It’s persimmon season in California, as I found to my delight while there to teach a cooking class. There they were in profusion – at the farmers’ market in Studio City, rolling out of the fruit bowl at my dear friend’s home where I was staying and, one day, in a huge bag at the doorstep, freshly picked by a colleague.
What to do with all those persimmons? Play!
And play I did. My first game was to make a sweet bread with persimmons, to serve to students first thing in the morning, with coffee. I took a carrot cake recipe and substituted persimmons, doing all the mise-en-place the night before so I could awake early and get the cake into the oven quickly.
I did as foreseen, the cake sent a heavenly aroma of cinnamon mixed with sweet fruit into the air, and I went about my work of preparing for class. I turned to the stove at one moment, to notice a pan holding three sticks of butter sitting there. Whaa…? That was the butter intended for the sweet bread. Which was happily baking in the oven. Oh no. No time to make another batch.
I turned on the oven light and peered at the bread – it was perfectly puffed and golden so I hoped for a miracle, wrapped up the butter and put it in the fridge, and went on my way.
The miracle? Sweet bread without butter is gorgeous. Springy. Fragrant. Perfect. Who knew? An accidental vegan bread. If you want to learn more you can, here.
But curiosity got me and that evening I re-made the sweet bread, this time butter (only two sticks, three seemed just too much). I put it in the oven. Same amazing aroma, same cooking time, a little less perfection in the puffing. When it had cooled a bit I cut a slice and found warm perfection. More dense, more crumbly, a little more tender.
I put the breads side by side for a taste test by my students. There was no clear-cut decision on which was best. For me? The butter version was more rich, almost heavy; the non-butter version less tender. Would I make the mistake again (deliberately)? Maybe. Would my students? Definitely yes.
So with the sweet bread situation under my belt, I turned back to the persimmons and just kept serving them: sliced thin and drizzled with lemon juice, sprinkled with fleur de sel and piment d’Espelette, with cheese in the place of crackers , as a garnish for grilled duck, atop an arugula and garlic salad. I never wanted to stop, but stop I had to because I had to get back to France. I hated to leave all those persimmons, so I did what any cook would do, and I put a dozen in my suitcase, in a plastic bag, then in an outside pocket, of which I have two.
When I got my bag off the carousel, I checked immediately. Inside one of the pockets – where I’d stashed books – I found the TSA inspection note. Trembling, I opened the other. There were the persimmons, intact, unbruised, beautiful concrete memories of California.
What did I do with these? I sliced them thin, seasoned some with piment d’Espellette and fleur de sel, left the others plain and offered them with champagne. To French friends. Eyebrows raised, but once those persimmons were on the palate the tension of something new evaporated, and within minutes the plates were empty!
If you’re going to serve persimmons raw, the way I love them the very best, make sure you choose the fuyu, Sharon, or Kaki varieties, or another of the many persimmon varieties that is edible before being ripe. Varieties like hachiya, for instance, are so tannic before they ripen they’ll turn your mouth inside out. It turns out that the seeds in the hachiya breaks down the tannin, which is why they have to be ripe before you can eat them.
And if you want to do as I did, that is make a sweet bread with persimmons, here is your recipe. For the non-butter version, increase the amount of sugar by ½ cup. Sugar = moisture in baked goods, and you can’t do without it if you’re going to omit the butter.
This is a perfect bread for Thanksgiving or Christmas breakfast. Try it, you’ll see. And if you want to omit the butter, be assured the bread will be delicious. If, for some reason you cannot find persimmons, use grated carrots or apples in their place.
- all photos here courtesy of Cathy Arkle@shepaused4though.com