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Tuesday, November 15th, 2005

Considering the Persimmon

Santos, Scent of Green Bananas

Posted by Santos, Scent of Green Bananas | View all posts by Santos, Scent of Green Bananas
5 Comments » | Published in Delicious Design 2005, General  |  5 Comments

Santos lives on Guam and writes TSOGB — The Scent of Green Bananas. We asked her to blog for us on the subject of “the aesthetics of food” because she takes such wonderful photos. And she’s also a contemporary design aficionado, which doesn’t hurt.

Her entry is the first in our ‘Delicious Design’ event that brings together food bloggers and designers to mark the Thanksgiving holiday and the launch of our new Top of Table category. Enjoy!

persimmons, again.

I have a rather…perplexed history with the persimmon, from my first mistake of eating an unripe hachiya variety (astringent and nasty), to my second mistake of eating a ripe hachiya (globular and blobular), to finally finding the relatively agreeable fuyu (pictured above), whose bold outward appearance belies its rather delicate taste and pervasive sweetness. I admit, I once found that one-note and boring, but now I find pleasing and possessing of hidden depths [insert conclusions about my changing taste in men, shoes and dishes here].

I love the way the persimmon looks. It’s one of the most beautiful fruit I’ve seen, complex in its apparent simplicity, both stately and understated. Its smooth curves and barely contained tumescence are offset by an almost severe oriental ornamentation of withering sepal. There is the color: that burnished hue of orange that recalls warning signals and antiquity, yet is also safe and alive. There is nothing perfect about it–it’s too fat, too squat, mottled, uneven, either far too hard or bruisingly soft if not caught at the right moment. Its exterior practically taunts you to admire it, but once open you are faced with a dense expanse of flesh with no real core that only confounds you more. You expect fire and heat, but get a gentle sweetness that reminds me of thin nectar sipped from wildflowers, and, a surprising touch of exotic spice, like a waft of Indian incense clinging to a shimmer of cool silk. elise tells tale that the best persimmons are picked under a full moon; the spiciness of which I speak is found in the freckled flesh finessed by such literal lunacy. If a persimmon was a person, it would be pre-Mick Jagger violated Sophie Dahl: all curves, bombast, and braggadocio, but lush and decadent, and inside as sweet and innocent as the BFG’s captive she was purported to be.

The question, time and again: what do you do with a persimmon? Eat it, of course. But how is it prepared? Elise’s solution: slice it, stab it, and devour it. This is the purest way, really, to take in the flavor, but it decimates its outward beauty, takes it out of its skin. Truly, there are no recipes that can preserve that. However, I wanted to explore the changing nature of the persimmon (specifically the fuyu, as it is typical for this region), through various cooking techniques, to find the beauty within.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese seem to understand persimmons. Aesthetics seem to have a higher priority in Japanese cuisine than most others, and one of the ideas is that of shibui, or beauty that is inherent in something that occurs naturally–not only in appearance, but also the taste, and presentation. Whilst this idea has austere connotations, I think it also denotes a respect for the natural state of an object, or as natural as it can be within a circumstance. The Japanese recipes I have seen do not try to treat the persimmon as a substitute for another fruit, nor do they mask its properties. It is for this reason that I turned to my two latest cookbooks, Eric Gower’s “the breakaway Japanese kitchen” and “shunju” by Takashi Sugimoto, for recipes that might best respect the quixotic nature of this fruit.

persimmon balsamic chicken

The first recipe I tried was an adaptation of Gower’s persimmon balsamic chicken: poached chicken breast, with a sauce made from ripe persimmon, balsamic vinegar, and a little olive oil. The fruit is thoroughly cooked; as the pulp and balsamic reduce, the fruit becomes completely unrecognizable as what it is, both in form and taste. It becomes a viscous, unctuous, pungent spiced jam that gains a sort of meatiness, extra body. Ask anyone, and it won’t be identified; however, take it away, and you no longer have a remarkable sauce. Surprisingly, the chicken (poached in a gingery broth) stands up well to the strong reduction, mellowing it out considerably, and benefiting from the sweet and sour blend.

persimmon with yogurt and mint

The next recipe is a faithful reproduction of Gower’s persimmon yogurt salad with ginger, red onion, and mint. The persimmon isn’t cooked here, but peeled and sliced thinly, and combined with the other ingredients. Here the persimmon is somewhat recognizable, but its flavor is enhanced by the tart yogurt, the pungent onion, and refreshing mint. All the ingredients meld together yet remain wholly distinct.

persimmon  with brown sugar meringue

The final recipe is an interpretation of Shunju’s persimmons and brown-sugar meringue: discs of brown sugar meringue layered with whipped cream and slices of persimmon soaked in simple sugar syrup. You would think that all the sugar combined with the natural sweetness of the fruit would make this an aching proposition, but no, it is simply a revelation. The sugar syrup makes the fruit softer in texture and brings out the natural spiciness; the brown sugar gives the meringues a mocha-like nuttiness; the cream lends just the right amount of rich silkiness. When you slide a forkful into your mouth, the whole thing collapses into a whisper of sweetness and light, of lush and longing for more.

Have I come to any conclusions? No. But if I did, this dessert could be the perfect one….

**Thanks to the girl who ate everything and man that cooks for their help in this post.**

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  1. Antoi says:

    November 15th, 2005 at 11:11 pm (#)

    Santos, the persimmon + meringue sounds heavenly! I wonder what libation would go with this? I definitely need to “reconsider” the persimmon.

  2. santos. says:

    November 16th, 2005 at 8:09 am (#)

    miss antoi–eric gower recommends a california zinfandel for the persimmon balsamic chicken dish. i read somewhere that persimmons have a lot of tannins–would that make it work well with wine, or work against it? judging from some pairings i’ve seen on the web, i guess it works well. i’ve seen quite a few menus that pair persimmon desserts with a moscato. sometimes persimmon juice is added to sake during the distillation process, so you might be able to pair a sake with it.

    if you wanted to go non-alcoholic, i’ll bet something with ginger would go nicely–maybe a ginger cordial. better yet, try an elderflower cordial with the meringue (you can add it to the moscato :) ).

  3. Antoi says:

    November 17th, 2005 at 12:26 am (#)

    Excellent! I’ve never tried moscato, but this dish sounds like a good reason to start. I like the idea of ginger, though. Perhaps a ginger/mint infusion? Elderflower — what does this taste like?

  4. santos. says:

    November 17th, 2005 at 11:34 pm (#)

    oh yeah, mint and ginger sound lovely, a nice palate cleanser. there must be some very nice teas this would go with well; a touch of contrast with something acidic might not go amiss, like something pineapple-y.

    elderflower tastes a bit like florally, but more like wildflower nectar. when you were a kid, did you ever sip the nectar out of those little purple flowers that grew on asparagus-like stalks here on island? i don’t know what those are called, but i think they might be weeds. anyway, it tastes like that :) it’s funny because the best source for elderflower syrup i’ve found on the mainland is ikea–they sell big bottles of that stuff.

  5. Eric Gower says:

    November 30th, 2005 at 4:01 pm (#)

    Thanks Santos! You did a beautiful job!

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