When I was a little girl, I spent weekends at my grandparents’ house. They had three acres of land, and over toward the side was a persimmon tree.
Every fall, there was persimmon pudding. And all year long there were other delicious things, mostly grown in their huge garden and served in season. My grandma cooked three meals each day, although she wasn’t a big fan of breakfast. My great-grandma was, though, and if I came into the kitchen early enough I’d often find her frying up a sausage patty for herself. Together, they clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers. Through weekly raids of garage sales and church sales, they amassed cookbooks and all the elements of a formidable batterie de cuisine. Their cooking was adventurous and filled with curiosity about the world. Food was a topic of conversation and a way of life.
The year I was eight, grandma got tired of having little slips of recipes stashed in various places and decided to re-write them all into a central text for herself. So she made this:
It was a handwritten collection of all her favorite recipes, kept in one of my grandpa’s discarded electronics binders.
I wouldn’t dream of moving those pages to a different binder today, unless the acid begins to eat the pages. As a package, it encapsulates so much about those people, that house, and that time. And it’s also a remarkable glimpse into the decades during which my grandma did her primary cooking. The recipes were written up in approximately 1984, and the pages contain everything from the Yule Tree Cookies she made for my mother in the 50s to Nancy Reagan’s Bourbon Sauce. They are all written in her meticulous secretarial hand, except for a few that are written up in my very best eight-year-old penmanship. I know it was my best, because I remember her telling me that I could help if I was very, very careful. And I took her seriously. I’ve had custody of the book for several years now, but until now have rarely been able to cook anything out of it because the memories are still so clear and so strong.
She loved her persimmon tree and loved persimmon pudding, and so the Puddings section contains no less than seven recipes for it. I happened upon some hachiya persimmons awhile back, and ripened them in the window until they were, well, over-ripened hachiyas — which still don’t have have the mushy consistency of an American persimmon. But I peeled and diced them, and then cooked them down with half of a split vanilla bean. Then I scraped the bean, tossed its shell, ran the persimmon mixture through the food processor quickly, and everything came together as it should. (Except the part where I managed to burn my armpit. Long story.)
When I cut a piece and bit in, I was suddenly back in her kitchen again on a fall day, watching her cook persimmon pudding in a coffee tin placed in a water bath. (I didn’t have a coffee tin, but it didn’t matter.) It’s been awhile since I experienced such a powerful sense memory — perhaps since the time a whiff of dill took me back to her August garden.
Here’s the recipe:
And if you have trouble reading that, here is is again:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup persimmon pulp
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla
Mix and sift flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Combine with remaining ingredients, stirring to mix. Turn into greased mold and steam 1 hour or bake at 325 about 50 minutes.
Serve with sauce made of 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 stick margarine, 3/4 cup water, and cornstarch as needed to thicken it slightly. Boil together until transparent.
(I omitted the raisins. It cooks up more like a cake or quick bread than a pudding per se, and since we’re not really fans of icing I didn’t make the sauce. You might, though, if you really want the full experience.)