Wild food gathering has always been a fascination of mine, ever since I was introduced, at an early age, to my father's copies of Euell Gibbons' treatises on the subject. Starting with The Beachcombers Guide and moving onto to other books such as Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I read and re-read his books on harvesting wild foods from land and sea until I practically had them memorized. Mr. Gibbons knew his stuff and when he wasn't talking about his experiences living off the land in Hawaii, he waxed rhapsodic about things like wild orach, crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay and savouring wild persimmons plucked straight from the tree in the depth of winter.
Euell described the wild American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) as "soft, sugary lumps of goodness". That is a pretty accurate description. These gooey, sticky treats are at their best when dead ripe. It is this softness which makes the American persimmon so unwelcome in modern supermarkets, as it cannot be shipped by any means. Luckily, to quote Mr. Gibbons, wild persimmons grow "from Connecticut to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Great Plains". If you don't have access to a wild persimmon tree you can still make a delicious persimmon bread using very soft Hachiya persimmons, which are a cultivated Japanese variety.
In my case I was lucky enough to identify a large persimmon tree growing at one end of my running route through Rock Creek Park in Washington DC. Once I realized what the orange spheres were, I starting carrying a plastic bag in my pocket, and planned my exercise so I would end the run at the tree, where I picked the partially smashed fruit off the ground from where they had fallen and then walked home with a bag full, getting weird looks from passersby on the trail as they tried to figure out what the hell I was doing.
What I was doing was gathering the ingredients to make the most delicious persimmon bread ever. So far that is the only thing I have made with the persimmons, although they would lend themselves beautifully to puddings, custards, pies and other preparations. But I like this bread so much that I haven't bothered so far. Try it for yourself and let me know if you agree.
This makes one loaf, which, if you slice it into 16 slices, is 148 calories per slice (if you use eggbeaters or egg whites instead of whole eggs).
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs or 1/2 cup eggbeaters or egg whites
1 cup of persimmon pulp (wash the fruit thoroughly and push them through a colander or sieve to remove seeds)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Mix together all dry ingredients except the sugar.
2. Stir together the sugar, oil, persimmon pulp and eggs or eggbeaters in another bowl.
3. Stir wet ingredients into the dry ones until just blended, adding walnuts as you do so. Dump your batter into a greased 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes. The final product is a dark coloured loaf with a delicious flavour that I especially love toasted. It is delicious plain, but also pairs well with cream cheese.