Last week, several of the Autumn Salad submissions contained persimmons, which got us thinking about this distinctive fall fruit, known by the ancient Greeks as the "fruit of the Gods." There are two main types of persimmons available in the United States: one is firm when ripe, and the other is soft. Fuyu persimmons, which are round and squat like a tomato, are the most common variety of firm-ripe, or "non-astringent" persimmon found in this country; these are typically sliced and eaten raw. Hachiya persimmons, a popular soft-ripe (or "astringent") variety, are longer and more pointed, and they're ready to eat when the flesh of the fruit softens to the consistency of jelly. It is this second type that you should look for when a recipe calls for "persimmon pulp," which is essentially just a fancy term for the soft flesh of an astringent persimmon after it has been scooped from its skin.
Persimmon is mild in flavor, and quite sweet. Personally, I think the fruit does its best work as a mellow foil for other dominant flavors -- whether it be the tartness of a vinaigrette or the warm, sweet spices of my aunt's famous Persimmon Chiffon Pie. I first had this pie several years ago, when my entire family spent Thanksgiving at her house in Indiana. The pie was a thing of beauty, a delicate pale peach mass floating atop a crisp, brown crust. I had never tasted a persimmon before -- at least, not that I could remember -- so of course I was curious. The pie was both ethereal and rich. It was lightly sweet from the persimmon and got a spicy kick from the gingersnap crust. It is one of the better, and more unusual, Thanksgiving pies I have ever had.
Here is the recipe, which originally came from a cookbook of persimmon recipes first published by Bear Wallow Books in 1978. Try it if you're feeling adventurous -- I promise you won't be disappointed.
Persimmon Chiffon Pie with a Gingersnap Crust
Serves 8 to 10
For the crust:
- 1 1/2 cups fine gingersnap crumbs
- Pinch of salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup sugar
For the filling:
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup persimmon pulp
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more for whipping
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan or plate. Mix together all of the ingredients for the crust using a fork, or pulse briefly in a food processor. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, using your fingers or the flat bottom of a drinking glass to press it over the base and about 1/2 an inch up the sides. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned and firm. Cool the pan on a rack while you prepare the filling.
2. Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. In a medium saucepan, combine the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar, and whisk until light and thick, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the persimmon pulp, milk, salt and spices and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thick.
3. Remove the persimmon mixture from the heat and add the softened gelatin, stirring gently until dissolved. Transfer to a clean bowl and refrigerate until the mixture begins to thicken. Using a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
4. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the gelatin mixture, and then gently fold in the egg whites. Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon before serving.