The temperature has dropped, the garden has been put to bed under a thin sheet of ice and snow (and leaf mulch!), and the winter “nesting” has begun. For me, that means I’ve been making a lot of soup and baking bread. A recipe for persimmon bread recently caught my eye, and I recalled that I had seen a small mound of persimmons couched between the kiwi fruit and the mangos in my local supermarket. I toodled off and bought a handful, realizing as I did so that I know absolutely nothing about persimmons. We can’t grow them here on the Prairies; the American native persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is cold hardy to zone 5 at best, and the tropical varieties probably wouldn’t even grow during our summer.Apparently, there are two types of persimmons: firm-ripe and soft-ripe. Soft-ripe persimmons have a high level of tannins in them, which make them really, really astringent if you try to eat them when they’re not ripe – to make them palatable, you must wait until they go soft, and their inner pulp turns gelatinous. The pulp is scooped out of the skin and used in recipes, such as my aforementioned bread. Firm-ripe persimmons, on the other hand, are non-astringent – you basically peel or blanch the skins off and eat them as you would an apple (and, to make things even easier, many cultivars have been rendered seedless, so you can eat the whole fruit). You can cut the fresh fruit up and use it in salads, or you can dice it up really fine and use it in my aforementioned bread recipe. On the till receipt from the supermarket, my persimmons were listed as the ‘Fuyu’ cultivar; this is a pale orange, firm-ripe tropical variety (D. kaki ‘Fuyu’).
A member of the ebony family (Ebenaceae), the American persimmon is valued for more than just its fruit: the trees have beautifully-textured bark that offers year-round interest in the garden. (To see a photo, check out Virginia Tech\’s Tree ID page). Autumn leaf-drop occurs quite early, and it is not uncommon for bare-branched trees to display ripening orange fruit, which are usually harvestable in October or November. Supposedly, the flavour of the American persimmon and the tropical varieties is not the same – please comment if you have a preference, I’d love to hear about it!
Oh yes, and here’s the bread recipe:
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground flaxseed
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups firm-ripe persimmons, peeled and finely diced
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup margarine
Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the persimmons, milk, maple syrup, eggs, and margarine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf. (Recipe adapted from the Green Market Baking Book by Laura C. Martin, 2011 Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York).