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Stirring up memories


Plentiful persimmons
November 21, 2007

Just like lots of families, when our family gathers around the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, we take a few minutes to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for—our bountiful dinner, of course, and each other.

One thing I'll mention this year is Thanksgiving memories, just as surely as Santa brings up the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (where the Marching Bearcats have appeared more than once), when I catch the scent of sage dressing and warm pumpkin pies, memories wash over me.

This year's, I already know, will be of calendars.

Remember those old black and white movies that show time passing as the calendar flips? One minute it's New Year's Eve; then, flip, flip, flip—it's summer with the sun shining down on a crystal beach. A few more flips and the turkey is headed for the Thanksgiving feast.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll hear 20 calendars flip, flip, flipping in my head. Every one of those pages will hold a picture of Bainbridge. Twenty years ago, Thursday, Nov. 26, 1987, my eyes jerked open early. It was our first Bainbridge Thanksgiving, the first we hadn't shared with our children; the first Thanksgiving I would ever spend without speaking to my mom—we'd lost her in May.

I didn't have time to lie there feeling sorry for myself. I glanced at the clock. My sister and her husband were already on their way to the airport in Tulsa. They were coming to check out our new home. Time to get going.

Somehow, when I fell in love with the giant pine trees in the yard of our new home, I'd thought that with all those evergreens, autumn raking would be a thing of the past. Forget it.

Leaves don't fall, but pine needles do. My first lesson. My second followed quickly. That blanket covering my yard was not "pine needles." No, it was "pine straw." Many folks were happy to inform me of that.

After I checked the turkey baking instructions—I'd made the stuffing the night before—I headed for the door. Raking is slow work, but the pile at the curb began to grow. I didn't realize we were heaping treasure in the street until Bruce Kirbo Jr. pulled into the drive and strolled across the yard. Were we really throwing away the pinestraw, he asked. And if we were, was it OK if... We welcomed him to it, happy to have met a neighbor.

We'd been in Bainbridge only a few months. Both of us had new jobs, and I was commuting to Albany State University (then Albany State College). We hadn't met many people yet except at the Bainbridge Little Theatre annual party in October.

My dear across-the-street neighbor, Margretta Trulock and her pal, Flee Nussbaum, had taken me to explore Thomasville—we had a great time—and a couple of ladies had invited me to lunch before my school year started. Still, it felt lonely raking away in the low November sun. Margretta strolled across the street to wish us a good holiday. That gave me a chance to ask her about the mystery tree.

There was a little tree right at the curb—all summer it had been dense with dark green leaves. Now, practically overnight, it had shed and given me some leaves to rake after all. Right on the tippey top was one little orange fruit looking a bit wizened.

Margretta laughed when I asked her, how could I not know? "Why that's a persimmon! Make sure it's ripe before you eat it."

I'd always heard that eating a green (or even less-than-ripe) persimmon will give you a permanent pucker. Who can tell me?

It turned out to be a great day. Nan and Pete loved our house, loved the town, loved our yard and were crazy about South Georgia November weather. We had our turkey and cranberry sauce out on the front porch. For dessert after I cut the pumpkin pie, Bob carefully sliced the lonely persimmon into fourths. No puckers. It was perfectly ripe—and delicious. Just not enough.

Lots of things have changed over these 20 years. We've welcomed grandchildren to the Thanksgiving table and we can't count the number of friends we have here. So many good folks.

And—so many persimmons! For 2007, we'll enjoy persimmons again for Thanksgiving. We have a greater-than-bumper crop. Thanks to the still small but now fruit-ladened tree we continue to make contact with others.

Cathy Stevens e-mailed to ask about my bounty. Roslyn Palmer called to tell us that the seeds of the persimmon will predict the weather for the coming winter. One afternoon, I looked out my kitchen door to see an unfamiliar car. Sharon McGill, who works at the Department of Labor, just couldn't stand it. I intercepted her heading for the door. She asked if this was the house with the persimmons in front. We took the tour; Sharon left with a sack full.

This year there are enough that we won't slice and share. I did a bit of online research and found some yummy sounding recipes. The pudding is more of a dark cake. I'll serve up the chutney with the leftovers on Friday for lunch. Lunch may be better than Thanksgiving Dinner.

If the fruits seem too firm, an overnight visit to the freezer will soften them up. Check for all the seeds—make sure they are out. If you don't have persimmons, I suspect you can substitute dried dates, raisins or figs that have been covered for about 15 minutes in boiling water.

Persimmon pudding
4 cups persimmon pulp
2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the persimmon pulp and eggs using a whisk. Stir in sugar. Combine the flour and baking soda; stir into the persimmon alternating with milk until smooth. Pour into a large greased crock or casserole dish. Drop dabs of butter on top.

Bake for two hours in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes. Pudding will be dark brown when finished. Serve hot or cold.

Persimmon chews
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup uncooked persimmon pulp, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup confectioners' sugar mixed with ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans.

In the top of a double boiler, combine brown sugar, persimmon, nuts, egg yolks and butter.

Put boiler top over base containing boiling water; cook for 25 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Cool for about an hour. Form into balls about the size of a walnut, roll in the mixture of confectioners' sugar and chopped nuts and refrigerate about an hour before serving.

To store, pack in airtight tin with waxed paper between the layers; keep in a cool place.

Persimmon chutney
12 persimmons
6 lemons
½ cup cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon chili sauce or powder
2 tablespoons finely chopped raw ginger
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups cider vinegar
½ cup currants (optional)

Cut up lemons and soak in vinegar overnight. Blanch persimmons in boiling water for 5 minutes, then peel and dice. Add the lemons with all other ingredients and bring to boil. Continue boiling for about 40 minutes or until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from stove, allow mixture to cool, bottle and seal.

Weather lore I followed up on Roslyn's tip. Take the seed from a ripe persimmon and spit it lengthwise. The center will have an image of a piece of tableware. Here's where it gets confusing—one version declares that a spoon indicates a mild winter, another posits that a spoon means check the garage for Grampa's snow shovel. There's fair agreement that a knife means a raw winter with cutting winds, while a fork with all those tines indicates that your guess is as good as mine.

There are many legendary weather predictors, like the persimmon seeds and the story that: "Thunder and lightning in January, there will be high water in May," or "If it rains when the sun is out, it will rain at the same time the next day."

Share your favorites with me, and any favorite persimmon recipes that are stuck in your cookbook or your memory.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network