Up late with a nursing baby, I had a sudden craving for pie.
Pie is one of those foods which I love and yet make very, very infrequently. It's the crust. Don't feed me cookie crusts or crushed graham cracker varieties...I want flaky, buttery, salty crusts that are a strong counterpoint to whatever wonderful fillings lie inside. And a good crust requires patience, clean hands and a cool ambient temperature...factors which usually steer me into cobbler territory when I'm making something fruity for dessert.
It's hard to think of truly "American" foods, but pie would be at the top of that list. Besides the perennial apple and cherry, regional tastes dictate a wide range of options. Shoo-fly pie was an expected treat at my Pennsylvania grandparents' place, a sticky, molassess-y concoction that probably accounted for the way we bounced off the walls during our visits. In Indiana, where I grew up, sugar cream pie was a staple at church potlucks.
Sugar cream pie, surprisingly, is also known as a Hoosier pie, so it wins points for being both American AND authentically from my home state. It's the sort of thing you grow up loving because you don't realize what's in the ingredient list. Probably created by frugal Amish housewives who were clean out of fruits, sugar cream pie is exactly what it sounds like: sugar and cream thickened together with flour and with a bit of nutmeg for flavor. When done right, it has a creamy texture. When done poorly, it approximates thick yellow glue. Still, looking through recipes last night, I was whacked on the head by a nice touch of nostalgia.
Along with a craving for potluck variety pie was a desire for rhubarb and persimmons. As a kid, I don't remember liking either one. Now, I'd pay you to smuggle me some rhubarb...
During childhood, two or three persimmon trees grew down at the lower edge of our property. They'd fill with succulemt, tempting orange fruit, and my siblings and I eagerly tasted them the first year we were confident enough to go eating things off bushes and trees.
Eating an unripe persimmon is like filling your mouth with aspirin and cotton. It's a bitter, furry experience that should put you off the fruit for good. As an adult, I grew to appreciate the flavor of ripe, properly prepared persimmons but figured they'd be a treat for occasional visits "home."
After G was born, we received some lovely meals from friends, and one lady brought over baked muffins. "Persimmon muffins," she said, casually.
"Persimmons?" I nearly dropped the baby. "Wherever did you find them?"
Turns out, I've been turning my nose up at persimmons for years. Sure, I thought the leaf pattern was similar, but the caqui fruit looks nothing like the tiny Indiana persimmons I knew from childhood. It's the size and color of a tomato, for starters, and the telltale astringency is missing.
I picked up a small pack of persimmons for my cooking spree. (But not too much of one. After all, excess persimmon consumption creates nasty side effects: bezoars. Seriously ick factor warning if you decide to google this!) I made jam, which was inedible, and pudding, which tasted like Christmas morning and got surprisingly decent reviews from my husband. We're converts!