, toasted, and strange. Maybe it would be more successful if I used more pulp, but it just seems like a bit of a waste compared to what I did next!
Yes, that’s right — ice cream!
Persimmon Ice Cream
(Adapted from userealbutter.com’s Passionfruit Ice Cream, in turn adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz):
1/2 cup persimmon pulp (again, about equal to the pulp of ten to twelve persimmons)
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons whole milk
7 tablespoons white sugar
3 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Approximately 1/4 cup of persimmon sauce ribbon: pulp of about 4 persimmons + 2 Tbsp white sugar (stirred together thoroughly until sugar is dissolved, then chilled)
Combine the 1/2 cup persimmon pulp and the 1/2 cup cream in a large bowl sitting in an ice bath.
Place milk, sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan and warm over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar.
Put egg yolks in a medium bowl and slowly pour the warmed liquid into the yolks — about a tablespoon at a time, at first — while whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling.
Scrape all contents back into saucepan; set over medium heat. Stir constantly with heatproof spoon or spatula, making sure to get the bottom and edges of the saucepan, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon or spatula.
When the mixture coats the back of the spoon or spatula, strain through a sieve into the persimmon-cream mixture sitting in the ice bath and stir until blended.
Chill the custard completely in the refrigerator. I chilled it overnight.
It solidified into something firm and… custardy!
Churn in ice cream machine that has a well-frozen bowl until the desired consistency is reached. My ice cream machine is a Cuisinart ICE-21, and I highly recommend it.
I removed the ice cream when it no longer appeared to be moving, though the bowl was still spinning. This took about fifteen minutes. Your ice cream maker may work differently.
Transfer the ice cream to an airtight freezer container and fold in the persimmon sauce ribbon. Freeze for at least two hours.
Now, this was a success! It was especially nice with a big mug of hot chai. The flavor, as well as the sweetness, could be amped up just a little – maybe by using 3/4 instead of 1/2 cup of pulp in the ice cream and adding a bit of sugar to it, like I did in the sauce ribbon. But the flavor wasn’t completely lost as it was in the other recipes.
I’d love to understand the fugitive flavor chemistry of this wonderful fruit. I maintain that the flavor could be approximated with the right proportions of orange blossom water or extract, orange extract, rose water/extract, and vanilla, but I haven’t tried yet.
Check out http://www.persimmonpudding.com/recipes.html for more persimmon recipes. And if you have any favorites of your own, feel free to post them in the comments here!
Next year, I anticipate focusing on preserving persimmons. I’m mostly thinking about preserving the ripe fruits in sugar, which is supposed to make a delicious-sounding syrup as well as preserved fruits!
There’s also a more challenging method I’m tempted to try. Hoshigaki is the Japanese practice of hanging strings of peeled persimmons from the rafters to dry, lightly massaging them from time to time until the sugars come to the surface and crystallize.
This sounds and looks amazing, but I’m not sure that it would work with D. virginiana fruits. The ripe fruits are just not sturdy enough to be mostly-peeled and then massaged. I have a hunch that the hachiya persimmons being used could be considered ”unripe” for practical purposes, and, therefore, someone could try making hoshigaki with yellow, still unripe D. virginiana. Maybe I’ll try this next year, when it’s September and I’m impatiently wanting to start picking persimmons right away!
While on the topic of Asian persimmons, I did a taste test, and ate a fuyu (also D. kaki) I purchased at a local Asian market. When I bought it, it was hard and the yellowish orange of an almost ripe persimmon. A friend from Hong Kong reinforced my hunch that it wasn’t fully ripe yet, so I let it sit in a bowl with some apples, which release ethylene gas, encouraging other fruits to ripen if they’re climacteric — able to continue ripening after being picked. I left it there until it was the right color and thoroughly squishy. In fact, it got so squishy I was a little afraid it would burst open when I picked it up. It may have been a bit overripe! Looking at images online, it seems like you’re supposed to be able to slice fuyu persimmons. Still, there was no trace of astringency!
I prefer the flavor and texture of D. virginiana, but there’s something to be said for the Asian persimmon. It tastes like a persimmon, but also has a definite flavor of melon and pumpkin. It also had no seeds, and by the point at which I ate it, was basically a bag full of pulp that didn’t need to be strained, making it that much easier to cook with if desired.
I’ve also long enjoyed soo jeong gwa, a Korean non-carbonated soft drink made with D. kaki persimmons and spices. My South Korean roommate introduced me to this drink, and through it, the wonders of Korean cuisine, which uses woodland plants like acorns in intriguing ways that I will have to mention in other posts.
Here’s a recipe for homemade soo jeong gwa I really want to try:
And a great description of the drink and picture of the distinctive can may be found here:
Ah, brings me back to my college days!
Well, I hope you enjoy cooking with persimmons! Maybe you’ll even make a persimmon pie in time for Thanksgiving. Euell Gibbons’ endorsement might just make me try it…