Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Recipe for Persimmon Scones, or "Jumbles"

One may not know it, but now is the season for persimmons, Diospyros kaki "Hachiya," so gorgeously pictured above, with leaves a dark glossy green, thick and large, making for stunning contrast to the bright orange fruit as it ripens. There is an American Persimmon tree, Diospyros virginiana, as well, native to eastern United States north and south. So, really, they are not quite as exotic as they may sound.

Persimmons may be eaten fresh off the tree, especially if you happen to be lucky and grow the non-astringent "chocolate" type. Otherwise, it would be wise to let the fruit ripen, preferably on the tree, not to be picked till it's on the verge of frostbite, especially if you have the native D. virginiana, or D. texana.

If you've ever eaten a persimmon picked at the wrong time, or not properly ripened, and experienced intense mouth puckering, let me plead with you not to give up yet on this beautiful fruit. Blame the tannin. This is the substance which underlies the ones that are classified as astringent.

But really, think about making persimmon scones, or better yet, call them jumbles - this more readily connotes fun and games. Apparently it is quite a southern delicacy. And do use the oblong asian Hachiya variety (as opposed to the round and squat asian Fuyu ones,) if you can. They're available from greengrocers this time of the year - and now you know what they look like. One does not need to plant a tree, the tree is the bonus.

One does need two really, really ripe persimmons - so ripe they are exceedingly soft, the skin practically translucent. Wash the fruits, keeping the skin on, discarding the stems. Cut up and puree persimmons in a food processor or blender until smooth, you should get about 2 cups of pulp.

Note: If you're lazy, or bereft of kitchen electricals, you can buy persimmon pulp already sweetened, and so skip adding the cup of sugar too. I'm sure Google can tell you where to buy online. This paragraph is written as a concession to civility; I hasten to remind all that we're on a gardening blog. It is enough that I let you buy the fruits from a store.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Use 2 large cookie sheets, buttered or lined with parchment or those new silicone liners.

Sift 3 cups of unbleached flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. each of ground cinnamon and allspice, 1/8 tsp. of nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. salt together.

In a larger bowl, with an electric mixer, beat 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter and 1 cup sugar until light and frothy about 2 minutes. Beat in 1 large egg. Fold in the 2 cups persimmon pulp. Stir in the flour mixture, making a soft dough. Finally, mix in 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1 cup currants. You can also use dried cranberries instead of currants. I did.

If you prefer cookies to scones, use one cup less, each, of flour and mashed persimmon.

Drop a scant tablespoon of dough, each about 1-2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly brown. You should get about 24 -30 smallish tidbits.

I won't tell you that you'll have to take the jumbles out of the oven, let them cool by whatever method you prefer, and either eat them yourself, or share them with others - whatever you deem fit.

I think you'll like them.

Monday, November 10, 2008


No, I'm not name calling, I only want to post the photo of a lotus pod taken this fall at the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. But it makes for a good title, doesn't it?

Though, on second thought, why not? Why not write about the lotophagi, the original lotus-eaters of classical mythology - the island folk from whom Odysseus has to drag his men away, because his men have eaten of the lotus "fruit," so delicious a fruit that all who partake of it forget the past and wish to remain in the neverland of a drug-induced dreamworld.

And then there is Episode 5 in Ulysses, "Lotus Eaters." In James Joyce's riff on Homer's Odyssey, Leopold Bloom's latter-day Odysseus daydreams life as a lotus-eater in the distant exotic Orient:

...lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente. Not doing a hand's turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes. Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air. Walk on roseleaves...

It has been speculated that Homer's lotus fruits may have been some kind of jujube, Ziziphus lotus. It is reputedly not Nelumbo sp., the plant which produces the pod of a water lotus shown in our photograph - a plant venerated throughout the ancient Far to Middle East. Every part of the water lotus is edible. In those cultures, the brown pupilled dilated-looking white eyes in our lotus pod are a common and versatile edible bean, and can be eaten fresh, dried or popped; alternately, they can be milled or ground into flour or paste. No reports of hallucinatory nor of unwarranted descents into oblivion have surfaced.

But I'd like to think that we can still aspire to being contemporary lotus-eaters if the spirit should ever seize us someday, anyday... (Jujubes seem to be harder to come by, but that may have to be a topic for another day.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Eat Your Rose Hips

By now most of the roses are gone, but not rose hips. Everybody loves roses for the beauty of their form. And we know we can capture their fragrance for perfumes and cosmetics, or by drying their petals for potpourri, and maybe even steep them in water for rosewater. However, it bears remembering that roses, and in particular their fruit, which are called hips, are a delicious and nutritious source of food.

Yes, Food!

Rosehips are full of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C, especially. The best varieties of roses for hips are the wild roses - Rosa rugosa, R. moyesii, and the alpine rose R. pendulina. If you're looking for a named variety, opt for R. 'Frau Dagmar Hastrupp', it will yield hips in abundance.

Here are only a few of the myriad ways we can bring rose hips into the kitchen:
  • They can be chopped up and dried to make tea. To intensify the flavor, you may want to leave the dried rosehips in water, say 2-3 tablespoons to a cup of water, and boil for about 10 minutes.
  • And how about some booze? One can make a lovely rose hip liqueur by cutting, say, a pound of well-washed rosehips in half, taking care to cut off the calyx (the little "crown") and removing the hairs if you're using the hairy kind of rosehips. Put the hips, trimmed and cut, into a nice wine bottle. Add about 5 ounces of sugar and then pour a bottle of vodka or any such light clear spirit over everything. Seal the wine bottle, keep in the fridge at least a couple of months, et voila! Be sure to strain your newly-brewed liqueur before you imbibe.
  • But the best of all, I think, may be rosehip jam, arguably better than marmalade (and reputedly higher in Vitamin C content) on freshly homemade bread, toasted or untoasted. So, to wit: prepare the hips as described in the previous section for the liqueur - i.e., wash, cut, trim. Boil in a pot in just enough water to cover the hips, for about 20 minutes; then puree the softened hips. When the mixture is cooled, mix with sugar, return to stovetop, bringing to boil and then simmer for up to 5 minutes. The proportion of hips to sugar is two to one - that is, if you have 2 cups of rosehips, you use one cup of sugar. Naturally one can adjust proportions for taste.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Green, or Sod Roofs

I attended a class for Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) this past week. One of the most important things I learned was that installing a "green roof" would be an extremely effective means of insulating one's house, thereby keeping energy costs down and contributing to the overall and long-term sustainability of the planet.

Sod roofs are age-old means for roof coverings in vernacular architecture. These days they may be called vegetated or vegetative coverings for roofs, or simply, green roofs. In the last year, New York State and more specifically, New York City, has initiated tax credits for homeowners who take the plunge to become pioneers in this new movement.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as always, has installed a concise and extremely helpful exhibition, giving us basic information about the kinds of plants that work well on such a roof. However, do not rush out to cart soil up to dump on the roofs of your houses. The internet is abuzz with all sorts of articles and contractors who are anxious to put one up for you. Study the information. Suffice it to say that the trick to the whole deal is DRAINAGE, or water run-off.