The wild persimmons are ripe, hanging from the fall-tattered branches like small ornaments. Wild persimmons are, at best, a gamble. They are rather like how my brother’s girlfriend once described my mother’s cooking – either really good, or really bad. It all depends on the particular tree.
Some trees bear fruit that will pucker your mouth up and make you wish you had never tried a wild persimmon while you drool and spit uncontrollably for the next five minutes. But the good trees (and lucky you are to find one!) are sweeter than candy, like little bites of autumn holidays fragrant with hints of cinnamon and allspice.
It’s difficult to even get the good wild persimmons into the kitchen from the field. Birds, opossums, raccoons, children, and other animals love to eat them. They spoil quickly and are eaten even more quickly.
This year appears to be a very good year for the wild persimmons. We even managed to get some into the kitchen! Once we had them, so orange they seem to glow in the dish, it took some thinking and imagination for what exactly to do with them (other than just eat them plain, of course).
Attempts to freeze or cook persimmons have the unfortunate affects of bringing out all their wild, mouth-puckering qualities. I’ve concluded that really good, really ripe persimmons are a perfection that can’t be improved on, and the best way to handle them is to use them in their natural state.
Their sweetness and texture remind me of custard, and from this I came on the idea of filling a tart shell with wild persimmon pulp, which becomes a perfect tart filling with the seeds and peels removed. (Note: you can also make this recipe with the cultivated ripe astringent persimmons, if you have no edible and tasty wild trees to harvest from).
For The Crust:
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
about 1/4 cup of butter (I usually don’t measure, I just add a big chunk about the size of an egg)
about 1/4 cup cream
- Put the flour and salt into a bowl and mix together with a fork.
- Now work in the butter: often pastry recipes will tell you to soften the butter first. I never can remember to do that, and I am always in a rush. It doesn’t matter so much really (at least as far as I’ve noticed, and I make very nice pastries). If the butter is very cold out of the fridge, just cut it into smallish chunks and start to work it into the flour with your hands. The warmth of your hands will begin to soften the butter, anyway. The most important thing is to get to the point where the flour and butter look almost like bread crumbs. The best pastry has some large crumbs and some small crumbs. They add different qualities – small crumbs add tenderness, and large crumbs add flakiness. The flour/butter crumbly mixture will stick together satisfactorily in a dry, clumpy way if you press it in your fist. It shouldn’t be too buttery, or too dry.
- When you have a perfect crumbly butter-and-flour mixture, add the cream, a little at a time, until the dough is moist, but not sticky. It will be less cream than you think! Mix it in well before you add more. Knead the dough very gently a few times, until it is evenly mixed.
- Now clear a good rolling spot about 24″x24″, if possible, on the table or a counter. Sprinkle more flour on it in a generous layer, and put the ball of dough in the middle. Gently press down with your palms to flatten the ball of dough, and then sprinkle the dough surface with more flour.
- Roll out dough about 1/4 inch thick. Cut circles around small tart pans or ramikins (or if you have enough persimmons, press the dough into a large tart pan – by far the easiest!). Press dough in, trim the excess, and crimp the edges. Prick the bottoms with a fork a few times, to prevent the dough from bubbling up.
- Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.
For The Filling:
20-25 wild-harvested wild persimmons (taste-tested first!!)
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 1 tablespoon cinnamon or allspice, for dusting
- Pass the persimmons through a food mill – I use a Foley food mill and it worked great. As an experiment, I tried pressing some through a sieve. I was going to write “or, if you don’t have a food mill, pass them through a sieve”, only I discovered that this was an impossible task, so please don’t try it. Wild persimmon everywhere, and I still haven’t gotten all the skin particles out of the sieve mesh. Use a food mill, trust me.
- Carefully spoon the pulp into the cooled tart shells.
- Whip the cream and add the vanilla extract.
- To serve, put a dollop of whipped cream on each tartlette, and dust with cinnamon or allspice.