Friday, October 26, 2007

Puckering up with Persimmons.

October 26th

When the word “persimmon” is mentioned, is the word “puckery” ever far behind? It seems not, and Henry Thoreau certainly put them together in his journal article of this day in 1856.

“The persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana) quite common. Saw some trees quite full of fruit. There was a little left on the trees when I left, November 24th, but I should think it was in its prime about the end of the first week of November, i.e., what would readily shake off. Before, it was commonly puckery. In any case it furs the mouth just like the choke-cherry. It is not good for much. They would be more edible if it were not for the numerous large seeds, and when you have rejected them there is little but skin left. Yet I was surprised that the fruit was not more generally gathered.”

We pucker-up for unripe persimmons because of their highly astringent nature – an astringent being a chemical that actually dries and shrinks body tissue. It seems we may be biologically programmed to react unfavourably to bitter and astringent foods as in nature they often indicate poisons, so a taste for such foods must be acquired. Certainly we are able to do this to some extent: the followers of Ayurvedic principles consider bitter to be one of the six basic tastes; many Asian people enjoy bitter melon; many Engish people enjoy their tea with industrial-strength tannins. I don’t know anyone who relishes unripe bananas, but you may be lurking out there.

Some foods are said to be psycho-active (all chocolate and some mushrooms?), but here we have a food that has a direct physical effect that is completely unrelated to its nutritional value. The great astringency of an unripe persimmon will stimulate the muscles of the face to form a “corrugation of the skin of the face, brow, lips” – or, less prosaically, to “drawe a man’s mouth awrie, with much torment”.

Are there any other foods that have such a sudden and direct physical effect? The only ones I can think of, after much brain-wracking, are chilli peppers on most occasions when they are eaten, and ice-cream when it causes “ice-cream headache”. Both the chilli pepper and the ice-cream experience are examples of a neurological glitch caused by the misinterpretation of a sensory stimulus in the mouth (chemical or temperature). In the case of the chilli peppers, the significance of the capsaicin (the “hot” chemical) is misinterpreted by the brain, which invokes the body’s heat loss mechanisms (flushing, sweating). In an incident of “brain-freeze” the constriction of the blood vessels in the palate due to the cold ice-cream triggers a neurological response called referred pain that is thankfully usually very brief. Can you think of any other examples?

To avoid serious persimmon-pucker, there seems to be only two choices: eat them very ripe, or try this trick from a United States Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin of 1915:

“Since heat makes the astringency of the persimmon more apparent, it is always well to add one-half teaspoonful of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) to each cupful of persimmon pulp in all recipes where the fruit is subjected to heat. Although it has been proved by experiment that the soda may be omitted if the fruit is entirely free from astringency, it is better to use it until one is sure of the quality of the persimmon pulp.”

In a previous post we had recipes for Persimmon Bread and Persimmon Beer. Here are a couple of recipes from the Farmers’ Bulletin that might be a bit more practical for most of us today.

PERSIMMON-PEANUT GRIDDLECAKES.
1 cup of persimmon pulp.
1 teaspoonful of baking powder.
1 tablespoonful of peanut butter.
1/2 teaspoonful of soda.
1 egg. Milk to make a thin batter.
1 cup of flour.
Bake and serve as above. [i.e on a hot griddle; serve with butter or sirop]

PERSIMMON-PEANUT MUFFINS (A GOOD RECIPE FOR CAMPERS).
1/2 cup of persimmon pulp.
1 teaspoonful of baking powder.
1 tablespoonful of peanut butter.
1/2 teaspoonful of soda.
1 cup of flour.
Press or cut in pats 1/2 inch thick and bake in a quick oven.

Monday’s Story …

To the Officers of the Mouth.

Quotation for the Day …

… its [the persimmon’s] bitter power of astringency is surprising, and seems capable of suspending for a time all the faculties of the lips, and binds up the risible muscles of the sufferer to the same extent that it excites those of a spectator. Charles Augustus Murray (in the 1830’s)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like unripe bananas. As for Persimmons, I love them - the trick with some of them is just like the Cherimoya. You let it get so ripe it is super-soft and mushy. Best way to do that for either is to put them in a paper bag with an apple.

There are some Persimmons you are supposed to eat hard-ish. They are still good and rarely astringent.

Remember, often if your Persimmon is not juice, it's not ripe!

Well, more accurately:
Hachiya Persimmon - let it get soft soft mushy soft!
Black Persimmon - let it turn black!
Date-Plum - eat it semi-soft.

Astringent Persimmons are Korean or Hachiya. Non-Astringent are Fuyu, Jiro, and Hanagosho. And remember not all Persimmons are edible!

(I enjoy the old foodie - keep it up!)

erik_flannestad said...

I've also heard freezing persimmons will work to "blet" them.

Amazing blog, by the way! So much good information every day!

maki said...

In Japan, bitter persimmons (shibugaki) are peeled and then dried whole for several weeks (becoming hoshigaki), which turns them very sweet because the bitter/astringent substance drips out. My grandmother used to make them every year.

Here's a Japanese page that shows how it's done. (they are not cooked in the pan of boiling water, they are just dipped in to sterilize them.)

Karen Resta said...

Lychees are another food that can leave a puckery feeling if not completely ripe.

The Old Foodie said...

I think I need to go to Japan and have really good persimmons.

Peko-P said...

Hello, I just happened upon your blog while I was doing some research for a story on my blog, KyotoFoodie about persimmons. It looks like your blog doesn't accept trackbacks, so here is the link to the story.

http://kyotofoodie.com/japanese-persimmon-shibugaki/

About maki's comment above, I have made hoshigaki a number of times and I have not noticed anything 'dripping out' of the persimmons as they dry. I think that the tannins just break down.

I love your blog and put it on my list of blogs to ready!

Peko

The Old Foodie said...

Hello peko-p
Thanks for finding me and commenting - now I know about your blog. Dont you love the web? I must fix the trackback thing, but am not very technically savvy ...