Thursday, November 12, 2020

Persimmons, Pears, and Lavender

Unless you've spent significant time in the lower midwest, you may only know persimmons as an Asian fruit that grow in California or occasionally show up at specialty markets, but a variety also grows wild in the U.S. I'll qualify that further and say, in the southern midwest. I can attest to wild persimmons in the greater St. Louis area, but I have never noticed any in northern Illinois. I'm not saying they're not here, but I can't say they are here. 

As a kid, I would find the occasional persimmon tree just galavanting through the woods. (I was galavanting; the tree was rooted in its place.) I remember plucking a bright orange persimmon from a tree in my cousin's backyard and biting into it. Beware biting into the unripe persimmon. The Missouri Department of Conservation's Discover Nature Notes blog warns that the fruit is "notoriously astringent" if eaten unripe. 

That an underrripe persimmon will make you pucker is an understatement. 

It will turn your gums to cotton. 

For a while.

How to tell if a wild persimmon is ripe enough? Squishiness. "Water balloon" is the tactile description I've seen online. If a tomato felt like this, you'd say it was rotting. The persimmon, however, is perfect. 

That said, forget any persimmon recipes you find that call for sliced persimmon (unless you've found fuyu persimmons at a market—those are the variety that can be eaten firm). Your wild midwestern persimmons need to be mushy-ripe, and so you'll use them as mush.

Slice off the top of each persimmon and just rip it open.
Pick out its 5 or so pumpkin-seed-sized seeds.

I made a persimmon-pear tart with lavender yogurt. combining a few different recipes. Let's see if I can remember the adaptation -- and before I do, let me make one adjustment already: I originally spread the sugar-and-spiced persimmon pulp over the top of the pears before baking, which turned out OK, but if I make this again, I will instead cook the persimmon pulp a little bit into a jelly and wait to spread it on after baking. I believe this will leave you with more of the persimmon flavor, plus a lovely glossy finish.

Persimmon-Pear Tart Recipe

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch pie pan or, for fancier presentation, a fluted tart pan with removable bottom.

Prepare the fruit:

2 pears, cored and sliced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon sugar, divided
5 persimmons (this is just the number of ripe ones I had ready, you could adapt)
Cinnamon (maybe 1/4 teaspoon)
Ground ginger (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)
Nutmeg (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)

Toss the pear slices with a little lemon juice and sugar. I did this right on the cutting board. Feel free to use a small bowl.

Slice off the tops from the persimmons and open them up. Squeeze or scoop out the pulp into a small bowl, and discard the skin. Remove large seeds from the pulp. Sprinkle on a little lemon juice, a little sugar, and the cinnamon and ginger. Stir to mush and mix.

Make the crust:

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted flour (or gently spoon and level)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Process almonds and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Add the butter, egg, and almond extract and blend until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times until just combined into a soft dough.

Assemble the tart:

Press the dough into the bottom of the tart pan. Arranged the pear slices over the dough, and gently press them in (just a little bit!).

Bake the tart about 50 minutes, until pears are tender and dough's center is cooked through. 

Make the persimmon glaze:

This part is untested as of yet, as I originally spread the prepared persimmon pulp over the pears before baking. Instead, I suggest while the tart is baking, you put the persimmon pulp, along with its sugar, spices, and lemon juice, into a small pot, to cook it into a jelly-like glaze. Add a little water if necessary, so it's spreadable.

When the tart comes out of the oven, while still warm, spread the persimmon glaze over the top.

Optional Garnish (a.k.a. enhancement): Lavender Yogurt

First, make lavender syrup:

You'll need equal parts water and sugar (I did 1/4 cup each for a small batch)
A few stems of fresh lavender
Plain or vanilla yogurt (I used about 1 cup)

Mix water and sugar in a pot and boil together until reduced by one third. Remove from heat and add a few stems of fresh lavender. Allow to steep for 40 minutes, then strain (or do your best to pick out all but the smallest bits of lavender).

Blend the syrup, a teaspoon at a time, into the yogurt. Taste. Add more syrup if you like, and mix well. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Leftover lavender syrup is good on pancakes or fruit, or to sweeten tea or lemonade. It will eventually crystalize, but you can gently heat and add a little more water to re-liquify it. We stored ours in the fridge for a few days before it was used up.


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