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.


Dave @ HappyAcres said...

Oh to be raining persimmons here! Though we have a lot of wild native persimmon trees, the Asian varieties are pretty uncommon. I'm hoping my two young trees survive our freakishly cold, early winter

The soup sounds yummy, with the spices and coconut milk. I've never heard of making soup with persimmons. Most folks I know use use them for baking and not much else.

Daphne Gould said...

I've been hearing people talk about persimmons. I'm wondering how well they would do here. I really have to research fruit trees to see what to grow.

michelle said...

I am no longer blessed/cursed with a persimmon tree so I don't have to come up with creative uses for that beautiful fruit., but your soup recipe sounds like it's worth a trip to the farmer's market to pick up a few more of those beauties. Lately I've been slicing them into green salads with pomegranate arils, toasted almonds and my favorite lemon-honey-mustard dressing jazzed up with a hit of pomegranate molasses. And back in the days when I had to deal with the soft persimmons I used to make a fabulous steamed pudding, which is much better than what it sounds like, it comes out like a spice cake.

Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

I have never tasted a persimmon, not sure if they grow in Texas, but I would love to try this recipe.

Christina said...

Villager: Until now, I've only baked with them, but this recipe is such a winner, I'm encouraged to try other recipes as well. One suggestion the author has is to cut the nonastringent types into thick wedges and oven roast them. That sounds really good to me. I hope your trees survive, too. Aren't they pretty trees?

Daphne: There is a variety that is an American/Asian cross called Russian Beauty that some folks report can survive Zone 4 winters. I'm not sure where you can find it, though.

Michelle: A persimmon tree is a double-edged sword, especially the soft (astringent) kind. I've made persimmon steamed pudding too, and I loved it. Thanks for reminding me of that--maybe it will be a New Year's dessert this year. Oooooh, your salad dressing (lemon, honey, mustard, pom molasses) sounds fantastic!

Lisa: My husband's family lives in Houston, and persimmon trees definitely grow there--I've seen them. If you can't find them in a farmers' market, I'm pretty sure you'll find them at an Asian grocery. Make sure you know which kind you have before you eat it. If it is acorn-shaped, you must let it ripen until it feels like a water balloon before you eat it. If it is flattened, you can eat it any time, soft or hard, with different pleasures in each stage. I hope you find some. It's always fun to try a new fruit!

Amy said...

And to think, all I've done with a persimmon is make cookies.

They are a very lovely color!