I can't recall exactly when I first tasted persimmon pudding, but I do know the place: my grandmother's North Carolina dairy farm kitchen, where I spent many happy hours feasting on the simple, seasonal Southern dishes I still love to cook today.
Dense and sturdy enough to cut into squares like a brownie, Grandmother's recipe was spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Its sweet flavor, moist texture, and deep brown hue pleased me greatly, even though it was rather plain compared to the monumental coconut layer cakes and decadent pies she baked for the holidays. Those were fancy prizes, while this was a quiet pleasure at the kitchen table on a cool autumn afternoon.
Fall is when persimmons come into season, and wild trees thrive throughout the South on the edges of cleared fields, from Maryland to Florida and from the North Carolina Piedmont to Texas and beyond. Their branches release yellowing leaves along with plump, orange-to-umber fruit, which dangle like Christmas tree ornaments. The sweet orbs drop to the earth from mid-August through late fall, which is also when you'll find conventionally grown types at your local grocery store.
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Pudding is the best way to enjoy this fruit, and it's well represented in community cookbooks and family recipe boxes, though the dessert is far less popular today than it was when gardens, canning, and foraging were common and essential.
I fell in love with persimmon pudding again, two decades after enjoying it as a young girl, having moved back home to Greensboro after three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. I had settled into daily life teaching middle school English and social studies, and (because I loved cooking) visiting the farmers' market was part of my weekly routine.
One day, I spotted it on a vendor's table, an old friend I'd nearly forgotten but recognized with pleasure even before I noticed the hand-lettered "Persimmon Pudding" sign. Rustic and deeply spiced, it tasted exactly like fall.
The vibrant and dazzling flavors of Thai cooking had expanded my sense of edible wonders, but this culinary reunion reminded me of what I'd missed during my years far from home.