James Beard’s Amazing Persimmon Bread Recipe
Like most Americans, I’ve discovered that French people also aren’t so familiar with persimmons either. They see them at the market, but don’t stop to buy any. Or if they do, they take them home, bite into an unripe one, make a face, and toss ’em out.
One of my friends living north of San Francisco in Sonoma County had a enormous persimmon tree. Each fall, the leaves would drift off the tree, leaving bright orange globes of fruit dangling off the sparse branches. The beautiful, gnarled wood was quite a contrast to the smooth, brilliantly-colored orbs of fruit. (The wood of the persimmon tree is not just beautiful but it’s prized by makers of many of the finest golf clubs in the world and is considered superior to most others woods or man-made materials.)
The most common persimmon you’re likely to find is the Hachiya, a slightly elongated fruit that tapers to a point. They’re incredibly tannic and astringent when not ripe and need to be squishy-soft and feel like a full water-balloon before using, or you’ll be sorry. Once ripe, the sweet jelly-like pulp can be spooned out and pureed through a blender, food processor, or food mill, although some folks like to eat it as is or frozen. The pulp freezes beautifully, and in fact, I’ll often freeze some for late-winter use. To ripen a Hachiya persimmon, simply let it sit on your countertop until it’s so soft, it’s like a water balloon about to burst. You can hasten the process by putting persimmons in a well-sealed container; adding an apple, which give off a lot of ethyline gas, which will speed things up.
The other common persimmon is the Fuyu, which is more squat than the Hachiya and matte-orange. Unlike the Hachiya, the Fuyu is meant to be eaten hard and is delightfully crunchy. I peel them, then mix pieces into an autumnal fruit salad along with dates, slices of Comice pears, pomegranate seeds and yes…even some bits of prunes!
Finding recipes for using persimmons can be difficult. I invented a recipe for a quick Persimmon Cake for my book Room For Dessert, which I make often for Thanksgiving. And I also like James Beard’s Persimmon Bread, a nifty recipe from his classic book on breadmaking, Beard on Bread, published over 30 years ago.
I was fortunate to meet James Beard several times when he came to dinner at Chez Panisse. In the years after he passed away, we’d get all sorts of celebrity chefs breezing through our kitchen. Many of them were hyped, media-created hotshot superchefs who I never found as interesting as people like James Beard, Jane Grigson, and Richard Olney, who were really wonderful writers.
The most charming thing about this simple Persimmon Bread recipe is that Beard gives bakers an inexact amount of an ingredient: sugar. So go ahead just this one time to improvise a little. Although I recommend using the higher amount of sugar, feel free to use whichever quantity you’d like…after all, you have permission from the granddaddy of all cooks, James Beard himself.