Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
ĎTis the season for persimmon pudding, no fooling


Regular readers of this column may recall that for Christmas last year my husband bought me an egg poacher.

That same husband, for our first anniversary, gave me a Bridge Kitchenware catalog and a spending limit.

Judah, if youíre reading this, one word: Jewelry.

In fairness, though, I have to say that Iíve gotten good mileage out of those self-selected anniversary gifts. And last week I was delighted to pull out the most frivolous of them, my steamed pudding mold for persimmon puddings.

Have you ever had persimmon pudding? I hadnít, not until about five years ago. For that matter, I had never even had a persimmon.

Persimmons have an undeserved reputation, to the extent that they have one at all.

For most of my life, I would not have known the fruit had I seen it (and I didnít), yet somewhere in the back of my mind, its name was associated with mouth-puckering astringency.

When I finally tried an underripe Hachiya persimmon, I realized why. Certain varieties of persimmon, consumed underripe, are incredibly, offensively tannic.

Wait a week or so, though, and those same persimmons will achieve a remarkable jelly-like consistency and a mysterious pleasant flavor.               

Persimmons are in season now, and the more ambitious produce managers among us are stocking them in grocery stores. Itís hard to say when and where youíll find them, so if you see them, jump.

Persimmons approximate in size a small apple, and their color varies from light to brilliant orange. Typically, the fruit will hang on a persimmon tree long after the leaves drop off. In late autumn, the sight is arresting.

Not that youíll be seeing it in the Kyrene Corridor. Most of our persimmon crop is grown in California, though persimmons grow indigenously in the Southeast.

Of the several thousand known varieties of the fruit, just two hold sway in the American market: Hachiyas, mentioned above, and the milder, more tractable Fuyus.

Theyíre easily distinguished by shape. Hachiya persimmons have the shape of an acorn. Fuyu persimmons are squatter, like a slightly flattened tomato.

Fuyu persimmons are not astringent at all and can be sliced and eaten crisp, like an apple. Theyíre a beautiful addition to salads (try tossing them with bitter greens and a simple vinaigrette. A handful of toasted walnuts is nice here, too).

Woe betide you if you try that with Hachiyas. A crisp Hachiya is inedibly tannic; still, because of the magic of its transformation, this variety is my favorite.

At the grocery store, select unblemished Hachiyas at any stage of ripeness. If the fruit is just slightly soft, youíll need to wait perhaps a week for it to ripen on your countertop. If itís firm, youíll need to wait longer.

The fruit is ready to eat when it feels like a water balloon--a jelly just barely contained by the thin orange skin. Be patient.

To enjoy a Hachiya persimmon straight up, slice it lengthwise in halves; remove the pit, if there is one; and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

The same flesh, briefly pureed in a blender, can be folded into sweetened whipped cream to make a persimmon fool.

Or make a persimmon pudding, which is really just a type of spice cake.

I work from a persimmon pudding recipe in Marion Cunninghamís The Breakfast Book; poured into my pudding mold, the batter steams for two hours. But other recipes (like the one in Chez Panisse Fruit, by Alice Waters) call for baking the pudding in a conventional oven.

A final note: Persimmon puree freezes nicely. If your Hachiyas ripen on an inconvenient schedule, simply whirl the flesh in a blender and put it away in zipper-lock bags. It will be waiting for you the next time you want to trot out that pudding mold.