Monday, October 29, 2007

The Fruits of Autumn

As many of you will remember from I Always Wore White, when I was a little girl in the early 40s, I used to crawl under the pomegranate trees in my Grandmother Hunt's back yard and eat the fruit, leaving my pretty white dresses with stains that all the energy my mother put into the scrub board could not take out of the cotton.

As you can see from this picture, a small child would be well hidden under a tree like this. It was such a magical place to be -- cozy, cool, and full of my favorite food.

And the pomegranates themselves! Such full balls of deep red fruit, filled with glowing seeds. When they were very ripe, the skin would crack and the seeds would peek through and tempt me beyond resistance. When I heard the story of Adam and Eve I could fully comprehend Eve's inability to leave that apple alone. If it had been just a tenth as lovely as a pomegranate, the world would have been well lost for all of me. And might still be.

In the late 50s, when I was in high school, we read local California authors one semester. John Steinbeck and William Saroyan were my personal favorites. In 1940, Saroyan published "My Name is Aram," a collection of short stories about growing up in the Armenian community of Fresno. So, the events of "The Pomegranate Trees" must have happened in the late 20s or the 30s. This was the story of Saroyan's uncle who planted a pomegranate orchard before people in California knew what this wonderful fruit was, and so went broke. And yet, by 1945, the time of my story, my grandmother had a line of these lovely trees as a back fence. How quickly things change.

Persimmons are the other delight of autumn. They hang on the tree after all the leaves have fallen, and look like a Japanese variant of a Christmas tree. My dentist in Stockton had a persimmon tree right outside the window of his office and I used to purposely make my appointments in the fall just so I could look at that tree.

This variety of persimmon, the Hachiya, is deceptive. It must be very ripe before it is eaten, because in its unripe state it is full of tannin and if you bite into it your head will turn inside out and you will bite your shoulder blades in agony. Dry! Land, child, the Mojave should be as dry as your tender mouth!

When I worked as a parenting coach, since I worked for a non-profit, what they couldn't pay us in money they tried to make up in other ways. One was more vacation. The longer I worked there, the more vacation days I earned. So, for a number of years I spent the entire month of November in California. I would start with a week with Julie, go to my mother's for a week or so, to Kate's for a week, and end up with Julie. I would buy Hachiya persimmons my first day there and put them in Julie's window to ripen, knowing that by the time I got back they would be just ready to eat. The first year I did this, Ted thought they had gone rotten long before they were ripe and threw them away. You have to let them get soft and jelly like. And then they are heaven.

Since the Hachiyas are a problem for some people, and don't ship well, a more popular persimmon is the Fuyu. This is the one that we can get in Juneau. It is rounder than the Hachiya and can be eaten while it is still crisp like a Braeburn apple. It isn't quite as sweet, but is a real treat none-the-less.

And this matters becauase right now there are pomegranates and Fuyu persimmons in my kitchen and I am in heaven.


J at said...

You got some of the smooshy kind? Yay for you! Vin and Susheela just went out yesterday to a 'you pick' place and got a ton of persimmons, and Ted was telling Sondra about the time he threw yours away, thinking it had gone bad. :)

Maya's Granny said...

No, actually, I got the crisp kind. Not as good as the smooshy ones, but pretty good.