Winter Fruit

Boulougne Persimmon

 The American persimmon tree ”has received more criticism, both adverse and favorable, than almost any known species. “
W.F. Fletcher, Agriculture Department Farmers’ Bulletin, 1915

 

 

Conventional Wisdom, that crotchety old soul, tells me that nothing gets done between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If CW refers to legislation or finishing a knitted garment, I’d have to agree.

The month of December, quite apart from its holidays, is long and dark and yet, people continue to go to work and school and the day care center and probably accomplish quite a bit. Once the turkey leftovers are disposed of, which generally takes less than a week, many of us are back to making nightly meals. And given the season, these do not include ripe peaches, fresh tomatoes, gazpacho, or any of the summer delicacies we’ve just had our fill of through November.

Given those memories, it’s no wonder that a pre-solstice slump might occur. As much as we try, the prospect of beef stew, lentil soup, chili and fogged-up windows is not romantic. Come February, yes, but for now, is there a bridge to take us to the land of hearty foods with happy anticipation?

There is. Winter fruit.

Rumbling throughout the fall, more and more varieties of apples and pears show up at the grocery stores and these are at their very best in December. Following quickly are clementines and grapefruits. All the citrus fruits are now cheaper and more plentiful. The cheerful avocado is now always around thanks to modern science and various trade agreements. Ditto for pineapples. And wait! Who are these strange birds flapping in now? Persimmons.

Cooking with winter fruit is a good segue to the more dignified and elegant wintery meals of January. And the foods produced from these fruits can be lighter, a little exotic, even a temporary nod back to summer. As lovely and cozy as fruit desserts can be, savory dishes with fruits are equally satisfying. This is the time to eat salads composed of pears, walnuts and Roquefort or sliced grapefruit with avocado. Try a quickly made pork tenderloin with black beans and an orange and red onion salad. Here’s one: chicken with curried apples and frisée or other bitter salad green. These dishes are satisfying, straightforward, and inexpensive.

Let’s go back to the persimmon. ‘W.F. Fletcher’ quoted above happened to be my husband’s grandfather who worked for the Department of Agriculture in the early part of the 20th century and wrote a pamphlet, entitled The Native Persimmon* about American persimmon trees. Some of William Franklin Fletcher’s descendants still wonder why their grandfather threw his weight behind the persimmon. True, he was no Henry Ford but on the other hand, his pamphlet still exists and is easily available after 100 years.

However, the lingering reputation of the persimmon is not positive.

“If it is not ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.”

The explorer Captain John Smith, wrote these words in the 17th century which Fletcher quoted adding,

“…he so well characterizes the puckering, astringent effect of the tannin contained in the immature fruit that no further comment is necessary.”

The point is this: don’t eat unripe persimmons. Lee Reich, author, gardener and researcher, who quoted Fletcher in his article on the persimmon**, has a fascinating book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden***. From the Juneberry to the Maypop, Reich shows exactly how to grow, care for and harvest unusual fruits. Eating a thoroughly ripened persimmon, he says, is as pleasurable a gustatory experience as eating an unripe one is horrible.

The varieties that we buy now are the Fuyu or the Hachiya which are varieties of the Oriental persimmon or kaki. The American persimmon has not been bred to the extent of the kaki – although it has been eaten as a wild fruit for centuries by humans and animals.*

When ripe, persimmons, which look a lot like tomatoes, can be so soft, they can be eaten with a spoon. Some varieties are firmer but if your persimmon is quite firm, it is not ripe. Leave it a few days and it should ripen. You can also place it in a plastic bag with an apple to hasten the process.

Now here are some recipes, many of which you simply put together without too much fuss. So you’ll have time to eat a relatively leisurely dinner and remember that soon the days will be getting longer.

All recipes make about 4 servings, except the Sillsalad which is for 6.

1 hors d’oeuvre:

Vikki’s Persimmon with Ham on a Cracker

3 salads:

Persimmon salad with bitter lettuce & walnuts

Avocado and grapefruit salad

Sillsalad: Apples, Beets and Potatoes

3 risottos:

Risotto with Clementines

Citrus Risotto

Risotto with Persimmons

4 desserts:

Oranges and Pineapple in Orange flower water

Grapefruit Compote with dried Cherries

Monna’s Apple Crumble

Applesauce

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Hors d’oeuvre: Vikki’s Persimmon with Ham on a Cracker

I mentioned to my friend Vikki Wetle that I wanted to know more about persimmons. “Come over and have one of mine”, she suggested. Her Hachiya tree produces persimmons that are wonderfully sweet but firm enough to make small slices. These she put on a very tasty seeded cracker and topped with a small slice of Buzhenina, a Russian garlic ham, which she purchases at the Privet European Food and Bakery in Salem, Oregon. Very nice with a glass of sparkling wine.

Salads:

Persimmons are in the markets right about now and won’t last too long. If you want to try them, look for ripe ones: they will be very soft (like a ripe tomato). One book I read suggested slicing off the leafy ends and eating them with a spoon. Now that requires a ripe piece of fruit.

Persimmon Salad With Bitter Lettuce And Walnuts

In this salad, the bitter lettuce offsets the sweet fruit. The nuts add – as my chef Susan Lindeborg always said- that all important crunch!

2 ripe persimmons, washed

1 bunch of escarole or frisée or a combination

½ cup walnuts, toasted*

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon sherry or wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Peel and slice the persimmons into quarters. Make the vinaigrette by slowly stirring the olive oil into the vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette and arrange on plates. Top with the persimmon quarters and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

*Heating or toasting nuts brings out their flavor. It’s a quick step but an important one. To toast nuts in the microwave, spread the nuts on a plate and microwave on high checking every 10 seconds. They burn very easily.

You can also toast nuts in a skillet with a little oil which you first heat up and then add the nuts, tossing and stirring. Again, they will burn very easily so don’t leave the stove and remove them just as they become a bit darker. Drain on a paper towel and add salt, if desired.

Avocado And Grapefruit Salad

This is a great combination. Add some green salad to make a larger mixed salad or a bed for the avocado and grapefruit if you wish.

2 avocados

2 grapefruit

¼ Cup toasted pecans (optional)

1 tablespoon vinegar (a mixture of red wine and balsamic is good)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Peel and slice the avocados into fattish strips. Peel and section the grapefruit. Divide among 4 plates or on a platter alternating the grapefruit and avocado. Prepare the vinaigrette as above and drizzle over the salads.

Farmor’s Sillsalad

This is a recipe from my grandmother that uses apples, potatoes, and herring – I changed the measures a bit to make it readable but I had to leave some of her language as is, because it’s funny. I have made it without the herring (in which case, it is not a sillsallad) but still delicious – very pink. I like it at Christmas.

For 6 portions

5 beets, boiled

1 salted herring – or a small jar of pickled herring

2 apples

4 potatoes

1 tablespoon onion, finely minced

4 teaspoons vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2/3 cup of whipping (thick) cream

Garnish: 1 hardboiled egg

 

The day before serving, you may boil the beets and potatoes, unpeeled, until tender. Let cool and refrigerate.

Freshen the salted herring in cold water and then cut in very small squares.

Peel the beets and potatoes and cut into a small dice. The apples give the salad a fresh taste but the squares of the apples must not be noticed (i.e. chop them in a finer dice than the potatoes.) All the ingredients must be kept covered and only mixed together immediately before serving.

They are mixed on a big plate with two forks and the squares must not be crushed. Season the salad and taste it carefully. The thick cream is whipped until it is like a thick sauce (but must not be like foam or it will easily break when mixed with the salad) and is the last thing to be stirred into the salad which is then piled high on a plate and garnished with a hardboiled, minced egg in yellow and white stripes.

 

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A Word about Risotto: You must use short grain Italian rice for risotto. Arborio and canaroli are 2 varieties. Long grain or other types simply will not work.

Risotto with Clementines

Clementines, easily available at supermarkets, provide a tangy and colorful counterpoint to the risotto. The lime and lemon zests boost the fresh citrus flavor. Follow this up with roast chicken and sautéed spinach or you might also serve this risotto as a main dish with a green salad. And just a word on cooking risotto: when I first cooked this wonderful rice, I didn’t leave its side or stop stirring for a minute. Now I’ve learned it’s a lot more forgiving than I thought. I start the cooking process, stirring and adding the broth until it’s nearly done and then cut off the heat, finishing it up 10 minutes or so before I’m ready to serve.

4 clementines

Zest of 1 lemon*

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock, approximately

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

 

Grate the zest of 2 of the clementines and set aside with the lime and lemon zests. Peel the clementines and separate the sections removing strings and pith. Set aside. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan. In a 12-inch heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderately high heat and sauté the shallot a few minutes until softened but not browned. Add the rice and stir a few minutes until all the grains are well coated with olive oil and opaque. Add the wine, stirring constantly until it is completely absorbed. At this point, begin adding the stock about ½ cup at a time, stirring and letting each addition absorb before adding more. As the rice begins to swell and after about half of the stock has been added, taste for doneness. The rice should be al dente. Continue to add stock as necessary. After the last addition, add half of the clementine sections and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and the zests. Add the Parmesan and the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnishing each plate with the remaining clementine sections.

*To remove the ‘zest’ means to grate the outermost peel of a citrus fruit without getting too much of the white pith underneath. The white pith is bitter whereas the zest is aromatic and contains a bit of oil; this is the flavor you want. To zest a fruit, you can use the smallest holes of a grater or a zesting tool sold at many kitchen stores. It may take a bit of practice at first. A microplane is another grating and zesting tool that has become very popular – also available at kitchen stores – and it is quite easy to use.

Blood Orange Risotto

This one is very similar but with a blood orange which (if you’ve never opened one up) is astonishingly red inside! The garlic and parsley make this risotto heartier than the clementine version.

2 blood oranges

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Zest of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime, finely grated

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup white wine

4 cups simmering chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

 

Finely grate zest of the blood oranges and set aside. Carefully section the oranges using a bowl to catch juices. Combine the sections and the juice and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, add onion, garlic and shallot and cook until softened. Add rice, stirring and cook a few minutes until rice is opaque. Add wine, stirring until evaporated. Begin adding stock a small ladle at a time, letting each addition evaporate.

Taste for doneness (rice should have a bit of crunch). Add the zests. After the last addition of stock, add the orange sections and juices. When absorbed, off heat, stir in butter, parmesan and parsley. Season w. salt and pepper and serve.

Risotto with Persimmons

Prepare the risotto in the same manner as the clementine and blood orange risottos but without the citrus zests. If your persimmon is very soft, you won’t have a neat little dice but it doesn’t matter. Just cut it in smallish pieces and add it to the risotto at the end of cooking.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup white wine

4 cups simmering chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan

1 or 2 ripe persimmons, peeled and cut into a dice

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, add onion, garlic and shallot and cook until softened. Add rice, stirring and cook a few minutes until rice is opaque. Add wine, stirring until evaporated. Begin adding stock a small ladle at a time, letting each addition evaporate.

When the rice is done – which is to say, it will be soft but at the same time have a bit of chewiness – stir in the persimmons. Serve the Parmesan separately.

Desserts

It’s nice to have a dessert that’s a little lighter in calories but still a bit sweet. Orange flower water may taste a bit strange if you’ve never had it: almost like a perfume. It’s used very commonly in Morocco or other North African and Middle Eastern countries. It’s even used to flavor couscous. You can find it in many specialty shops, often in small blue bottles called “Fleurs d’oranger”. A little goes a long way.

Oranges and Pineapple in Orange Flower Water

5 oranges (may need more depending on size)

½ pineapple

1/3 cup mint leaves (optional)

3 tablespoons sugar (or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit)

2 teaspoons orange flower water

1 cinnamon stick, broken in 2

4 cloves

Cut the pineapple into smallish chunks. Peel and section the oranges so there is no pith or rind. Cut as many oranges needed to equal the amount of pineapple. Cut the mint leaves if they are very large.

In a glass bowl, combine all ingredients. Let macerate at least 6 hours.

Grapefruit Compote with Dried Cherries

For the marinated cherries:

1/4 cup dark rum

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoons cinnamon

Pinch cloves

Pinch allspice

½ cup dried cherries

For the grapefruit:

4 grapefruit, pink, peeled and sectioned

 

Combine rum and 1/4 cup water and the spices and cook covered over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Uncover, bring to boil. Remove from heat, let stand in a bowl for 5 minutes; stir in cherries, set aside.

Before serving: Arrange the grapefruit sections in a bowl or on a plate. Pour the cherry mixture over the fruit and let stand 5 minutes.

 

Apple Crumble Monna

My dear friend Monna Besse made wonderful English desserts. Crumble and crisp recipes are plentiful but I love the buttery simplicity of this one, which is pretty much the way she described it. Blackberries and raspberries freeze well and I usually do have a quantity stashed away in my freezer. Store-bought frozen berries are also good if they do not have added sugar.

6 Granny Smiths and 1 cup of good blackberries, if available

Make a pâte sablé (pastry) with 1 cup flour, 2/3 cups butter, 1/3 cup sugar.

Add no water and leave it in crumbs.

Peel, core and slice thinly the apples. Butter a gratin dish (baking dish), add a layer of apples, sprinkle with vanilla sugar*, and add small bits of butter.

If there are blackberries, sprinkle those on too.

Finally over the top, add the crumbled pâte sablé, more or less of ½” thickness.

Cook in a fairly hot oven (375) about 30-40 minutes.

Serve tepid.

Should be lovely and golden on top.

Serve with crème fraîche

Note:

*Vanilla sugar – is just sugar stored in a jar with a vanilla bean. Use regular sugar if you don’t have vanilla sugar.

Especially for Children..

but quite tasty for grown ups too!

Applesauce

If you’ve never made applesauce, you’re in for a surprise and a treat. It’s so easy if you have a food mill. A good strong sieve or strainer will also work but it’s a little more work.

Apples. As many as you want and different varieties are fine.

Wash and cut into quarters. Place in a large saucepan with about ½ cup of water.

Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook until soft.

Put through a food mill. Taste and add sugar if desired and some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon). I never add anything.

That’s it! No peeling! No coring!

This applesauce freezes well – for a quick dessert.

Sources

*W. F. Fletcher, The Native Persimmon, Farmers’ Bulletin # 685, U.S. Department of Agriculture, revised edition: May 1942

** Lee Reich, Cuttings; Upstart American Persimmons Add to Fall Colors, New York Times, September 28, 1997

***Lee Reich, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Timber Press, 2008

http://www.leereich.com/books/uncommon-fruits-for-every-garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments on “Winter Fruit

  1. great reading your recipes, mary. Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Thank you, Cecilia! And a Merry Christmas to you as well!

  3. elizabeth says:

    I wish I’d read your blog before biting into an unripe persimmon! I had my first one in Oxford and swooned over its deliciousness. I could hardly wait to get home and enjoy another, but hadn’t picked up on the necessity for it to be ripe. It went straight into the garbage! What a waste!

  4. What a shame! Don’t give up… try another!

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