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Until I Get It Right: Persimmon Pie

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We've been doing some foraging under a particularly generous persimmon tree in Marietta. It has been dropping fruits since mid-October, and there are still a ton of them in the naked branches as of Nov. 17!

You don't have to pick them; they're lying all over the ground, like Easter eggs!

 Obviously, the thing to do was to make a pie.

I love a custard pie. But the bar is high. Bill's mom Elsa made a cherry custard pie for his birthday every year that was just the most delicious thing you've ever tasted. Her crust, for one, you could eat like a cookie, it was that good. And the custard was velvety and vanilla-y and it never tasted really eggy. I just don't know how she did it. I believe there was a double boiler involved. And time.

Two weeks ago I set out to make my first persimmon custard pie. I followed the custard recipe I found it Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It ruled out a graham cracker crust because you had to cook the liquid custard in the crust. OK. So I used a conventional pie crust (Pillsbury, if you must know) and Bittman's custard recipe. Not giving it here because read on.

Once it had cooked and set and cooled, I schmeared fresh persimmon pulp on top. I pulp the fruit with my fingers, just getting the seeds out. Many, if not most, of these cultivated American persimmons are seedless, a huge bonus. You can't really peel them at all; the skin is too thin to get a hold on it. So what I do is seed them and then mash them so the skins disappear into the pulp. I agree with the reader who commented that it's hardly worth pulping wild American persimmons--they're mostly seed. These cultivars are the bomb! There's a lot of food in each one.

This first pie was really, unexpectedly delicious. I will say that the custard part was quite eggy-tasting, and the consistency was that of flan--thin and a bit jiggly. So it wasn't quiiiite what I was going for. But it was still gone in a day, between me and Liam! No regerts!

Fast forward two weeks, and sweet Liam is coming home again for my lecture at People's Bank Theater in Marietta, Nov. 14. I resolve to make another attempt on this pie. I figure the missing element is VELVETY. So I Google "Velvety vanilla custard" and this recipe pops up.

Right away, I can see this is more what I'm after. I follow most of the instructions, omitting the candy thermometer (I can durn well tell when a cooking custard has set up) and the strainer (who cares if it's a little lumpy, and who wants to push custard through a strainer, then clean the strainer? Not the Lazy Chef.)

I cook it mostly to instruction, then cool it outside, with Saran over it to keep a skin from forming, while Liam and I make the graham cracker crust and pulp the persimmons. We are terrified a raccoon will come and eat the custard so we keep glancing nervously out on the deck (our big cheap refrigerator).

We make the crust with fresh cinnamon sugar Honey Maid graham crackers, even though they remind Liam of eating them while running cross country repeats which he did not like.  Liam lets out a little emotion in smashing them in a large Ziploc bag. We're a little short of them so we add a couple Breton wheat crackers to fill it out. We melt 6 TBS butter and mix it with 1 1/2 cup of crumbs, then press the mixture into a 9" pie plate and bake it at 350 for a few minutes until the edges start to brown. When the crust and the custard are both completely cool, we combine them and it looks like this:

I.E. YUM!! It's light and fluffy and vanilla-ey and not eggy. Not flanny. Perfect.

Here are the pulped persimmons.

 and the finished pie.

I cannot tell you how delicious this pie is. This is what I was shooting for, but it's better than I'd dared hope.

We had to let little Curtis clean up our plates. He likes persimmons! and, needless to say, custard...

It's been such fun having Liam home the last two weekends. And Thanksgiving break starts this coming weekend. I'm in tall corn and getting very spoiled. We all are! Liam is just about Curtis' favorite person on earth.

I've got lots of extra persimmon pulp. I'm going to freeze it, though it keeps remarkably well in the fridge. High sugar content, and it seems to have some kind of natural mold repellent. Very little problem with that. I want to find a way to get this stuff to my three cooking sisters, see what they do with it.

The gorgeous time is coming to an end, and we'll need bright cinnabar fruit to get us through the long gray winter.

If you don't have American persimmons around, you can do a custard pie with rhubarb, cherries, strawberries--anything that'll make a nice bright schmoosh for the topping. Bon appetit!!

Autumn in Marietta: Gingko Drop and Other Delights

Saturday, November 16, 2019

 My to-do lists probably don't look like most other people's. Oh, there's Bank Deposit and grocery lists and Take Trash and Check Proofs and all that. But there's also GINGKO DROP and GET PERSIMMONS and VISIT MAPLES. Late October and early November is a very busy time in Marietta, Ohio.
That first really hard freeze always makes the gingkos, with their primitive vascular systems, drop all their leaves within a few hours. If you're lucky, they've had time to turn gold first. Then you get this puddle of gold coins under the stark straight trunk, and it's pretty wonderful. So when I wake up to a really hard freeze, I head into town to seek out the gingkos I know, and see what happened overnight.


You've got to be careful not to slip on their nasty little fleshy fruits, which smell disconcertingly like vomit. I don't know what that is designed to attract. Dogs? Ishta. Oofda.

The miracle is that they're planted all over here. I love them, especially when they do their Halloween drama queen leaf drop. Look at the ombre shading on those little fan shaped leaves! Gingko leaves are the most primitive leaves you'll see. They're actually tiny fused twigs--hence the fan-shaped venation. Gingkos have no proper twigs--they've put them all into leaves. This tree hasn't changed since dinosaurs were browsing their branches. It hasn't needed to. 

The red maples were showing very well on Fifth Street on November 8. 

I wondered if this lady raking leaves knew that she matched her house? Pink top, black foundation. I love the color of her house. It's kind of a mauvey maroon, painted brick. Yum.

The fall color is better in town in early November than it is out my way, where it's a lot colder without the rivers to warm things up.  By then, the winds have taken most of the leaves away where we live.  Curtis and I walked the streets in all their lit-from-within glory. It was heaven.

He's caterwauling at me because he wants to get out the back and explore while I'm trying to load corn and seed in the car. Nope. You cover too much ground too fast. You are not Chet Baker, who rarely ever wore a collar because he never let Mether out of his sight.  You're a ramblin' man!

I've gotten into the habit of taking this little creature with me most everywhere I go. Fall is the time to do it, when it's not too cold or hot to leave him in the car for a little bit, and it's fun to walk him and take him to the office for a visit with the people he loves.

 A special hug for Cindy.

Back scritches from Angela! Tail going like mad the whole time.

Curtis keeps a ridiculously close eye on me when we go there, though, because the Bird Watcher's Digest office is where I left him when I went away for a long long time to Africa, for Pete's sake, and he doesn't want that to happen again. Oh, he did just fine, but he prefers to be with Mether. He's convinced that if he's vigilant enough he can prevent me from leaving without him. So he lies down and blocks doorways, to make sure I don't slip out without him. It's really funny. Everybody in the office is onto him and we laugh and laugh. He is Not Slow.  He is Always Thinking.

The most important thing I do in Marietta in late October and early November is Gather Persimmons. There are some absolutely fabulous trees planted on the streets, that produce wondrous quantities of the most succulent American persimmons you have ever seen.


They fall to the ground and just lie there for weeks and nobody much eats them. Most people are afraid to eat something off the ground. They walk up and tell me that as I'm picking them up and sucking on the seeds and putting them in my big green trug. "More for me!" I reply.
How silly that is, to be afraid of a fruit just because it didn't come from a store, wrapped in plastic. How sad that is. It's pathetic. This bounty, this bounty, and you're letting it rot.

 So I walk away with a trug full of gorgeous ripe 2" American persimmons, and they walk away thinking I'm weird and will probably croak young. I've tried to get people to just taste them and they refuse. Sigh. More for me.

 And what do I do with these fabulous fruits? Well, I usually eat the pulp for breakfast over 4% cottage cheese, and it is fabulous that way. But this year I decided to make pies.

My next post details my Quest for the Perfect Persimmon Custard Pie. 

Liam is Twenty!

Friday, November 8, 2019

I went out this morning, as I always do, looking for signs. The time of your birth, 7:24 am, came and went while I was waiting for the light to rise up in the east, enough to get me out in the frozen meadow with Curtis.

While you lay sleeping in Morgantown, I surrendered to insomnia and started my day at four-something, scribbling down a page of truths that I may as well start facing. It's true, I worry about being the only anchor for you and Phoebe in this world, the source of your comfort and stability and support. I think about you two with every single thing I do: the responsibility of being It. The One. I want to be here for your forever, guiding you and talking you through everything life is throwing at you. You're both far away, but it's as if you're in the next room to me, so close do I feel to you. Your joy is my joy, and your sadness is mine, too.

 Finally, it was light enough to go out and face the morning, and I was glad it was clear and frosty.

Every single morning, I head out to your dad's grave, rain, snow, wind, sun, it doesn't matter. And every morning I wish it were otherwise, and that I could see him, give him a hug, hear his voice instead of standing mutely in a little clearing in the meadow, unanswered, staring at the blasted stems of coneflower and liatris.  I wish that for you, for me, for the world. Nothing about the way things are makes sense to me, and I know you and Phoebe are struggling with it, too. It's your twentieth birthday, and even if I did balloons, which I don't, no amount of balloons and frosting is going to cover that truth over.

Because we can't have him, we look for signs: thin consolation, but something. He is strong, and I feel him pushing through the heavy curtains of time and space, trying to get back to us. I had just gotten out the front door this morning of your birthday when I heard the pair of ravens that has been coming by intermittently of late. I feel lucky to be on their route. It's so good to have ravens around--it's been several years since I've seen them here, and this pair just popped up this month. I feel incredibly honored when they look down at me, register me, even talk back to me when they see me. About three weeks ago, when I was running out on our road, one came flapping over to me so low I could hear the silken swish of its wings. Now why would a raven stoop to that, if it hadn't been sent? In my all-too- human longing, I imagine that your dad is sending them. Why wouldn't he pick a raven as his messenger? Strong and wicked smart and funny, too. Here they are, this morning's Liam's-birthday ravens, and please forgive my hopeful honking. It's what I do to keep them around, probably chuckling at me, for a little longer. Always, I wish they would stay a little longer. 


Here we are. The bonsai we planted just before you left for school is turning red at last. And the little patch of white to the right of it bore further investigation.

Oh! They're dirtflowers, frost flowers, pushing up through wet clay on this 20 degree night, to greet me in the morning.

White, like your beautiful hair, and a little unruly.  Another little message? Why not?

Ah, there's our boy, looking back at me through my Dear Old Dad's icy blue eyes, and that shock of hair like frost flowers.

  Curtis wanted to be in the picture. 

He pose, for you.

I am so very proud of you, learning to paint, and so good at it already. Who knew that years of markers would just segue so smoothly into oils? I don't think I could pull this painting off. Always, you amaze me. Helps to have subject matter you like, doesn't it? Liam, you just light up my life with your sweet, funny, sensitive and hugely empathetic soul.

Hey, beautiful, beautiful boy. I hope you have a wonderful day. I'm sorry this isn't a light, fun hi-ho kind of birthday post, but it's what came out. It's a letter from home, with frost flowers and birthday ravens and one little dog made of sugar peanuts.  Just know that your mama is full of love and hope for you as you make your way into the world. We're going to make it together.

Curtis told me he had a little dog-skit to perform for you, for your birthday, so I just stood back and let the camera roll. He says to be happy, to run loops around it all, and go as fast as you can and try to impress everybody! Oh, and he says to smile! And wag a lot. Love you sweet Liam; you're the best son I could ever dream up. Can't wait to throw my arms around you. Enjoy your concert tonight!!

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