Posted on September 11, 2007 in Other writing

from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
     Before Hurricane Hugo roared into Charleston on September 21, 1989, a native persimmon tree said to be the oldest in the country (indeed, in the world, since native persimmons only grow in the New World) gracefully shadowed the lawn of Peter Manigault’s old house in Ansonborough, a few blocks north of my home and bookstore. It was over 80 feet tall before the storm ripped it in half. Experts had guessed its age to be between 400 and 700 years old.
     Reaching out over the corner lot, the tree dumped 5 pounds of ripe fruit each day for two months each fall, providing me with more fresh, ripe persimmons than I could possibly ever use. I’ve made pies and tarts and wine and beer, breads and cookies and salsas and ice cream. But the simplest and most traditional preparations are the best.
     It is simply not true that you cannot eat the persimmon until there has been a frost; in the Lowcountry there is no frost until well after the trees have shed all their fruit. It is true that you must wait until the fruits are very, very ripe. They must be very soft — downright mushy to the touch — or they will be so astringent as to pucker your mouth. Ripe native American persimmons are one of the most instensely flavored fruits of the world, aromatic on the palate — flowery, like the finest muscat grapes. You can substitute the Japanese variety in a recipes calling for ” ‘simmons”; but the flavor of the American variety is altogether different.
     Persimmons do not take well to cooking, as they become mealy upon heating. Only in recipes in which the puréed fruit is used as a cookie or tart topping, or in which the flavor is extracted — such as in wine, or in which the texture is rounded by the addition of flour — as in the bread, below — is the native American persimmon shown off at its best.
     The fruits are only one or two inches in diameter, and have several large, flat seeds which half fill the fruit. To use, simply push the pulp of extremely ripe persimmons through a colander with the palm of your hand, discarding the seeds and skins that do not pass through. The pulp may be frozen as is for use later.
     If you look at a map of the range of native persimmons in the United States, you will see what is essentially the states of the Confederacy, though they do grow along roadsides in the southern reaches of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The easiest way I know to find a persimmon tree is to travel on unlit back roads at night in October, and look for the reflections of the eyes of ‘possums and ‘coons in the trees along the road. The trees are common along the banks of old rice fields, and the rice banks at the Schulzes’ Turnbridge Plantation down near the Savannah River are filled with them. You will be hard pressed, however, to beat the wildlife to the ripe persimmons in the wild. Trees in inner cities, such as Peter Manigault’s, are better sources.
     Recipes for persimmon pudding abound, all similar. But I opt for a dense, moist batter bread without the usual spices that obfuscate the distinctive persimmon flavor.
For a world of information about persimmons, visit
                                                  Persimmon Bread
from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
     1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing pans
     2 cups sugar
     2 eggs, beaten
     1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
     1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
     4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
     3 cups ripe persimmon pulp
     3/4 cups black walnuts
     Grease two loaf pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and the sugar together in a mixing bowl, then blend in the eggs. Sift the soda, the cream of tartar, and two cups of the flour together, then resift with the rest of the flour. Blend into the creamed butter and sugar, then fold in the persimmon pulp and the nuts. Bake for one hour.
Makes two loaves.