The proof is in the persimmon pudding
Did I have you at 'pudding'? Here's a cookie recipe you've got to try, the first of a regularly offering: healthy, whole-food takes on cooking and baking.
By Lisa Brunette
After a few years’ wait for the tree to mature and bear fruit, this fall we finally saw a crop of persimmons grow on our native Diospyros virginiana.
We’d been babying the fruit, taking care to hang bird-deterrent reflectors near each one…
And then my niece Emma came over, just as one persimmon fruit was ripe enough to pick, so I showed her how. She loves the garden and has an excellent memory for IDing plants by leaf shape and other attributes.
I got caught up in a conversation with her mother, my sister, in another part of the garden, and since the garden is a long, rectangular 1/4-acre, I didn’t see what was then transpiring back at the persimmon tree…
…And that was that Emma had gone and picked most of the rest of the persimmons, which were not yet fully ripe. They were all laying at the foot of the tree. Her younger sister immediately threw her under the bus: “Emma did it.”
After a moment of surprised alarm, I realized I’d demonstrated picking persimmons off the tree but hadn’t taken the time to explain that the others weren’t ready and that we needed to wait for them to ripen.
I also noticed that many of them were at least close to ripe, so it wouldn’t hurt to see if I could make something of this harvest, in the spirit of lemonade out of lemons.
That’s an apt metaphor, by the way, because underripe persimmons are highly astringent and can make your mouth pucker as if you’d bitten into a lemon. No chance using the least ripe of Emma’s harvest; those would have to go into a paper bag, along with a ripe banana. The ethylene gas emitted by the banana would hasten the persimmon’s ripening.
But the ones that were pretty close to ripe? Those could be turned into cookies!
My first approach to every recipe is, “How can I make this healthier?” Hate me if you want, but there’s enough un-healthy food in our lives, and a lot of it’s not even really food anymore. So when I have a situation in which I want to make persimmon cookies but can only find your typical white-flour-and-white-sugar recipe, I adapt it.
This works for me so well that I want to share it with you. Consider this my inaugural attempt at what I hope will be a regular offering: healthy, whole-food takes on cooking and baking. Please note I’m not talking about gluten-free or vegan. After a lifetime of research and experiment on this topic, I can tell you that you do not have to give up wheat or go vegan in order to eat healthy. Far from it, in fact!
The beautiful thing about persimmons is that even if they’re not fully, totally ripe, if they’re soft enough, you can mash them and use the delicious pulp, as the skin is the most pucker-y part.
Some recipes will tell you to peel the skin off the persimmon, but that’s a tough and unnecessary task. To separate the pulp from the skin and seeds, use a food mill, sieve press, or ricer. I picked up a sieve press and ricer from antique stores, and they both work well. I use the sieve for large amounts and the handheld ricer when I’m pressing just a few pieces of fruit. Here’s a metal sieve press with a wooden pestle just like mine for sale on Etsy. I love this thing and use it for elderberries as well. I haven’t been able to source a ricer like mine online, but a potato ricer would work well. Some people swear by the Foley food mill, too, though I haven’t tried it.
If you’re too sugar-ed out from Halloween candy to make cookies, or you’re saving your sweets allotment for Thanksgiving Day, you can use persimmon pulp in a savory recipe instead. I added it to crockpot squash soup, and it gave the soup a velvety feel. Since the squash I used was Illinois white crookneck, which as its name suggests has a white skin and pale flesh, it didn’t have the golden quality of acorn or butternut, so the persimmon was a welcome ingredient.
But hey, my take on this cookie recipe yields a healthier cookie, and yes, that is a thing, so why deny yourself this treat, which is perfect for fall in every way?
The original recipe is from Backyard Forager. If you’d rather use the less-healthy version, feel free; I won’t judge. What I did to adapt it: Substituted whole wheat flour for more than half the flour, used raw cane turbinado sugar instead of white sugar, chose dark brown sugar over regular, increased the amount of spices (this is just to my taste), and replaced the black walnuts with pecans, making sure the nuts were roasted. That last substitution was just because I didn’t have any black walnuts, which is a pity, as they are also native, but pecans are a good substitute. I always roast (and sometimes also soak) the nuts to make them more easily digestible. This seems to help prevent the mild “itchy mouth” reaction some people have to nuts (myself included).
Note that turbinado sugar is still sugar; it’s just less processed than white sugar, with some of the molasses retained, which gives it more flavor and color. Backyard Forager’s recipe included spicebush berries as an ingredient, which is genius, as these are edible natives as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a spicebush, but allspice and ginger worked great instead.
Spiced Persimmon Cookies
1 cup persimmon pulp
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. allspice or ground spicebush berries
1 tsp. ground fresh or powdered ginger
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, roasted and chopped
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the pulp, spices, and baking soda. Stir and set aside. Here’s the cool science element to baking: The pulp-and-baking soda mixture will turn into a gel!
Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter with both sugars. Mix in the vanilla and egg. Then add the pulp mixture.
Mix in the flour, forming a stiff cookie batter. Stir in the nuts and raisins.
Using an ice-cream scoop, drop batter onto the parchment, leaving 2” between them. Bake 12-18 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool on parchment before moving, as they need time to solidify.
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