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May 8, 2021

Winter’s bold fruit

The Persimmon tree first caught my eye many years ago as I turned onto Highway 9 near my Ben Lomond home. Only minutes earlier I had been pondering about my choice of dessert for our annual Winter Solstice celebratory dinner.

This tree seems to magically appear each year having shed its leaves, giving the fall sun a chance to ripen its golden orbs of fruit, turning them from a bright yellow to a deep orange, perfect for a holiday steamed pudding.

Twice I drove down the lane leading to the Persimmon tree, and twice the house under its branches was dark. Fruit from the tree hung heavy from its branches. It was so enticing, but not mine to pick. I returned home empty-handed.

The following December I again succumbed to longing for those beautiful Persimmons which were ripening and captivating my eyes as I turned onto the highway. This time as I drove down the narrow lane toward the house, there was a light glowing from within. Before I could knock, a voice called for me to ‘come,’ but a small Chihuahua with a ‘junkyard dog’ bark, held me at bay. A few minutes later, the dog under control, I entered. 

Mary Houhbauch, with the dog on her lap, was sitting on her couch, her walker close by. We exchanged names, a few pleasantries, and my reason for being there; Persimmons for my Solstice pudding, I said.

“My Husband Max planted that tree some 40 years ago”. Mary exclaimed. “Jellies, jams and puddings have been made from that tree’s fruit, but the years have passed, my husband is gone, and I” – Mary gesturing toward her walker –“well now the fruit ripens and drops for the wildlife to eat. My friends Irene and Al who lived across the way, would take the fruit, but they are now gone as well.”

Irene and Al LeGate, I almost shouted. “You knew them?” Mary asked. Knew them… I bought their home and work in their garden every day, I exclaimed.

Moments passed, the sun had dropped behind the mountain, as Mary with sadness in her voice, almost inaudible at times, recalled the LeGates and having taken part in one another’s weddings, had continued their friendship until death separated them one-by-one.

Promising Mary I would return for another visit soon, I stepped outside into the now twilight and began harvesting enough fruit for my pudding.

The following year I remembered my promise to visit Mary. It was springtime and the Persimmon tree was filled with leaves and flowers, once again promising fruit for the Winter Solstice. And as in the past, I knocked on Mary’s door, expecting to hear the little dog’s ‘junkyard’ bark…but no sound came from within.  

Months went by; my Hubby and I traveled during that holiday season and there was no need for persimmons.   

When we returned in January, I saw a few of those beautiful orange orbs still clinging to the tree, sparkling in the winter’s sunshine, and as I turned onto Mary’s lane, a ‘For Sale’ sign loomed in front of me. Mary had been moved to a rest home where she soon passed…Mary was now reunited with her hubby Al.

Mary was 93.

Mary left my life as quietly as she had entered. The Persimmon tree today has but a few of those beautiful fruits still clinging to its bare branches, reminding me of my brief but poignant visit with Mary.

I hope Mary wouldn’t mind that I have named my pudding… Mary’s pudding…after all, hadn’t those beautiful golden orbs once belonged to her?

Mary’s Persimmon Steamed Pudding

  • 1 ¾ cup mushy soft Hachiya Persimmons pureed; set aside
  • Butter a 6 cup mold and lid

In a bowl add and set aside:

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

In a mixer bowl add:

  • ½ cup soft unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbsp. loose light brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Beat until light and fluffy 

Then add:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Mix well.

Along with ½ cup whole milk add dry ingredients. Mix well.

Pour batter into the mold, cover tightly and place a rack in a pot taller than the mold.  Place mold in a pot and fill half-way up the side of the mold with boiling water and cover pot. Maintain water level by adding more boiling water as needed. Gently boil for 1 ½ hours. Remove mold and its cover. Let sit for 20 minutes and turn out onto a plate. This pudding freezes well.

Vanilla or Rum Sauce

Stir together:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • Add ¾ cup boiling water and stir together quickly

Over low heat:

  • Add 2 Tbsp. butter, stir well
  • Add ¼ cup heavy cream, stir well
  • Add 2 tsp. vanilla or rum

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].