Fall is fully underway, and winter seems to be just around the corner. We’re still in a pandemic, we’ve just barely finished a nerve-wracking and historic presidential election, and South students have started a new trimester. Everyone could use a break.
Luckily, it’s persimmon season, folks!
If you go on a hike in Bloomington this time of year, watch out for the trees above you — they might have persimmons ready to drop on your head. For those unfamiliar with them, these small, custard-y fruits are one of the few fruits native to Indiana, and, while not very popular commercially, are easily found in the woods and backyards of Southern Indiana. They’re very soft when ripe, and can be a dark purplish-brown to a more orange color, with bright pumpkin-orange flesh. Their cousin, the Asian persimmon, is firmer and larger, but doesn’t have as rich of a flavor.
Persimmons can be eaten a lot of ways, but the most widely known is in pudding form. Persimmon pudding is a warm, cinnamon-y dessert, wonderful with ice cream, whipped cream or on its own, and a fun recipe for both beginners and seasoned cooks. Think of it sort of like a pumpkin pie. It’s an Indiana classic, and a lot of Hoosiers have recipes that have been in their family for generations.
Every step of the process of making persimmon pudding is a welcome reprieve from the craziness that is the world right now. Start by getting the persimmons — you can buy them at Bloomingfoods (or perhaps another grocery store, but I wouldn’t count on it), but they won’t be the American Persimmons native to Indiana. To find these, you might have to work a little harder. You may be lucky enough to have a tree in your yard or snag some at a farmer’s market, but if not, you’re going to need to find some woods. From experience, the woods around Monroe Lake have a lot. While you’re walking, watch above you — the fruits are small, but when you notice them you’ll see them everywhere. You don’t need a ton for this recipe, enough to make about a cup of pulp. Take your time on your persimmon-gathering hike, and enjoy the Indiana fall weather. To me, collecting your own food has always felt like a way to get back in touch with nature and the cycle of the seasons, something we’re often disconnected from nowadays.
Once you have your persimmons, you need to prepare them. Processing the fruit is a little challenging — they have small seeds, so it’s best to puree them and then mash them through a strainer. This might take a while, but it’s worth it. From there on, it’s not too hard. This recipe is from the grandmother of a Mitchell, Indiana resident who used it for her entire life — it’s supposedly been around for 150 years.
Share your freshly-made pudding with your family and friends, or just eat it on your own. Either way, this pudding is sure to warm you up as the days get colder, and give you a respite from the hustle of everyday life.
Recipe from Edith Catherine Fry Terrell, via IndyStar
1 cup pureed persimmons, Indiana wild variety
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
l/4 teaspoon salt
l/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of nutmeg
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Generously grease and 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Using a wooden spoon, stir baking soda into persimmon pureed and beat well. Add egg and sugar. Beat well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg. Beat well. Stir in the milk slowly and then the butter. Beat well.
Carefully pour mixture into the greased baking pan. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 50 minutes. Do not overbake. Makes 6 to 8 servings.