Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

From "The Country of Marriage," by Wendell Berry.

"Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in."

And on to what 2011 brings us. May you and yours be brave with each other and keep on going in.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Favorite Color

I took these pictures while running errands in the rain today. What wasn't an errand: finding persimmon trees to photograph.

Around here, persimmon trees wear their own Christmas ornaments. When we do cut the fruits down and out of the tree, we set them artfully around the house, as if each persimmon were a piece of handblown art glass. It's all a sham though. The fruits, though beautiful, are so plentiful some people complain about having a persimmon tree. It rains persimmons here.

The two photos above are of two different unidentified astringent varieties I brought home from a recent California Rare Fruit Growers meeting.

I'm not complaining, for I love persimmons.

The tree that had been on the property when the previous owner moved in, that had never produced for her, and that had only given me six fruit last year, bore heavily for me this year.

A fraction of the tree's harvest, cut down to protect the fruit from the jubilant clouds of marauding parrots. I love the local parrots, but I also really want to be able to eat my tree's fruit.

This tree is a mystery. I have no idea what kind of tree it is, and I've even checked with experts about what it might be. Most people who are familiar with persimmons know the two most commercially available varieties, Hachiya and Fuyu. Hachiya is acorn shaped and astringent; that means it is only edible when it feels like a water balloon in its state of liquidy ripeness. Fuyu is flattened and nonastringent, a pumpkin color, and crunchy and mild. Variations abound on the astringent and nonastringent theme. There are gold-colored and hat shaped and narrow spade-shaped astringent persimmons, and persimmons that are even astringent unless they're fertile and seeded. Among the nonastringent varieties are types that are like pumpkin colored four-leaf clovers, and others that are round around the girth, but flattened from top to bottom.

The fruit from my persimmon tree is definitely nonastringent, edible and delicious when it isn't yet soft-ripe, but excellent even when soft and yielding. It is nearly round and a deep orange. The flesh is juicy and flecked with tiny russet specks.

It's my favorite persimmon, and I had nothing to do with it. I inherited it.

Now I have a wealth of fruit, so I've got to learn how to use it. While I've experimented with many dessert-like persimmon recipes (here and here are two recipes in regular persimmon-season rotation), I've never considered using them in any kind of savory preparation. Until this year, that is. Overwhelmed with more fruit than I can eat fresh, I hit the books for a solution and came up with A Passion for Persimmons: A Collection of 87 Persimmon Recipes with Commentary by the Author. It's a cute book, published by Ojai Valley Library in memory of its author, Ann Crozier. The recipes that I've tried have been hit or miss, but here's a definite hit.

Mainlining Vitamin A Curried Carrot and Persimmon Soup
Adapted from A Passion for Persimmons, by Ann Crozier.

Like a Thai yellow curry, it this soup is rich with coconut milk, an addition that does amazing things to the curry spices. I can picture myself riffing on this recipe in the years to come, spicing it up more, adding lemongrass, maybe some galangal. When I made it this week, I used duck broth made from the carcass of a recently consumed roasted duck, and I was able to toss a few leftover nuggets of duck meat into the soup as well. But chicken meat would work just as well, or no meat at all. If one chooses to use veggie broth, this is a vegan meal, a very, very delicious vegan meal.

You will need:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 nonastringent (Fuyu or similar or whatever the heck my persimmon is) persimmons, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 heaping teaspoons of curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 quart broth
1 13.5 ounce can of coconut milk
a handful of leftover meat (optional)
lemon juice to taste
cilantro for garnish

To make the soup:
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the carrots, persimmons, celery, onion, ginger, and garlic, and saute for about 10 minutes on medium heat, or until parts of the persimmon begin to caramelize a bit. Add the curry powder and salt, and continue to saute for another minute or so, until the mixture is very fragrant. Pour in the broth, and scrape up the good bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture cook at a high simmer for about a half an hour. Remove from heat.

Working carefully, fully immerse an immersion blender and puree the soup. Pour in the contents of the can of coconut milk and the optional meat, and stir to combine. Return to heat and heat again until just simmering. Add lemon juice to taste.

Serve garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.

And no pictures of the soup, you ask? No reason to have any. It's a puddle of my favorite color.


If you'd like to see what others are harvesting this time of year, join us at Daphne's Dandelions for Harvest Monday, where gardeners from all over the world share images of their latest harvests.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


I love to imagine what they looked like: overgrown amber "pears" hanging from dead trees, large silver-laced leaves twining in and around the brittle wood. The trees were carefully girdled, killed by slicing into the cambium layer around the entire tree. Once the trees died, members of the Seminole tribes would plant squash seeds around the base of the tree, and these vines would climb the tree and fruit in the air. Up there, the fruit was less likely to rot than if setting on the damp soil.

The Seminole pumpkin fascinates me. It's a beautiful fruit, tawny colored like a butternut and similar in flavor, with a deep orange, very smooth flesh. Also like the butternut, it belongs in the C. moschata species, a vigorous species that deals well with heat and even humidity. I grew it this year up trellises, and my only regret is that I didn't plant it earlier in the season, for when I had to pull the vine out for my winter veggies, it still had fruit on it yet to mature. But it's beautiful, and tasty, and grows really, really well here, and there's a lot more to the story behind this pumpkin.

Serving as a primary food source for the Creek, Muskogee, and Calusa peoples (collectively identified as Seminole) for at least five hundred years in Georgia, Alabama, and especially Florida—it is documented by Spanish visitors upon their arrival to Florida—the Seminole community passively bred the pumpkin to be long lasting and hard-skinned. "If they opened one in October and saved the seeds, rodents would have probably gotten them. Or insects or fungus. So they would eat on them throughout the fall and winter, and the longest keeping ones would be the last to be eaten. The best keepers provided the seed by unintentional selection" (Dr. Bradshaw, cited by Freeman). Both the high protein seeds and the flesh served as an important winter food. The Seminoles used the pumpkin in cornbreads, a version of frybread, and dried the flesh to use in throughout the year. The food was so important that, according to some sources, its loss caused devastation:

"When Chief Chekika was tracked down and killed by the U.S. Army after his raid on Indian Key, his body was hung from the trees of a small hammock west of Miami. To add further emphasis to this act, all of the Seminole pumpkins hanging from the trees in the hammock were shot to the ground. More than symbolic, this was a most effective way to cause starvation among these Everglades renegades." (Campbell)
That story caught me and wouldn't let go. And so I continued to explore it, and I haven't found much that I'm sure is reliable. There seems to be discrepancies surrounding the 1840 Indian Key raid and whether or not many claims surrounding it are true. However, all accounts do make some of the same claims, that the raid occurs right in the middle of the Second Seminole Wars, that the government of Florida at the time had a $200 price tag on the head of any dead Seminole, and that in this raid, between seven and thirteen white people and no Native Americans died. I'm no expert in any of this; all I can say is that a lot of fear and anger seems to have fueled everyone involved.

One person who died in the raid was a Dr. Henry Perrine. About him, I can find plenty of solid information. In fact, on Google Books, I even found this:

In this petition, Dr. Perrine seeks to establish a township in southern Florida, where he'll cultivate tropical useful plants to test their suitability for American agriculture. His enthusiasm shines in this paragraph from the text.

Congress granted Perrine his request; however, because of the climate of war, Perrine and his family didn't stay at his township long, but instead attempted to find safety at Indian Key. There, the raiders killed him.

I wonder what Perrine could have accomplished if his history had turned out differently. I wonder what would have happened if Seminole heads didn't have price tags. It's a sad story for everyone.

Except, perhaps the pumpkin. The pumpkin survives.