January 11, 2020

Persimmons
Hachiya Persimmons, 1991 (watercolor on cold pressed Strathmore illustration board)

The art you see here was definitely a labor of love as there was no hurrying along the process. In past posts I have written about this watercolor layering technique. It’s all done with layer upon layer of watercolor, with the heat of a small hairdryer used to dry each layer after it is applied. People have asked me how many layers of pigment would be in something like this and I can’t really answer. But I would say there was easily more than 10 watercolor passes for this one. In describing this technique I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of the paper I used. This technique means major abuse of wet and heat—and my beautiful cold press Strathmore illustration board can take it like a champ. It was my “go to paper” in the early 90s. I think I only messed it up once or twice by getting it just too wet and/or hot, and then tiny balls of paper pulp began pulling away from the surface. I remember I almost cried and thought I should apologize to the trees who had so graciously helped make this paper possible. As I have already said (right here in this paragraph), knowing the paper/material you paint on is everything. And I always think about what’s going to happen when I begin to draw or paint on a new sheet of paper. 

Now, as for this persimmon composition, it’s never been my usual to leave such beautiful fruits floating free in space, much like so many abandoned satellites circling the Earth. But upon closer inspection of the board I noticed a third persimmon lightly penciled in to the right, and realized I had not actually finished this one. As was my usual I would have finished the last persimmon, then added some kind of shading to lock each one into a place in space. Not really sure why I didn’t finish this one. Oh well… All this got me thinking of my mother. As a kid I remember eating my mom’s persimmon pudding (recipe to follow). The Hachiya tree variety was pretty common in many of the Saratoga/Sunnyvale gardens in the 1970s. I specifically remember those trees because about this time of year all of the leaves would have dropped off and there would be these bright orange fruits hanging from every branch. It was quite a site. Of course, they would all ripen at the same time which meant they had to be picked all at once. Everyone scrambled to think of what to do with them before they spoiled. My mom always took a lug of them from a friend who lived not too far from us, in the Golden Triangle. (Look it up, it’s a thing—The Golden Triangle, Saratoga, CA) This variety is kind of tricky because you can’t eat them until they are mushy and pudding like. By then they are not a pretty color anymore. Sound appetizing? My brothers and I quickly learned you can’t eat them beautiful and orange from the tree as they have an astringent taste that will make your mouth pucker. No, they were only palatable after they had been cooked. My mom enjoyed making persimmon pudding this time of year and it makes me wonder why she didn’t plant a persimmon tree in our side orchard. My dad would have insisted the tree be in that part of the yard, otherwise such fruit laying on the ground would have probably been eaten by our dogs. I can’t imagine that would have been a good thing. 

Back then there were many nurseries in our area run by families of Japanese-American descent, and those businesses were busy landscaping yards in all the new housing developments in our area. Many of the plants they recommended for our gardens were from Japan, and that included the Hachiya variety persimmon tree. The nursery that designed our Saratoga garden was called Bonsai Nursery, and they were on the corner of Bollinger Road and Hiway 9 (now called De Anza Blvd). A nursery like Bonsai would design your garden for a fee and if you decided to go with their plan that fee would go towards their plants for your yard. Bonsai closed a number of years ago, but there is still another nursery from that time on De Anza Blvd. It is called Yamagami’s Nursery. I don’t remember many specific plants there were in that Saratoga garden, but I do remember a couple Japanese maples in our courtyard. They were spectacular even when they were first planted in the late 1960s/early 1970s. And if you drove past our old house in Saratoga today you would see them even now, towering majestically over the single story terra-cotta rooftop.  

I did promise to share my mother’s persimmon pudding recipe, but couldn’t find the recipe card. So, I looked online. This recipe looks similar to what I remember. (From Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, who was a frequent guest chef on A Chef’s Life—PBS. I actually saw the “A Chef’s Life” episode where Chef Vivian Howard helped Chef Smith make the persimmon pudding—PBS, Season 5, Episode 7 ) There was a recipe for hard sauce on the opposite side of my mom’s recipe card, but I think we almost never made because it was so good without adding anything quite that sweet. Sometimes she did make lightly sweetened whipped cream to go on top, but that was likely more for company and not us.

Ingredients:

1 T plus 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp, divided

3 C persimmons 

2 C buttermilk

1 1/2 C sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 C all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

Whipped cream topping, optional

* Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4 by 8 by 12 inch baking pan with 1T butter. Use a food mill, sieve or cone strainer to remove the seeds from the persimmons and puree the pulp; it will reduce them from 3 C to 2 C. Combine the puree with the buttermilk. Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. By hand, in a large mixing bowl, stir the persimmons into the butter.
  2. Sift all dry ingredients together and fold them into the persimmon mixture. Put the batter into the baking pan, and place the pan in a larger pan and fill halfway up with warm water. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours, or until the pudding is firm at the center, has pulled away from the sides of its pan, and a paring knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.
  3. Serve hot with fresh whipped cream. This will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days and reheats well in the oven or microwave.
  • My mom didn’t cook the persimmon pudding in a baking pan, but rather she made persimmon cupcakes in foil cupcake papers. (So, it would certainly take less than an hour to cook. I would probably check them after 20 minutes or so.) She also did not place the cupcake pan in a water bath, but rather put a pan of water just underneath the cupcakes. (We had an old and rusty square baking pan that she used for steaming a number of cakes and puddings in the oven.) My mom didn’t have a fancy mixer and just used her hand mixer when beating all the wet ingredients together. Finally, my mom had something she called a Mouli (Moulinex Mouli-Julienne Rotary 5 disc shredder grater slicer) to make the gooey persimmon pulp. She used this quite a bit for shredding and grating other fruits and vegetables. I remember her using it to make fried potatoes. (This is before food processors were around.) 
  • The above recipe talks about removing the seeds from the persimmons. I think Chef Smith must have been using an American variety of persimmon, common to the Atlantic seaboard. I understand they have seeds. As for the Japanese varieties we have here in CA, there are no seeds to worry about extracting.
    Fuyu persimmons
    Fuyu Persimmons, January 2020, (Inktense pencils and watercolor crayons on cold press Strathmore illustration board)

    I did this one this week. And I used my lovely cold press Strathmore illustration board, just to compare the fruits, time, and technique of the “quick and dirty” application of water soluble crayons over laboriously applied straight watercolors. It’s really hard to compare the two, but I like that this one got finished as is my usual. In fact, I decided I kind righted a wrong because my Fuyu persimmons seem to have the wings of a butterfly, rather than the stark appearance of a couple Sputniks floating out in space. (I do worry sometimes that putting two such fruits together look a little like breasts…but these seem to be OK.) 

    Oh, and I cut up the one on the right and sliced it on my morning mush. (I thought it looked to be the riper of the two.) All I had to do was peel and slice it, with no weird astringent taste. Woo hoo!

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