We discovered the persimmon tree in September when we noticed the golden orbs hanging from the branches. We hadn’t paid attention to the tree before because it was in a relatively inaccessible area behind our house and we had no idea what it was or what if anything it would produce, it had not set fruit until this year. When we found the fruit, we realized it was American persimmon (aka common persimmon and Eastern persimmon), which is a berry in botanic terms. The fruit is small, ranging 1 to 1-1/2 inches (2.5 to 4 cm) in diameter and very sweet when ripe.
Persimmons are autumn fruits that can hang on even after frost, and you can wait until after frost to gather them to ensure they are fully ripe. The leaves start to droop and fall off the tree as the fruit ripens. The persimmons should be very soft and even a little wrinkled before eating, otherwise they’ll have a chalky taste. If the fruit starts to drop when you shake the tree, they are pretty much ready.
The tree we found is in a wild, untamed area surrounded by thistles, climbing vines, and poison ivy, and we also had to watch for snakes as we carefully made our way to it. There are actually three persimmon trees back there, all about the same size and one without fruit so it’s probably the male tree. Persimmon trees are either male or female and the female trees bear fruit. Unlike some fruit trees, persimmon seeds produce trees that are true to the mother tree and the trees grow wild and prolifically.
The birds were already picking at the fruit near the top of the tree, so we knew it was time to gather persimmons.
They taste sweet, almost like honey, and the flavor came through in this spiced cake. Except for the time it takes to press the persimmons, the cake is relatively easy to make. The thin lemon glaze is optional, Michael doesn’t care for it but I like the bright flavor and bit of crunch it adds. You can use other types of persimmons, such as Hachiya or Fuyu for this cake, but since those are larger you will use fewer fruits to get the same amount of puree.
SPICED PERSIMMON CAKE WITH DATES AND LEMON GLAZE
Makes 1 large Bundt cake.
medium mesh strainer
stand mixer with paddle attachment
12-cup Bundt pan, greased and floured
fine mesh strainer
1-1/2 to 2 pounds common persimmons, less if you use Hachiya or Fuyu persimmons (enough to make 2 cups of puree)
2 sticks (1/2 pound/227 g) unsalted butter
2 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups (240 ml) persimmon puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (360 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup (125 g) chopped dates or golden raisins
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup (130 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1. Preheat the oven to 325° F/165° C. Set rack in the middle of the oven.
2. PERSIMMON PUREE: Rinse the persimmons and remove the brown or green calyx. Place the strainer over the 2-quart bowl. One at a time, place a persimmon in the strainer and press down hard with the spatula. Press and move the spatula around, forcing the pulp through the mesh. Remove the seeds and skin and continue with the remaining persimmons. (Note: This can take a while when using small persimmons, so plan for it.)
3. In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until it it light and fluffy.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Add the persimmon puree and vanilla extract, and mix well.
5. In the medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture and stir gently, tossing in the chopped dates. Do not overmix.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after 1 hour has passed. When a tester comes out dry with just a few crumbs clinging, remove the pan from the oven. If the tester has no crumbs the cake will be dry.
7. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
8. MAKE THE GLAZE: While the cake is cooling, whisk together the the powdered sugar and lemon juice until the glaze is smooth.
9. Pour the glaze over the cake while warm. Allow to cool completely, then slice and serve.