I love free food.
I don’t mean the kind like the free hot dogs they were serving at a festival we went to this past weekend (the line went around the block). No, I’m talking about foraged food. There is something really awesome about being able to gather up food that is growing natively around where you live. It feels “right”. Like that’s the food I’m supposed to be eating. I love growing my own food, but the fact that there are plants that grow on-their-own, with no intervention from us, and produce food makes me so incredibly happy. There isn’t much better than a maintenance-free food source—it’s easier than going to the grocery store.
We’re very lucky to live where we live and have quite a few native foods that grow not only in our area, but on our property. We have a massive thicket of wild black raspberries and wild blackberries. Chanterelle and morel mushrooms grow wild in the woods on our land. We have tons of black walnuts and hickory trees. And my favorite of all, we have a nice collection of wild persimmon trees.
If you’ve never had a persimmon before, they have the most unique flavor that is like the sweetest clementine you’ve ever had mixed with a perfectly ripe and juicy peach. It’s absolute heaven. I’m always amazed that persimmons are so often on the back burner. I’m sure there are many of you that have never seen a persimmon, let alone eaten one. That’s such a shame!
If your persimmon experience is limited, let me give you a quick persimmon primer. There are generally two types of persimmons—one is very soft and mushy and the other is more hard like an apple (and used like one)—this recipe uses the pulp from the soft ones. Be warned, soft persimmons are astringent, meaning if they are even the slightest bit unripe, you’ll end up with your face contorted into one heck of a pucker when you bite into it. We have American Persimmons (also called an Eastern Persimmon) growing on our property, and they are the astringent variety. In fact, growing up around here, it’s a pretty common prank to try and get a kid to bite into an unripe persimmon. My older brother got me to do it once, right after he got me to smell his shoes because he told me they smelled like strawberries. I was a naive kid.
If you’re picking up persimmons in the store for this recipe, more than likely, you’ll be looking for Hachiya Persimmons. They are heart-shaped, and a bit bigger than the fruit from the American Persimmon tree, but they’re widely available around the world. But just like the ones that grow around here, don’t you dare use it until it’s ripe. As in, it should be so soft and mushy that it feels like it’s rotting. We actually don’t even pick persimmons from the tree, because that would mean they aren’t completely ripe. We wait until the persimmons fall to the ground and collect them before the turtles and birds get to them. The best way I can explain how to know when an astringent persimmon is ready to eat is to think of a zip-top bag full of pudding. Does the persimmon feel like that? Then it’s ready! If it’s so soft and gooey that it feels like you have to handle it gently to avoid it exploding, it’s time to process.
The best way to use soft persimmons is to extract the pulp. Persimmon pulp is a very similar texture to jam. In fact, I always see people talking about making persimmon jam, and it makes me laugh, because that sounds like a lot of work considering I happily spread raw persimmon pulp on my biscuits all the time. No sugar needed!
Around this time of year in our area, you’ll see signs pop up in front of many farm houses advertising persimmon pulp for sale, so if you’re lucky enough to find someone to process your pulp for you, that’ll save you some time. If you aren’t that lucky, to make persimmon pulp with a Hachiya persimmon, just wait until it’s ripe, then slice in half and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. You can run it through a sieve if you want it to be super smooth, but usually you don’t have to worry about that. American persimmons are a bit different because they are much smaller and have much larger seeds, meaning the best way to process them (at least on a small scale) is to mash them—peels, seeds, pulp, all of it—through a sieve until you have the most dreamy, smooth, bright orange persimmon pulp. I then freeze it flat in two cup increments in a freezer bag.
Oh, and then I fish out some of the seeds, clean them off, and slice them in half to see what kind of winter we’re going to have (we saw knives, by the way).
Persimmon pulp is most frequently used in baking. You’ll see a lot of persimmon bread, pudding, and cookie recipes out there. If you’ve ever baked with pumpkin pulp or applesauce, it’s the same idea with persimmon. It adds sweetness and moisture to baked goods, plus a light, fruity taste that is really remarkable. I also love use persimmon pulp as a mix in for oatmeal or yogurt. Yum!
This persimmon bread recipe is one of my favorite things I’ve made this year. I’m not much of a bourbon drinker, but man, I do love me some bourbon as an ingredient in a dessert. I know pumpkin is the “official” flavor of fall, but I think the combination of bourbon and persimmon tastes exactly like what fall should taste like. This bread is flavorful, moist, and dense—it’s heavy in the best way possible. It’s pretty much perfect to nibbling on while you sip a toasty mug of coffee in the morning.
As far as mix-ins go, I like to keep it simple and just toss in a few handfuls of chopped walnuts—even better if they’re black walnuts that we gathered from the front of our property. You can go as wild as you’d like with other goodies. Raisins, cranberries, pecans, and even chocolate chips would all be good to toss in. You can also leave the bread naked and just let the bourbon and persimmon stand on their own.
Never worked with persimmons before? Try out this dense and delicious persimmon bread that is a perfect fall treat.
- 2 cups persimmon pulp
- 4 eggs
- 2/3 cup bourbon
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line two 8" x 4" loaf pans with parchment paper, set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add in the persimmon pulp, eggs, bourbon, butter, vanilla, and sugar. Mix on low until well-combined.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and flours. Add in the flour mixture to the persimmon mixture in three additions—letting mix completely before moving onto the next addition.
- Fold in the walnuts into the batter. Pour the batter evenly between the two loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the bread is dark brown, and the top feels solid (not jiggly) when pressed on. Let cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from David Lebovitz