Early winter brings a wealth of tough-skined, ruby-red pomegranates, and by Christmas Matt and I are eating tiny, flavor-packed clementines by the box. Then there are the blood oranges, with their unexpectedly deep-hued flesh, and the startling tartness of winter grapefruit. I enjoy most of these on a regular basis, but there's one winter fruit I'd never tried until last week - the persimmon.
My brother is a professor at a university in Japan, and every year he can count on his tiny kitchen being filled with these smooth-skinned, orange fruits. Given as gifts by friends and students, they carpet his countertops, filling the air with their sweet ripeness. He may not have a real oven, or most of the modern conveniences I've come to rely on, but persimmons he has in abundance.
It's hard for me to imagine this, in a part of the world where the fruit isn't common, and where the price for a single piece, even in season, can be prohibitively expensive. But for my first taste of the fruit, I was willing to pay - if only for one persimmon. I picked the weightiest, most unblemished one I could find and brought it home.
It sat on my countertop for a few days as I deliberated when and how I should eat it. For my first persimmon experience, I wanted to taste the flesh of the fruit alone, but I also wanted to do something special with it to mark the occasion. In an effort to coax a decision, I brought out the Meiji era dishes my brother gave me for Christmas and began taking photos.
I love blue-and-white dishes of all kinds and these are my most precious, hand-picked by my brother in a Japanese antique shop. The coloring and history of these plates made them a perfect backdrop for my persimmon, and by the time I'd finished photographing the whole fruit, I'd all but decided to turn it into pancakes. One bite of its smooth, ever-so-slightly sweet flesh and I was convinced.
This recipe is based on a pumpkin pancake recipe from my sister, and these light, airy cakes were just perfect to showcase the flavor of the persimmon. The flesh is something like a papaya or mango, but with a certain taste all its own. Blended into a coarse puree and stirred into lightly sweetened pancake batter, it made some of the most delicious pancakes I have ever tasted. These pancakes are the perfect introduction for those who've never tried a persimmon. And for those lucky few whose kitchen is bursting with them, a pancake supper may be just what's in order.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1-2 persimmons, skinned and roughly blended
In medium-sized bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Whisk until well blended. In a small bowl, stir together butter, milk, egg and persimmon pulp. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the persimmon mixture. Stir until just combined - mixture may be lumpy. Spoon batter onto a preheated griddle or frying pan and cook over medium heat. Cook on the first side until the batter begins to bubble slightly and the bottom is browned. Flip and cook until done. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.
A few notes: There are two varieties of persimmons commonly found in U.S. stores. The Fuyu, like the one shown here, can be eaten when firm or soft, but Hachiya persimmons (easily identifiable by their pointy ends) must be allowed to ripen until squishy-soft or you'll have an unpleasant experience indeed!
If your persimmon (of either variety) is squishy-soft or sufficiently sweet, you can omit some or all of the sugar in the recipe. Also, because the pancakes are naturally sweetened, you don't really need maple syrup - but then again, when has maple syrup ever been about need? As far as texture goes, I like to keep the puree a little lumpy so that you get the occasional bite of solid fruit, but you can blend until liquid for a more uniform texture if desired.
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