Grandmothers & Persimmons

I have to admit, December’s theme for the Blogger C.L.U.E. Society stumped me a bit; food my grandmother would have cooked. As I combed through all of Kate’s lovely recipes over at Kate’s Kitchen, I found recipe after recipe that I could imagine that my grandmother would enjoy eating and that I would enjoy making for my grandmother, but none that my grandmother would eat until Kate’s post about persimmons.

What a lovely story she told of her memories of picking persimmons with her grandmother at the library – these small, tough, golden orbs – unlike any fruit I have ever seen or eaten before, as a young child. And it reminded me of picking persimmons from the persimmon tree that grew nearly the height of my grandmother’s house in Japan and as young children, my brother and I would go to the upstairs bedroom and climb up to the roof and carefully steady ourselves, picking as many persimmons as our arms could reach.

My grandmother and her daughters would sit at the table, carving the persimmons into wedges and enjoying the fruit over a pot of tea while my brother and I found new and interesting ways to get my sister into trouble. During the same few years, my brother and I grew fond of a cartoon about a monkey and a crab. It was a tamer, animated version of the original Japanese folklore intended to teach children to work together and to have patience over greed. There are several lessons in this tale, but it stood out to me as a child because other than the persimmons that I picked off of my grandmother’s tree, I had never seen persimmons anywhere else.

The story of the crab and the monkey is lovely and in version intended for adults, violent. But it tells how one day the crab is out walking and finds a rice ball. Before he could eat it, a monkey sees him and having found a persimmon tree seed, he persuades the crab to trade the seed for the rice ball. At first, the crab is hesitant because he was hungry and enjoyed rice balls very much, but he knew that with some patience the persimmon tree would continue to feed him for several years. In the end, the crab trades the rice ball for the persimmon tree and goes home to plant it. A couple of years later, the tree has grown very tall and is abundant with fruit. The crab asks the monkey if he would climb the tree and pick the persimmons for him. Instead, the monkey climbs the tree and eats persimmons until he is full and as the crab persists, he begins to throw hard, unripe persimmons at the crab, injuring him.

The crab’s friends, a chestnut, a bee, a mortar (and pestle) and a cow pie would go to the monkey’s house to teach it a lesson. The chestnut hides in the monkey’s fire, the bee in a pail of water, the cow pie on the dirt floor and the mortar on the roof. When the monkey returns home, he tries to warm himself in front of the fire but the chestnut hits him in the head, burning him. The monkey reaches for the pail of water and gets stung by the bee while trying to cool his burns. The monkey jumps up and runs outside tripping on the cow pie and the mortar falls from the roof, killing the monkey.

Rest assured the monkey did not die in the animated cartoon, he taught the monkey a lesson while he rested, injured by his pride, the chestnut, bee, cow pie and mortar and they begin to work together and get along brilliantly. *Here is a lovely audio version of the full story, if you would like to hear it*

This story always stood out to me, as one of my only connections to persimmons and my grandmother. It is a fruit that my entire family would get very excited about enjoying in the fall when they were ripe. Kate remembers making persimmon pudding and in a copy of Indy Monthly, found a recipe for Persimmon Smash, a drink made from a homemade persimmon syrup!

The Persimmon Smash is the perfect, new way to enjoy persimmons as I share the stories with my husband and children and read my girls their (tame) version of story of the monkey and the crab. I made this drink with Fuyu Persimmons which hail from Japan while Kate used and enjoys a variety that is more native to Indiana, and the Fuyu variety is certainly more meaty than the variety grown in Indiana so they gave off much more liquid and created a bit more persimmon syrup than anticipated.

What I really enjoyed about this recipe, is that is seems to have honored the memories that Kate and I have respectively with our grandmothers and persimmons. Both of us being our own storytellers and journalists in our own right, we recorded how our grandmothers and simply picking persimmons has shaped a little bit of us, comforting us in a way that only a grandmother could. Which is exactly what I think this drink brings to each of us, it is warm and fragrant, full of small but mighty spices that really tie this special fall fruit into this cold season, and comforting – just like grandma. My grandmother would never make this for herself , but I would make this again and again (hold the vodka, for the girls) when I can find or pick persimmons.

The process of making the syrup has left behind a considerable amount of pulp that I gave to the girls and they easily gobbled up – it could nearly have been pudding, it was so thick! If you have never tried a persimmon before, I can only highly recommend it. It has a thick skin, which is edible but I don’t care for it’s papery-toughness and prefer to peel it away and eat just the tender, orange fruit within. The syrup comes together quickly and in no time, you can be sipping a Persimmon Smash and remembering all sorts of lovely memories about your grandmother!

*This recipe was originally published in “Indy Monthly” but I have adopted the process.*

INGREDIENTS:                                        yields 3-5 cocktail

  • 3 Ripe Persimmons, peeled (optional) & roughly chopped
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 2 C Water
  • 3/4 C Granulated Sugar

Put the persimmons, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, water and sugar in a small, deep saucepan that is able to hold at least 4 Cups worth of water. Turn on the heat to high and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes until it has come to a rapid boil.

Immediately turn down the heat to a bubbling, simmer. Stir the syrup ingredients occasionally so it doesnt burn, until the liquid is reduced by half and all the pieces of persimmon are incredibly soft and tender from boiling.

Remove the pan from the heat and use either an immersion blender or a traditional blender to blend the fruit into one thick paste. Pour this paste into a fine mesh colander situated over a bowl, and use the wooden spoon to push the liquid from the pulp through. One you have rubbed and smashed all the pulp against the mesh and removed as much liquid as possible.  The pulp can be saved and eaten with oatmeal, slathered on toast or made into pudding or a number of other things. Cool the syrup to room temperature before using.

INGREDIENTS:                                            yields one cocktail

  • 1 oz Vodka
  • 1 oz Persimmon Syrup (recipe above)
  • 1 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1 oz Orange Juice

Pour the vodka, persimmon syrup, lemon juice and orange juice into a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake the drink in the cocktail shaker until the drink is thoroughly chilled, then strain to serve into a cocktail glass.

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Don’t forget to check out all the other fabulous Grandmotherly Recipes that the rest of the Blogger C.L.U.E. Society made to share with you!

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