We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Auntie Dick's Steamed Persimmon Pudding

The Memory Keepers by Linda

"My mother said every persimmon has a sun inside, something golden, glowing, warm as my face." 
                                                                                                 ~From Persimmons by Li-Young Lee


  
   There are few things that I think are more lovely than a persimmon tree in December. Personally, I like to think of the persimmon tree as the true Christmas tree of California. Starting in early November, the leaves of the persimmon tree will begin to color with gold and red as the fruit grows a more deep orange each day. Finally all the leaves fall, usually in early December, leaving a tall and stately tree full of glowing flame-colored fruit that bejewels the tree up until the first heavy frost.



   Growing up in California, persimmons figure into my earliest memories. I can remember my maternal grandmother, Maxine, used to make persimmon pudding and cookies for the holidays. According to my mother, my Nana, as I called her, and one of her best friends known to me as "Auntie Dick", would start saving small coffee cans all year long in preparation for making the traditional holiday offering.


   Auntie Dick's real name was Hermine Juliette, and she had been born in Germany. Before her death, she had known five generations of our family, and our sister Juliette was named after her. I remember as a girl when I asked her how she came to be called Dick, because it was curious to me that she had a man's name, she explained that as a young girl in Germany that she had been chubby, and her family referred to her as "Dicke", which basically means "fatty" in German. The name stuck even though she grew into a thin and elegant lady, and I can still remember her tickled smile when she talked about how she got her nickname. I remember thinking at the time that I certainly would not enjoy being nicknamed "fatty" by my family, and I failed to comprehend her good humor about it. That memory still makes me smile.

Auntie Dick and Uncle Wes celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
   Auntie Dick and her husband Wes lived on a large ranch with orchards in a town near Bryn Mawr in San Bernardino County. The town is still very small. As of the year 2000, the population is listed at 213. My mother remembers that Auntie Dick had two very large persimmon trees near her home, one of which was in the front yard. My Nana and Auntie Dick would collect the fruit as it ripened in the fall.   
   I can remember as the fruit ripened on the counter in her kitchen, my Nana would squeeze the persimmons to see when they were ready. When they were soft enough she would squeeze the juicy pulp into containers for the freezer, then she would discard the skin of the fruit, and she always let me help. Her trick for saving the pulp because the fruit ripened at different times was to keep accumulating the fresh pulp on top of the already frozen pulp, so that it froze in layers until the container was full. In this way she was able to have persimmon pulp ready for baked goods all through the year, but particularly at Christmas time. 

Our maternal grandmother, Maxine.
   The persimmon is an indigenous tree to North America. Originally it grew in the hardwood forests of the East Coast. The persimmon was introduced to California in the 1800s, and this beautiful tree can be found growing all across the United States, including along the West Coast stretching into Canada.
   There are many varieties of persimmons, but in your local market starting in October, you will find mostly Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are a less astringent fruit, and can be eaten like an apple when it is still firm. Hachiya persimmons are an astringent fruit, and need time to ripen and get soft before eating in order to lessen the high tannin content. The Hachiya is the persimmon that is used for baking.



   According to Native American folklore, persimmon seeds can be used to predict whether the coming winter will be cold or mild. When the persimmon seed is cut in half, the shape appearing inside of the seed will indicate what the winter will bring. If the image inside of the seed looks like a spoon, be prepared to be shoveling deep drifts of snow. If inside you see a fork shape, the weather will be milder. If there is a knife shape, the wind will be cold and biting, it is said.



   As a child, our Christmas dessert was always a steamed persimmon pudding served with hard sauce, just like the traditional English dessert of a steamed plum pudding. I never made the association between the two puddings until I was an adult, and I started researching the history of food. I don't really know why, but somewhere around my teenage years, we stopped making persimmon pudding in favor of other more fancy and modern holiday desserts, although persimmon cookies continued to be made by Nana up until her death in the late 80s. No one seems to know exactly why persimmon pudding has fallen out of fashion, but if you are looking for a way to use those beautiful persimmons beckoning to you from your tree or local farmer's market, here is the recipe for our family's persimmon pudding.
   A delicious and modern twist for the pudding is to garnish the serving of pudding in a pool of sabayon and drizzle with caramel sauce. I think Hermine and Maxine would approve.


Auntie Dick's Persimmon Pudding

   You must use Hachiya persimmons, not Fuyu. Fuyu's are similar in texture and shape to apples. Thin slices of Fuyu's make a beautiful garnish - on a cheese tray, "standing" in whipped cream, or as a beautiful edible treat surrounding the Baked Brie with Candied Fruits and Nuts. Dried slices of Fuyu's resemble delicate flowers and are beautiful decorations for the pudding as well as many fall desserts and cheese trays.
   The Hachiya persimmons are ready to use when squeezably soft. If the individual fruits do not ripen at the same time, do not despair. Simply cut off the tops and squeeze the ripe flesh into a tupperware (discarding the peel) and freeze. As each fruit ripens, repeat the process and return the container to the freezer. When ready to use, defrost the required amount before proceeding with the recipe.

1-1/4 cups Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 or 4)
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup milk
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsps vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
boiling water, as needed
Hard Sauce
Dried Persimmon Flowers, optional

Special Equipment:
A pudding mold, optional
parchment paper, optional

Procedure:



1. Place a rack inside a large, tall soup pot. Place the empty pudding mold on the rack. Fill the soup pot with enough water to come halfway up mold. Remove mold and dry with towel. Butter the mold liberally and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Set aside. Begin to heat water in prepared pot; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.


2. In the meantime, slice tops off the persimmons. Squeeze out flesh into a blender or bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade. Discard skins. Blend pulp until smooth. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whip egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Add melted butter, persimmon purée , milk and whisk again. In a small dish, combine the vanilla and baking soda and stir well. Add to bowl and stir well. 


5. In a separate bowl combine flour, cinnamon and salt, stir. Add nuts, stir until well combine. Add flour and nut mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Quickly fold in eggs whites.


6. Transfer the persimmon batter to the greased and sugared mold. If you are using a pudding mold, cover with lid. If you are using a ceramic bowl, or metal coffee can, cover tightly with buttered parchment paper, then topped with a double layer of foil tied securely in place with kitchen twine. Place the prepared mold carefully inside the soup pot. Cover pot with lid and continue to simmer, adding boiling water as needed to maintain water level. Steam for about 2 hours until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.


7. Transfer mold to a wire rack; remove lid and parchment. Let cool 15 minutes. Unmold pudding onto a plate. Decorate with "persimmon flowers". Serve the pudding while still warm with Hard Sauce, or in a pool of sabayon with a drizzle of caramel.

3 comments:

  1. Love the persimmon "flowers". What a great idea. Last year I made an English plum pudding for an event and it took myriad ingredients and lots of time. Had I only seen THIS recipe last year, it would have been a done deal. This year I am not the dessert maker, but am going to try this one when I get back from AZ. We CAN get them here. Y'all have a great holiday season and stunningly successful New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Zoe...I in fact wondered if you could find persimmons in Matzatlan when I was writing the post? I want to give Michelle a special appreciation for this post and the last one on Guadalupe. Since she has moved back to Arizona (and since she has other people at home to eat the creations for the blog), she has been saddled with being the chief cook and photographer for our weekly posts. For the last two weeks, I have been inspired by ideas that she has then had the responsibility to execute. So according to my whim, Michelle has had to prepare and photograph all the dishes for my Mexican Fiesta menu, as well as trekking out to the DeGrazia chapel to photograph it and the Folklorico dancers. After that, my next idea sent her in search of persimmons and she ended up spending $35 on a pudding mold, as well as spending time searching my Mother's archives for photos of Auntie Dick and Nana. Love you, Michelle! Thank you, Zoe, for reading and your comments. I will
    look forward to hearing stories of your holiday visit with Juliette and Michelle. Merry Christmas to you, also, and may 2011 bring joy and peace to you and yours.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I thought I gave Michelle a very cool vintage pudding mold last year? Maybe I gave it to you Linda?

    ReplyDelete

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