Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Persimmon Love

Today I am sitting here enjoying the view of persimmons dangling from the delicate tree in my yard. I love the way the tree bares fruit in the fall, beginning around Halloween with tiny pumpkin like orbs   gathering sweetness as the days pass. They are an unusually pulchritudinous, draped in their persimmon orange color. "When you wipe away the bloom, it reveals a color that you can't quite describe" says my husband. Nobody has to ask what color a persimmon is. They first appear with the tree still wearing her leaves waiting for the first big wind storm of the season forcing all the leaves to scatter for another year. This year has been a good year for me, because my tree gave me copious fruits. Last year, she gifted me one. I have been picking them endlessly, eating maybe 5 a day at least and drying the rest with my dehydrator. My goal is to have a bag of dried fruits every week till next season.  Fresh they are firm and sweet with a mild flavor. They are beautiful to look at. The dried ones are lacy and ephemeral disappearing seemingly without notice, melting on the tongue. I feel guilty that I hoard them from my family,  but I am willing to share even with the birds. I have learned that there are two kinds of people, persimmons lovers and those who dislike the fruits with a decided intensity. Those of us who covet even one persimmon and mindfully savor the flavor with each bite, never tire of them. They cost about 69 cents a piece where I live and that is a small price to pay for such a friendly and special fruit. If you have a tree, you are lucky. If you don't, you should plant one. Even if you don't like the fruits, the tree is beautiful and will dazzle you with its lovely orange fruits come holiday season.

They are many ways to eat a persimmon. You can enjoy them fresh and ripe from the tree, dried, in breads, puddings and tarts. There are two common varieties. Fuyu persimmons are short and squat and are eaten hard or mildly soft, whereas Hachiya persimmons are elongated and heart shaped. You must be sure to eat these when they are absolutely ripe or they will make you pucker up! They have tannins in them that make them extremely astringent. They are best eaten when they are very soft and are often used in baking or eaten like custard in their own little cups. I prefer the Fuyus and am glad that is the variety growing in my yard.

So where did they come from? They are an edible fruit in the genus, Diosyros, which in Greek means "Wheat of Zeus" and we have interpreted that to mean divine fruit.  The word persimmon itself comes from the Powhatan word, putchamin meaning "dry fruit." That fruit is very different than the fruit we eat today. It was dry and small like a grape and had to ripen fully in the cold before picking. The kinds we are familiar with are natives of China and were brought over to Japan where they became a special and traditional fruit of the Japanese new year. They were brought to the California  in the mid 1800's and grow well here as well as in the Southeastern states.

The Fuyu variety sports 118 calories per fruit and 31 carbohydrates compared with the 32 calories and 8 grams of carbohydrate in the Hachiya. The fruits are loaded with vitamins A, beta carotene, potassium and fiber. They are a seasonal, delectable sweet treat that you can feel good about eating. I personally love to eat the Fuyu variety raw or dried, but a lot of people create tarts, puddings, and breads out of them. I have not tried this recipe yet, but am posting it from one of my favorite cooking websites again,  I can imagine making a gluten free version with a gluten free baking mix or oat flower.

Persimmon Scones from Happy Yolks
With guidance from Tartine
  • 3 cups persimmons, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup  unsalted butter, very cold
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or dairy-free alternative
  • (optional glaze or reduction, see footnotes)
Preheat the oven to 400′. In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt 2 teaspoons of butter with vanilla and sugar, add chopped persimmons. Reduce heat and stir for 5-10 minutes until softened. Set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, and stir together. Cut or shave the butter into dry ingredients. Use a fork or whisk to break up the butter into small chunks throughout the mixture.
Add the buttermilk, then the persimmons. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together, adding buttermilk or the reserved persimmon liquid to the dough as needed.
Dust a piece of parchment paper with flour and turn out the dough. Pat the dough into a rectangle (if making round scones, er, hockey pucks like mine) or into two circles, about 1-2″ thick. Using a round cutter, press out scones and lay on a baking sheet with parchment paper making sure to leave at least 1″ of space between each scone. Sprinkle raw sugar over the tops, generously, and bake for 25-35 minutes until just slightly browned.
*I think this Maple Nut Cream from Adrienneats, or a Maple Glaze from The Healthy Green Kitchen would make winning toppers to these guys. They’re more on the biscuit end, so a hit of sweet frosting or glaze would really make these a treat.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brussels Sprouts Are In!

I used to live in Santa Cruz, California and being on the coast was a way of life. I realize that now that I live landlocked in the Central Valley. When we go to the coast, I breathe in every bit of it and long for more time in the salt air. Part of my Santa Cruz coastal way of life was hanging out with my friend, Larry, noodling around on farmland north of town. I remember one stormy afternoon, we got into my car and drove a few miles up the coast. When we passed a particular field off of a dirt road, Larry asked me to pull over...he had a favorite spot to show me. I was a little nervous, because the good girl I was, was afraid to trespass. Larry wasn't nervous. He was and still is a risk taker. We parked the car and walked in the pressing wind towards the water. The waves were tremendous walls of white foam crashing hard into the cliffs below and the sky was silver grey. My face and hair were salty as I wrapped myself in a scarf. We sat on the tip of that landform, wind howling, waves crashing, the whole world in front of us. We ran around and when we tired,  Lar took some photos. Then came the brussels sprouts. As we ran down the length of the cliff along the sea and farmland, they appeared like a miniature forest on proud stalks. They were perfect and tough and ready for the pickin'. I had no idea that they grew like that. How could I? I grew up in New Jersey and there were no brussels sprout fields there in the 1970's or ever for that matter. Here in front of me were so many of these tall stalks that I wondered how the farmer would miss a couple of them.  Larry already had his pocket knife out and was sawing through the bottom of  green fibrous stalk.  He handed it to me and I was amazed at how heavy it was. We ran towards the car, stalks over our shoulders like batons. Back and cozy in the car, we drove to Santa Cruz and picked our prize off the stalks. I was giddy with excitement because for one thing, brussels sprouts were (and still are) one of my favorite vegetables and because we had just had an amazingly fortuitous day. Back at the big house, we made a simple meal of sautéed sprouts with olive oil and sea salt. Life at that moment was pure perfection.

Brussels sprouts are mini cabbages, packed with flavor and goodness. They are in the genus of mustards and are actually edible lateral buds. Brassica oleracea is their species name and they share this with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale and have long been popular in Belgium, hence their namesake. They are They were  grown there as early as the 13th century. The first plantings on the Central Coast of California were in the 1920's with significant plantings by the early 1940's. You can find them growing in quantity in San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties where the climate is ideal for them. They are harvested from June to January. California has the most farm space devoted for the sprout, with some grown in Washington State, Mexico and Ontario.

 Brussels sprouts are very healthy mini cabbages with lots of vitamin A, C, folic acid and fiber. They also have purported anti-cancer properties due to the chemicals, sulforaphane (also found in broccoli),  indol-3-carbinol and glucosinolates. These chemicals block the growth of cancer cells. If that weren't enough, these sexy sprouts help bind cholesterol and pull it out of the body. All and all, they are a healthy and delicious addition to your vegetable repertoire. I eat them for breakfast sautéed with a little almond butter. Here is a recipe that can be eaten anytime of day and is simply wonderful.

This is not an exact recipe, so you can play with the amounts of all the ingredients.

Brussels sprouts
Olive oil
Sea salt
Roasted almonds or pecans or walnuts
Balsamic vinegar
Dried cherries

Thoroughly wash the sprouts, cut off the tough bottoms and cut into quarters.
Steam lightly...just for a couple of minutes
Heat a pan and add olive oil (not too hot)
Add sprouts and sauté until somewhat soft, but not mushy
Drizzle in a few drops of vinegar
Add freshly ground salt
Add roasted chopped almonds or other nuts
Add dried cherries
Stir around gently and serve hot

A wonderful recipe for brussels sprout lentil salad can be found on one of my favorite blogs, Happy Yolks