What ho! Is that a chocolate torte? Why, no! It’s a persimmon pudding, a rare and exquisite dessert rarely seen outside of West Virginia, Kentucky, Southern Indiana, and Southern Illinois. Native persimmons don’t travel well, so you’re unlikely to encounter a persimmon pudding far from where the fruit grows.
OK: Exquisite might be a bit much. But it is my absolute favorite holiday dessert—and if you’re from the Ohio Valley, chances are, it’s yours, too. My story is pretty much the same as everyone else’s. My grandmother made a killer persimmon pudding from trees on her and her neighbors’ property. When she died, I ended up with her persimmon pudding pan, but somehow my pudding never quite turned out right. For several years in a row, I dutifully mixed up persimmon pulp (courtesy of my mother and trees near my folks’ farm), eggs, sugar, and various canned milk products, but instead of persimmon pudding I got persimmon glop. And nasty glop at that.
Enough’s enough, I decided. You can be loyal to a taste memory without being loyal to the recipe. Which is how I ended up at PersimmonPudding.com, a wonderfully earnest site dedicated to—you guessed it—all things persimmon. Never before have I seen almost two dozen persimmon pudding recipes assembled in one place. Most of these are community-cookbook style recipes, heavy on the sugar and evaporated milk. Look carefully at the bottom of the list, though, and you’ll notice an oddity: a recipe from Deborah Madison. Yes, that Deborah Madison, she of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, right there alongside the Indiana Nut Growers’ Association and “relatives of Grandma Bertha.” Who knows what on earth she’s doing there, but it’s a fine recipe with just your basic ingredients: butter, persimmons, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, salt, flour, and baking soda (skip the cinnamon).
But just to make it interesting, I tried cooking this in the pressure cooker instead of either the oven, which was fully occupied with a Hanukkah turkey (don’t ask), or on the stove top (Madison’s recommendation, which I had never heard of). I had read somewhere that you could make steamed puddings and custards in the pressure cooker, and was anxious to give it a try. IT WAS BRILLIANT. Steaming a pudding in the pressure cooker solves many problems. Your pudding is guaranteed to cook evenly; you don’t have to worry about oven tetris; and it’s faster and uses less energy than stovetop cooking. I’m trying to convince my mom to try this this year for Christmas, though it will mean that we’ll have a bowl-shaped pudding instead of the round-pan version that’s traditional in our house. Whether she decides to take this route or not, I’m just thrilled that I have finally made a persimmon pudding worth sharing with my friends.
Deborah Madison’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding, adapted for the Pressure Cooker
1/2 cup butter
1 c. native persimmon puree (do not use Asian persimmons—see note)
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
1 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1) First, confirm that you’re working with native persimmon pulp. Chances are, it will be frozen, but it will look something like this:
4) Place a steamer rack inside your pressure cooker, and pour in 2 c. of water. Tightly cover the mold or bowl with foil, and place it on top of the rack, like this:
5) Lock the pressure cooker lid, but don’t apply the pressure regulator. Turn up the heat and let steam escape through the steam vent for 15 minutes. CAREFULLY place the regulator on the vent. If you have an adjustable pressure regulator, use 10 pounds; if not, 15 pounds is fine. Bring to pressure and cook 35 minutes (for 10 pounds) or 15 minutes (15 pounds). When the pressure has dropped of its own accord, remove the lid and foil and test for doneness. A knife inserted in the pudding should come out clean.
6) Invert the pudding onto a serving dish and serve with generous dollops of whipped cream.
A note on ingredients: Don’t fret if you don’t have access to a native persimmon tree. The good folks at persimmonpudding.com have provided a list of markets that sell pulp, including some vendors who do mail order. Some of the recipes at persimmonpudding.com also include adaptations for using Asian persimmons, but I haven’t tried them. If you’ve successfully made one with Asian persimmons, can you please tell us how it turned out?