Monday, December 6, 2010


Glowing red-orange orbs of fruit on a neighbor’s tree had a powerful attraction. I could see them, dangling tantalizingly, every time I went up the steps to my car. The fruit attracted small birds as well. I watched them peck holes in the bright skins, hollowing out the fruit. Time to take action. As my neighbor would be away for months, I took a step-stool and basket and managed to pick all but the top-most fruits.

Now that I had a basket of gorgeous persimmons, what to do with them? A little internet research showed me that persimmons come in two main varieties, Fuyu, which can be eaten while still firm, and Hachiya, which must be very ripe or else are too astringent to eat.

From the photos, I decided my cache of fruit were Fuyu, so I cut them up into a sort-of Waldorf salad with apples, celery and toasted almonds.

I was so wrong!! The fruit was so astringent it turned my mouth inside-out. Completely inedible.

So I piled the persimmons on a tray and waited. They ripened one by one, gradually softening from the bottom to the calyx and turning a deep tomato red color.

I cut one in half and scooped out the pulp, now very mushy, with a spoon. It was juicy and very, very sweet. Not “fruity,” just intensely sweet, like honey or dates or raisins.

A friend and I ate one or two a day. Excess ripe ones were scooped out and stashed in the freezer.

I was itching to do something more exciting with all this exotic fruit. With Thanksgiving approaching, I decided to invent a dessert with a Spanish inflection using the persimmons. Thus, persimmon flan.

Would the remainder of the fruit ripen in time? Someone suggested freezing them to speed up the process of softening, changing that god-awful tannic astringency to sweetness. That seemed to work, giving me a sweet and gorgeously colorful puree.

By the way, the persimmon is called caqui in Spanish. When my flan emerged from the oven, it was no longer that burnished orange of the fresh fruit, but rather the color of caca. I don’t think I need to translate, do I? And, while it tasted very nice, perhaps persimmons are best enjoyed without too much fuss.

Persimmon Flan

I think anisette liqueur, called aguardiente de anís in Spain, adds to the persimmon’s flavor.

Serves 8 to 10.

1 cup + ¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 cup milk
1 ¼ cups evaporated milk
5 eggs
2 cups persimmon puree
½ tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anisette
Unsweetened whipped cream, to serve

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat a 2-quart round oven casserole or flan mold in the oven.

Place 1 cup of sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and cook over moderate heat until the sugar melts and turns a dark gold. Pour the caramel syrup into the heated oven casserole, tilting it to cover the bottom and sides.

Combine remaining sugar, milk and evaporated milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Beat the eggs until foamy and beat in the persimmon puree, cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves, salt and anisette. Beat in the hot milk.

Pour the persimmon-egg-milk mixture into the caramel-coated casserole. Set it in a pan of boiling water and bake until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Remove the casserole from the pan and allow to cool completely, then refrigerate the flan overnight.

To serve, run a knife around the edges of the flan to loosen the custard. Place a serving dish with a rim on top and invert the flan onto it. Serve the flan with whipped cream.

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