For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Monday, December 21, 2009

SLO Austere

With a major holiday only a few days away and the end of the year sneaking up on me, I realize my Christmas cards remain unsent and my gifts for loved ones have yet to be purchased. But still I found time over the weekend to experiment with a family member’s traditional holiday recipe—a dense, moist, spicy dessert containing an exotic yet austere ingredient that reminded me of another life.

In the summer of 1995 I still remember stepping from an airplane into the sweltering humidity of Toyama Prefecture, a territory on earth known for such regional novelties as white shrimp, towering Alps, ornate woodwork, and delicious water. I embarked on my three-year journey in rural Japan, soon discovering seasonal habits and new crops that changed with the seasons.

During the fall, on a certain day in October—just like clock-work—my fellow teachers and students would suddenly appear in long-sleeve shirts and jackets, regardless of the temperature. Almost overnight, vending machines that once sold cold summery drinks of soda and tea transformed into hot beverage outlets. With the wet, snowy winter just around the bend, autumn boasted splendid colors of orange, yellow, and red on the mountainside (as if to tease the inevitable white blanket of snow). Fall also brought the beautiful burnt orange hue and seductive taste of the…persimmon.
The first time a Japanese friend offered me a crisp slice of the sublime, satisfying fuyu persimmon, this “true berry” tasted unlike any other fruit I’d ever tried. When my mother came to visit, her train rides in late November brought austere sightings of persimmon trees, with unadorned tree limbs stripped of leaves and beautiful orange kaki gently pulling the sparse branches. During this past weekend in San Luis Obispo County, she drove past a splendid persimmon tree, reminiscent of what she witnessed in a foreign land almost thirteen years ago.

The following recipe, contributed by my mom’s sister, Pam, allowed me to seek out the heart-shaped hachiya persimmon at my local SLO County farmer’s market. Pam originally received this seasonal union of ingredients from her family friend, Aunt Lou. Years ago, when Pam and her best friend, Colleen, would travel to Manhattan Beach, Colleen’s Aunt Lou always accompanied them to ensure they would “be good.” Pam reminisced that back then Aunt Lou seemed so old to her, although Pam believes she is now the same age as her. Each year, two days before Christmas, Aunt Lou would make the following recipe. My Aunt Pam carries on the tradition.

From one country to another…one generation to another…the austere persimmon astounds.

SLO Persimmon Pudding with Lemon Sauce
Original Recipe by Aunt Lou
Perfected by Aunt Pam

2 cups hachiya persimmon pulp—discard the skins
(These persimmons need to be very ripe. I found five at a local farmer’s market. When I happened upon a vendor with a whole box of ripe persimmons, he carefully checked and found five wonderful, mushy pieces of fruit that he felt would be right for the purposes of my recipe. When I assembled this in my kitchen, this fruit was so ripe I was able to squish the orange flesh right out of the skins).

4 eggs
½ cup butter (1 stick melted)
¾ cup milk
1 spoon vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chopped nuts
(I used raw walnuts fresh from the farmer's market)
½ cup chopped dates

Thoroughly whisk wet ingredients in medium-sized bowl. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and combine. Add walnuts and dates last.

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a 9 x 13 glass pan. Spread ingredients and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Lemon Sauce
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup boiling water

While pudding is baking, prepare lemon sauce by bringing water to boil and adding all ingredients. Whisk until incorporated and stir constantly until the sauce thickens (about five minutes).

My Aunt Pam recommends letting this recipe sit for two days to let the flavors meld. (I stuck mine in the fridge for that amount of time). I then served up a delicious slice, gently drizzled with lemon sauce, delighting in the dense fruity texture, the complex spices, and the tart citrus accent. Although the definition of austere is “severely simple; without ornament,” this dessert, containing one of my favorite austere ingredients, is anything but the contrary.
All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.
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