By MATTHEW NASH
Several weeks ago I was out on a walk and noticed something that reminded me of something from my childhood.
I was walking along the sidewalk, when I noticed some type of smashed fruit lying beneath my feet. I think many people my age would be confused about what they were walking through. But as I looked up to notice the fruit that was remaining on the tree, it brought back memories of when I was younger and my mother took us to harvest persimmons.
A persimmon, for those of you do not know, is a small juicy fruit that is native to the eastern United States. Persimmons grow on trees and have many of the same properties of a berry. The ripe fruit is sweet, having one of the highest glucose contents of any fruit. One of the common mistakes is trying to pick the fruit directly from the tree. The fruit is not ripe until it falls to the ground. In this part of the world persimmons become ripe toward the end of September and may be harvested through the first freeze. Folklore says you can forecast the weather by slicing open the seeds of a persimmon to reveal what the approaching winter has in store.
When I realized I had found a persimmon tree I knew the first thing I had to do was contact the owner of the property and find out if it was all right if I could take some of the fruit off his hands. As I looked around I noticed the owner of the home was pulling out of the driveway, as he approached the point where I was standing, I pointed to the fruit that was lying on the ground. The owner looked at me and gave me a thumbs up which I took to mean that I was welcome to take some for myself.
I returned the following day with a bucket and began to pick up what I would need to make a couple of persimmon puddings. It had been a while since I had harvested any persimmons but I remembered what I was looking for. I was on my hands and knees carefully selecting ones that had fallen from the tree but had not been damaged too badly. Some bruising is OK, but it must be kept to a minimum. You must also make sure that birds haven’t taken some bites before you get your hand on it. I noticed that a couple of the persimmons were lying next to large ant hills and were already covered with ants. I made a point to avoid those.
After just about 15 minutes I thought I had enough fruit to make at least two persimmon puddings. I walked back to my car and secured the freshly harvested fruit. On the way home I swung by my mother’s house to pick up the utensils that are needed to prepare the fruit for baking. A three legged rack supports a “colander” that’s round at the top and comes to a point a few inches above the bottom of a mixing bowl. The colander is then filled with the fruit and smashed with a pestle, similar to a rolling pin with one rounded end, and the pulp falls into the mixing bowl. It takes two cups of pulp to make a pudding from the recipe that I used and after about an hour of smashing I had enough for three.
Some may be asking how a nearly middle-aged man knows so much about persimmons. As a young boy my mother found a tree near our house that the owner allowed her to harvest the fruit. I remember going there a few times to pick persimmons just a couple miles from our home. The house and tree were located on Captain Frank Road and were both destroyed to make room for the McDonald’s restaurant along State Street. There are a few trees around Sam Peden Community Park, and now the tree that I discovered this year. Other than that the trees are pretty scarce around here.
My mom would make us persimmon pudding every year. She would serve it with whipped cream on top or pour a little half and half on it. She had learned about persimmons growing up in Orleans, about 50 miles northwest of New Albany where it is part of their culture. The next town over, Mitchell, has held a persimmon festival every fall for the past 66 years.
Over the years I have purchased persimmon puddings at different bake sales most often at the Harvest Homecoming. With so many variations of recipes I never know if it will be a style I like. The one I like the best was published in our church’s recipe book a few years back from a member of our church who has passed away.
Now that I know where to get some fresh persimmons for myself, I plan on making a few persimmon puddings each autumn. I look forward to picking, smashing, mixing and baking my family some persimmon pudding every year.
— Matthew Nash would love to share with you his persimmon pudding recipe or would like to know if you have access to your own persimmons. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org