An October jaunt out to persimmon-expert Jerry Lehman’s 85-acre orchard near Terre Haute in southwestern Vigo County, Indiana, yielded loads of beautiful fully-ripe American persimmons. For anybody unfamiliar with this sweet little round fruit, the persimmon is an American native, highly-nutritious and prized by American Indians and early settlers.
The fruits are best when they ripen on the tree and drop to the ground, to be carefully plucked up by harvesters making their way along the tree rows. (Labor-intensive, yes, but the fruit is truly luscious that way.) Research from Slow Food USA (which includes the American persimmon in it’s Ark of Taste) shows that American Indians pulped persimmons, mixing the fruit with corn meal and acorns to make breads and soups. African Americans used the pulp to make sweet puddings, candy, and cakes. Early settlers roasted the seeds to make something like coffee. And Appalachians brewed dried persimmon seeds into a kind of beer.
While you can find wild American persimmons from Connecticut to Florida and as far west as Texas, the bulk of persimmon production in the United States has centered in Indiana. There a woman named Dymple Green (who passed away last year) commercially canned persimmon marketed as a product called “Dymple’s Delight.” This recipe is from a little booklet Dymple put together in the ’70s featuring persimmon puddings, breads, candies and cakes. We think the caramel icing perfectly highlights the already-caramelly overtones of the ripe fruit. Since most of us don’t have access to persimmon trees, here’s where you can buy the pulp.
And here’s another lovely persimmon cake for you to try: Persimmon Cake
Makes 1, two-layer 9-inch cake
Persimmon Pulp Ingredients
- 10 to 12 very ripe American persimmons
- 1 tsp bleach diluted in 1 full gallon of water (Note: It’s necessary to dip the fruit in this especially if the persimmons were harvested by picking them up off of the ground under the trees. Ensures that there is no bacteria on the fruit.)
Persimmon Spice Cake Ingredients
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil (grapeseed, canola or corn work well)
- 4 eggs, beaten well
- 2 cups persimmon pulp
- 2 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
- 1 tsp each salt, cinnamon and freshly-grated nutmeg
Caramel Icing Ingredients
- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- Make persimmon pulp: Place persimmons in a colander or large strainer and dip into the water that has the tiny amount of bleach in it. Remove. Pour out first batch of water. Wash the persimmons a second time with plenty of cold, clean water. Place persimmons in a food mill, or large fine-mesh strainer. Process through the mill, or, using a pestle, press the persimmons until all of the pulp is extracted through the sides of the strainer, leaving the seeds and skin behind. You should have at least two cups of persimmon pulp.
- Make cake: Cream sugar, oil, eggs and persimmon together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sift together dry ingredients and add in two batches to the wet ingredients, stirring until no flour streaks remain. Spray non-stick spray on two nine-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Pour batter into pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool cakes in pans on racks for 15 minutes. Remove cakes to racks.
- Make caramel frosting: Melt butter in large saucepan. Blend in brown sugar and salt. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring continually. Add milk and continue stirring until mixture heats to boiling. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar, adding vanilla at the end and whisking one more time. Ice cake immediately as caramel frosting will “set up” and begin to harden.