This time of year persimmons begin to color and ripen on the tree.
Drive around Sonoma County and you cannot help but notice bursts of orange on lovely hardwood trees. We have two on our property. They have the drop-shaped fruit, which must ripen almost to the point of rot if you want to eat them. If not ripe, they are exceptionally astringent. They are different than the squat Fuyu variety persimmon, which can be sliced and eaten firm.
If you pick Hachiyas early, they make beautiful table decorations or arrangements, as you wait for the fruit to soften. Or you can leave them on the tree, and when the leaves fall, beautiful bright orange fruit remains on barren branches. It is stunning and many artists have captured this moment.
If you decide to pick or buy Hachiyas at the market, you will need to let them ripen so that they almost feel gelatinous. If you don’t have time to ripen the fruit naturally, you can put them in the freezer for at least 24 hours, and then work with the pulp. I like to bake with persimmons. My favorite is persimmon pudding.
There is nothing more holiday than persimmon or plum pudding. Since persimmons are in season now, we’re going with them. This is a dessert you can make in advance and refrigerate, or you can make far in advance and freeze. Just pull them out the day you are serving, heat before slicing, and serve with vanilla ice cream or bourbon caramel sauce. It is pretty simple once you have gathered the ingredients, but it does involve steaming.
Holiday puddings always remind me of my junior year abroad in London. When I was leaving for home around Christmas, I gave our neighbor, “Chariots of Fire” film producer David Putnam, a holiday pudding as a farewell gift. He gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever received, and I am not sure if it was because he was a pudding fan, or if he was elated that 12 college student neighbors were returning to their homeland. I think it may have been the latter. I think of him whenever I make this pudding, which is from the SF Chronicle.
1 cup raisins, add dark rum to cover raisins, reserving 1 tablespoon rum to go in pudding batter
1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp, skin removed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter softened
1½ cup sugar
1 cup walnuts, toasted
You will need one loaf pan buttered, another larger pan that can be used for steaming, and aluminum foil.
· Soak raisins overnight in rum.
· When ready to assemble pudding, drain raisins, reserving 1 tablespoon rum for batter.
· Stir the persimmon pulp, lemon juice, and baking soda together and set aside. It will become a little stiff and gelatin-like but that is fine.
· Sift dry ingredients and set aside.
· Cream together butter and sugar in a mixer, then add eggs and 1 tablespoon rum. Beat well.
· Add persimmon mixture and beat well.
· Stir in dry ingredients and then add nuts and raisins.
· Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
· In the larger pan, add boiling water so it fills the pan to one inch.
· Place batter-filled pan into the water-filled pan and cover completely with aluminum foil. Both pans are now covered.
· Carefully place pans in a 350-degree preheated oven. Steam for one hour or until pudding is baked through, dark in color, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
· Remove pans from oven, uncover, and let persimmon pudding set for a few minutes. Turn out onto a rack. Serve warm with bourbon caramel sauce.
Once again, I hope I don’t get in trouble for this, but here is the bourbon caramel sauce from Postrio. It is classic. Make it and eat it, or pour it over ice cream, or pour it over your persimmon pudding, it is that good. Put it in a jar and give it as a holiday gift and the recipient will love you forever.
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
2 cups buttermilk
4 cups sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pound butter
1 cup bourbon (add off heat)
In a very large stock pot, whisk everything except butter (and bourbon which comes at the end). Then, add butter and cook on high heat, whisking periodically. Sauce will foam up high so watch and adjust temperature carefully. Cook until golden brown, whisking vigorously. Add bourbon once caramel is done cooking, off heat and at the very end. Yummy!
PS: Regarding last month’s column, some asked why I didn’t I just ask my mom about sharing her pumpkin chiffon pie recipe. She was the most generous woman, she would have loved it, but she has dementia now, so I can’t get her formal approval, but I know she would approve.
Next month: Winter Soup
Gayle Okumura Sullivan is co-owner, with husband Brian, of Dry Creek Peach & Produce in Healdsburg.