Persimmons

My first experience with persimmons was as a young lad about 9 or 10 years old. I remember visiting a cousin who lived in a small Texas Panhandle town when one of them approached me with a reddish-orange baseball-sized orb picked from a large tree in their back yard. When I asked what it was, they told me a persimmon; a deliciously sweet fruit that I should taste. So I took a big bite which I promptly spit out. “That’s disgusting,” I said. “It’s like eating a mouth full of sugar.” 

Laughing at my reaction, they told me that if I thought the ripe fruit was bad I should taste it when it’s green. “it’s so sour it’ll make your mouth pucker,” they said. With that knowledge I silently vowed never to eat another persimmon. And to this day, I’ve never broken that vow.

Wild persimmon trees existed in China more than ten thousand years ago. And although there are a number of persimmon varieties and cultivars worldwide, the predominate Asian cultivar is Diospyros kaki (aka D.kaki). This variety can be further divided into two groups, the “Hachiya” cultivar, which is so astringent that it is inedible until soft-ripe and the non-astringent “fugu” variety which can actually be eaten like an apple while the fruit is still green and firm. 

Persimmons (shi) were domesticated in China during the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD), with large-scale cultivation taking place during the Tang and Song periods (618-1279). The main production districts are the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, the sixth-longest river system in the world with an estimated length of 3,395 miles. In the Chinese culture persimmons are a symbol of good luck.

Introduced to Japan in the 7th century with cultivation beginning three centuries later, the persimmon (kaki) became so revered that it was named that country’s  national fruit. The persimmon is highly regarded by many prominent Japanese poets, so much so that it is the subject of and/or mentioned, in countless of their works.

American persimmons (Diospyros Virginiana) are part of the Ebony family. The trees, dating back to prehistoric times, are very hardy and can adapt to any number of weather and soil related issues. Growing to a height of 20-60 feet with glossy, leathery oblong leaves, bluish-green in color, turning yellow, orange and red in the fall.

In American the word persimmon actually comes from the Virginia Algonquian word putchamin or pessamin meaning “dried fruit.” Algonquian is the now extinct language of the Powhatan, a Native American tribe indigenous to Virginia. First documented in 1612 on Captain John Smith’s map of Virginia, use of the word persimmon grew until by the mid-1800s was used when referring to D, kaki cultivars as well. 

Persimmon trees are dioecious, meaning the fragrant male and female flowers are produced on separate trees with some rare exceptions. Male flowers are pink and grow in groups of three, whereas female flowers are creamy-white and solitary. Fruiting usually begins when the tree is about six years old and typically produces every two years thereafter.

The persimmon fruit matures in late fall to early winter, ranging in from glossy yellow-orange to dark red-orange in color. They are usually spherically or tomato shaped and about 3-inches in diameter, although size and shape can vary, depending on the species.

Persimmons were important to the lives of the Cherokee, Comanche, Seminole and other Native Americans. Not only did they incorporate the ripe fruit into their diets as cakes, breads and puddings, but also dried it for snacks and for winter and trail rations. Other parts of the plant were used as well for a wide variety of purposes—leaves steeped in hot water for a tea-like beverage; the bark chewed for indigestion; the astringency of the green fruit used as antiseptic for sore throats and hemorrhoids.  

And while the fruit has many popular culinary uses from pie to jam, the persimmon wood is equally desirable. Persimmon wood is among the hardest know to man. Valued by wood carvers for its beautiful grain patterns, and up until the end of the 20th century prized by manufacturers, like Calloway, to produce high quality golf club heads. Today persimmon wood, also known as white ebony, is used for some of the finest live-edge tops for dining and coffee tables, kitchen island and bar tops, and much more. But don’t go cutting down every tree you find in the wild with the thought of using the wood. Arborists say only century old trees produce commercially viable ebony wood.

Persimmon fruit, when ripe, is delicious eaten fresh. But they make wonderful pies, cakes, cookies, and breads. For those readers lucky enough to find ripe persimmons here is great recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try.

PERSIMMON SPICE COOKIES 

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature

1 egg

1 cup persimmon pulp

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

Cream together butter and both sugars. Add egg. Mix the baking soda with the pulp and add to creamed mixture. Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixture. Stir in nuts and raisins. Drop teaspoons of the batter on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes

Chocolate Chip Cookie: The Mistake America Loves.

When Ruth Wakefield ran out of Baker’s chocolate to make her chocolate cookies and decided to use pieces of a chocolate bar to finish the task, she never thought it would result in the creation of America’s favorite cookie. But it did, and the rest, so they say, is history.

ruth-wakefield-butter-drop-do-cookieRuth Graves Wakefield graduated in 1924 from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts, and for a time worked as a dietitian and food lecturer. Then in the 1930s, she and her husband Kenneth bought a small bed and breakfast near Whitman, Massachusetts named the Toll House Inn, where she prepared the meals. Soon, Ruth gained a reputation with the guests and locals alike as a fantastic cook and exceptional baker. One of her more well known treats was Butter Drop Do cookies, in which the recipe called for Baker’s chocolate. One evening in 1937, while making this popular cookie, she found herself without the necessary chocolate so she decided to cut-up a chocolate bar given to her as a gift by Andrew Nestle and use it to 1277926533965176920chocolate_chip_cookiefinish her cookies. Mistakenly, she thought the pieces would melt into the dough to produce her delicious chocolate cookies. However, instead of melting, the chocolate pieces only softened.

As the story goes, while Wakefield was disappointed in her little fiasco, the resulting cookies were “decent,” so she went ahead and served them to her guests. Needless to say, they were an instant hit. In fact, they were so well liked that more and more guests began requesting her to bake them during their stay at the inn.

Soon Ruth Wakefield’s cookie, which she named the Chocolate Crunch Cookie, had grown so popular and the recipe in such demand that she allowed it to be printed in several New England newspapers. And as the popularity of Ruth’s new cookie increased, so increased the sales of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate bar. So much so that soon Andrew Nestle expressed the desire to print the recipe on its packaging.

history-of-chocolate-chip-cookiesThen in 1938, Ruth and the Nestle Chocolate Company reached an agreement by which Nestle would print what was renamed the Toll House Cookie recipe on the back of the bright yellow Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar package in exchange for a lifetime supply of free chocolate with which to bake her cookies.

In order to make their chocolate bar more convenient for housewives to use in making Toll House cookies, the company scored the bar so it would break more easily, and even included a small cutting device in the package. In 1939, Nestle introduced the Chocolate Morsels we all know today, and the back of each and every package includes Ruth Wakefield’s original cookie recipe, or a variation thereof.

tollhouseThe Toll House Inn was built on the site of an actual 1709 toll house built on the highway between Boston and New Bedford, a prosperous whaling town. It was the place where coach passengers enjoyed a meal and short rest while the horses were changed and the toll was paid. The Wakefields operated the Inn until 1966 when it was sold. Ruth Wakefield died in 1977, and the building burned down on New Year’s Eve in 1984.

Try Em: Famous Amos, Chips Ahoy! (Nabisco), Chips Deluxe (Keebler), The Decadent (Loblaw)

Make Em: Mrs. Wakefield’s Original Chocolate Crunch Cookies, NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some Cookie Trivia:

  • It is estimated that 50% of all cookies baked at home are chocolate chip.
  • The average American will eat about 35,000 cookies in their lifetime.
  • Americans bake, spend more money on, and eat more cookies than any other nation in the world.
  • There is an official Chocolate Chip Day in America–August 4
  • The world’s record for the biggest cookie ever baked is held by a 102 foot wide chocolate chip cookie that weighed 40,000 pounds, or 20 tons.