Within the next couple of weeks, now that we've started to get hard frosts, wild persimmons will be available for the gathering throughout the eastern Kansas countryside.
Persimmon is a pulpy, orange fruit, whose flavor is something like a ripe apricot's and is nicely complemented by cinnamon. Persimmon pulp combines easily with other ingredients and bakes well, which is why it turns up as an ingredient in such desserts as chiffon pies and puddings.
Persimmons ripen during the autumn frost. Although both American and Asian persimmon trees can be planted by anyone who wants one, the wild persimmons that have been a fixture of the Kansas landscape for generations are what most folks think of when the subject comes up.
The homeowner looking for a backyard tree probably should make a less adventuresome choice. Persimmons send out root suckers that poke through the ground and create a thicket that has to be controlled. Also, most homeowners don't want to mess with the overripe fruit that litters the ground if it isn't picked from the tree. In the countryside, such things are barely noticeable.
However, if you do opt for a cultivated tree, in this region you'll want an American persimmon. The Asian varieties are cold-hardy only to zero F, while the American variety generally withstands temperatures to 25 below zero.
Fruits should be picked when they are still slightly firm, although they will sweeten as they soften. Not-quite-finished fruit can be picked early and ripened by placing it in a paper sack with an apple for a few days.
This recipe for Persimmon Pudding is from Frank Carey and Jayni Naas' "The Kansas Cookbook: Recipes from the Heartland."
1 1/2 cups persimmon pulp (1 1/2 pounds to 2 pounds fresh persimmons)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 cup black or English walnuts, chopped
1 egg white
1/2 pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sugar, to taste
To make the persimmon pulp, wash the persimmons and lower them into a large pan of boiling water for a few seconds to scald. Remove them from the water and drain. Press the persimmons through a sieve or strainer to remove the seeds and skins. Measure 1 1/2 cups of pulp and set aside, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the remaining dry ingredients and sift again.
Add the persimmon pulp, evaporated milk, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, butter and walnuts to the dry ingredients. Stir until well blended. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until stiff. Gently fold the beaten egg white into the persimmon batter.
Bake, covered, for 1 hour at 325 F. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately remove the cover.
In a large bowl, whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve the pudding warm or cold, topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
Serves 6 to 8.