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A Prickly Affair With Persimmons

While this is a faux persimmon, my new-found adoration of Hachiya persimmons is very much real.

Like so many great love affairs, this one began with trepidation.

After all, an astringent personality is not something one warms to readily. What was required was untold patience for its latent sweetness to reveal itself in time.

Such was my relationship with Hachiya persimmons.

Now, with its cousin, the Fuyu, the attraction was immediate. Cheerfully hued, beguilingly sweet, and ready to eat in a flash while still crisp, the Fuyu is thoroughly captivating in salads or pickled.

But the Hachyia? Well, it was more like that demon lurking in the shadows in a horror movie, biding its time as it transformed ever so slowly but surely into something blobby, oozy, and frightening.

Can you blame me for trying to avoid it for years?

Against my better wishes, I finally was forced to give it a chance, though. After all, when well-meaning friends start giving you Hachiyas without realizing your aversion, you kind of have no choice but to accept them. They’re a gift, after all.

These are Hachiya persimmons. They are heart-shaped, while the Fuyus are more squat (like the felt one in the top photo).

So after letting the puckery Hachiyas sit on the countertop for days until they ripened with their flesh turning as soft as applesauce, I took a taste with trepidation. It was like mango and papaya with a little apricot thrown in. And it was as sweet as candy. How could I ever have been anxious about something that tasted like this? The mind reels.

I know Hachiyas are a favorite for baking into cookies. Or even frozen whole, then eaten with a spoon like a fine sorbet. But what I had in mind for my newly beloved Hachiyas was cake.

I found exactly what I was looking for when I spotted the recipe for “Persimmon Cake” from Southern Living magazine. It calls for 1 1/2 cups of persimmon pulp. If you find that your persimmons aren’t ripening all at the same time, you can speed the process along by freezing them overnight, then defrosting in the fridge. The freezing will break down the cells so that the flesh softens. The persimmons might not be as sugary as if they were left to ripen slowly, but they will still be plenty sweet enough.

This recipe is so easy; you don’t even need an electric mixer. Just mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon, and pour into a greased Bundt pan.

A cake that’s as easy as it gets to make.

Extremely moist, this is very much like a spice cake — only with the added fruitiness of the persimmons, which impart a subtle dried mango or papaya taste.

If you want to experiment, a handful or so of chopped crystallized ginger would be a fabulous addition to the batter.

As it is, the only change I made to this cake was to add 1/3 cup more walnuts to it than it originally called for. What can I say? Unlike with Hachiyas, my passionate, long-standing affair with walnuts needs no explanation.

Got any persimmons still on your tree or in your freezer? Then, do yourself a favor and bake this cake.

Persimmon Cake

(Makes 1 Bundt cake)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups Hachiya persimmon pulp (from about 6 or 7 fresh persimmons)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/3 cups chopped lightly toasted walnuts

Vegetable shortening, butter or nonstick baking spray, for greasing pan

Powdered sugar, for garnishing

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in persimmon pulp, oil, melted butter, and eggs until well incorporated; stir in walnuts.

Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour, 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; return cake to wire rack, and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Dust with powdered sugar.

Adapted from a recipe in Southern Living, October 2019

Recipes Using Fuyu Persimmons: Persimmon Salad with Sweet Ginger Vinaigrette

And: Pickled Persimmons

And: Persimmons with Kinako Dressing and Black Sesame Salt From State Bird Provisions