Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Life Gives You Persimmons...

       Just outside my backyard fence, straddled in between what could be considered both our and our neighbor's property, bordered by a small creek, is a Persimmon tree. Last summer, before I knew what species the tree was was, I noticed that it had started dropping odd, squishy, seed-filled fruits into a corner of our backyard. This summer, the fruits seemed even larger than last year, and I decided to go online to figure out what they were, and more importantly, whether or not they were edible. I can't remember, but I think I googled something like "wild fruit south carolina" and browsed through photos until I found a match. The fruits were persimmons, and they were indeed edible. They were used by the Native Americans to make puddings due to the high amount of naturally occurring pectin, as well as an alcoholic persimmon moonshine-type beverage. I've often complained that despite the abundance of trees in South Carolina, it's rare to find trees that grow anything useful, i.e. delicious fruits or nuts. I'm always that weird kid that tries to get coconuts off of trees on vacation in Miami, or pick oranges from trees in a friend's backyard in California, or try the wild fruit I find out on the golf course during golf practice. I like the idea of being able to "live off of the land", and now this persimmon tree was giving me a golden opportunity for a foray into foraging.

               Although sometimes my actions seem reckless and foolhardy to the casual observer, like consuming random wild fruit and feeding it to my family for example, I always do my research first. I made sure that persimmons didn't have any similar-looking, poisonous relatives in the fruit tree family. I read up on how to properly harvest them for peak ripeness: apparently, you have to let them fall to the ground first before you can eat them. I even tasted them, and man o' manischewitz did I get a serious case of drymouth. Even slightly unripe persimmons contain super high amounts of tanins, which caused my mouth to pucker up rather uncomfortably. I "harvested" the fallen persimmons from my backyard twice a day, usually when letting my dog out for some fresh air. That way I knew they hadn't been on the ground long, and I didn't have to compete with ants and snails for the fruit.

               After I had enough ( in the interval I stored them in the fridge) I would pulpify them, squishing them with a wooden rice paddle through a mesh sieve. I then froze the pulp and waited until I collected enough persimmons for the next batch. I looked up different persimmon pulp recipes and decided to try my hand at persimmon pudding, which is more like a pudding in the english sense; dense, moist, and cake-like by our standards. Here is a link to the recipe I used, in case any of you are lucky enough to have access to your own persimmon tree.
Pulpy goodness

                About a week and a half later, amid near-constant chiding (Mom-"I hope you don't waste all of those ingredients on something we can't even eat." Sister-"Why don't YOU try it know, just in case it's poisonous and you die") I mixed the pulp with flour, sugar, milk, butter, etc and popped it into the oven. I used a bundt pan instead of the recommended 13x9" because it appealed more to my aesthetic, i.e. the finished product would look "prettier." As an accoutrement, I decided to whip up some Sour Lemon Sauce, per the suggestion of Martha Stewart Living online, where it was recommended as an ideal accompaniment to persimmon pudding. If it's good enough for Martha, it's good enough for me. I didn't have any lemons, though, so I zested some clementines and used RealLemon lemon juice.

                  It's one thing to think you're a great cook or to think that you did enough research to properly identify and prepare a wild fruit in a dessert, it's a whole other thing to eat said dessert. My sister eyed me suspiciously as a took my first forkful. She was watching, I suspect, for the sudden outbreak of a cold sweat or for me to start gagging. Surprise, surprise, it was pretty darn good. A little bit drymouth-inducing, but it went away quickly and stayed away during subsequent bites of the pudding. I had done it; I had transformed wild, fragrant pulpy persimmons into an attractive dessert with a full-bodied, sophisticated flavor. Making this pudding was an accomplishment in more ways than one. It gave me confidence that I could do something and see it through from the initial research phase to the finished product. It showed me that I had enough patience to every day collect small fruits and to store and pulp them. It gave me a chance to express my creative side through cooking, and taking photos throughout the process reminded me how much I love photography and how beautiful the outdoors can be. Who would have thought that the persimmon tree would turn out to be my very own Giving Tree.  In a job market where countless unanswered cover letter emails can make it easy to feel down on yourself, it was nice to remind myself that despite my currently unemployed status, I can do stuff. And that stuff can taste good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Post, Part Deux

Hello All,

I'm back! I've been vacillating back and forth for a bit over a month now on whether or not I should start blogging again, and I was finally convinced by an Ira Glass quote I came across on that virtual forum of wisdom, Facebook. The quote goes as follows:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”

I wouldn't call myself a writer per se or even an aspiring writer, in the professional sense. I do enjoy writing, however, and I love the written word. I've been told that I'm a pretty good writer, and I've just recently gotten to the point that I don't cringe in disgust when I re-read something that I've written. One day I want to be a good writer, I know that much. Not so that I can get a job at WSJ, particularly, but for the knowledge that I can write, and write well.  It's important to me that my writing meets up with the expectations of my internal critic. And so, to that end, I take up the virtual quill again, hoping that the old maxim "practice makes perfect" will play itself out. 

I wondered if it was a good idea to publish using the same travel blog I used during study abroad last year, but the blog's title still holds up for what I expect the subject matter will mostly concern, various goings-on in my life. For example, the first post will be about my experiences identifying and collecting wild persimmons from a tree that grows just beyond the wooden fence in my backyard, and making said persimmons into an edible delight. I also consider myself an amateur photographer, so there will be photos (woo hoo!). 

Nothing is static in life. This is me moving forward.    :)