Category Archives: Summer

Foraging in Texas: Wild Persimmons

Texas persimmon

The summer after I turned five, my family moved from Massachusetts back to my birth state of Texas. Among my earliest memories of my new home are the walks my mother and I took around the neighborhood, learning about the plants we encountered. There were pink primroses with flowers that closed during the day and magically opened at dusk, sprawling mesquite trees that comforted me with their earthy scent, and spiderwort blossoms that we brushed with egg whites and sugar to make into candy. I trace much of my sense of wonder about the natural – and edible! – world back to those days with my mom.

Texas persimmon

I’m grateful any time she and I can continue to practice walking and exploring together, and last week was one of those all-too-rare yet treasured occasions. Drawing upon a combination of our senses, my mom’s Master Naturalist training, and my wildcrafting instinct, we managed to find an abundance of wild edibles growing around her home in Northeast San Antonio. Most exciting was the bumper crop of native Texas persimmons (Diospyros texana), thanks to early summer rains in this typically drought-ridden area.

Texas persimmon

Often times wild fruits are edible, but not necessarily delicious until you add a heap of sugar or honey. Texas persimmons need none of that. Once they ripen to a deep purple-black, these fruits are jammy and sweet, with a flavor reminiscent of plums or prunes. You can eat them out of hand, popping them into your mouth whole, enjoying their peach fuzz-like skin, and then spitting out the seeds, or you can cook them into jellies, puddings, and more. Humans aren’t the only ones who like Texas persimmons; they’re a food source for local deer, birds, raccoons, and other animals. For this reason I didn’t gather terribly many, just enough to make a small jar of fruit butter. Given the color of the persimmons the butter is perhaps a bit sludgy in appearance, but tasty nonetheless.

Do you ever forage or cook with Texas persimmons? I’d love to hear what you do with them!

Texas persimmon butter or jam

Texas Persimmon Butter

Texas persimmons (Diospyros texana)
Water
Sugar
Lemon juice
Ground cinnamon

Wash the persimmons and remove any stems. Place in a saucepan and add enough water to reach halfway to the top of the fruit. Bring to a low simmer and mash the persimmons with a potato masher or fork. Continue to cook slowly, stirring and mashing occasionally, for about 10 to 15 minutes until the persimmons are very soft and the pulp can be easily separated from the seeds.

Press through a food mill, colander, or strainer. If using a colander or strainer, use a spoon or spatula to press out as much pulp and juice as possible. Measure the purée. Return it into the saucepan. For each 1 cup of purée, add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon.

Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently. Cook until thick, about 10 to 20 minutes depending on volume.

Notes:
• 3 cups of fresh persimmons yield about 1 cup of butter.
• This recipe is not tested for canning. I recommend storing in the refrigerator.
• Leftover persimmon seeds and peels (pomace) can be used to make infused vodka, brandy, or other liquors.

Texas persimmon tart

Another recipe had left me with a few cups of leftover milk, so I made up an easy batch of homemade ricotta, which paired nicely with the persimmon butter to fill a rustic, sweet-but-not-too-sweet summer tart. Alas, the butter and tarts don’t conform to my usual gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free lifestyle, but I was cooking for family and wanted to use a few tried-and-true techniques and recipes from my pre-elimination-diet days. Perhaps next year, if I’m back home for the summer and there has been enough rain, I can give these another go with alternative ingredients for myself and anyone else in the GF/DF/SF crowd. I did have a spoonful of butter and a bite of tart, though, and I have to say they were quite delectable!

Texas Persimmon Butter Tarts

Makes 4 tarts

1/2 recipe Martha Stewart’s Pâte Brisée (or your favorite flaky pie crust)
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Texas persimmon butter (see recipe above)
1 egg, beaten
Turbinado or other coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a 1/4-inch-thick round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Spread 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese over each dough round, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Spread 2 tablespoons of Texas persimmon butter on top of the ricotta.

Fold over the border, gently pressing to keep the dough in place. (Don’t worry about making it perfect; these tarts are meant to be free-form.) Brush the dough with egg and lightly sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Transfer the tarts to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Elderflower Cordial

elderflowers
Gathering elderflowers with my dear friend Rebecca

I fell head-over-heels for elderflower cordial many years ago when I lived in London. The delicate, muscat-flavored syrup may be used in cocktails and desserts, but the simplest, most sublime way to enjoy it is with sparkling water. I love elderflower soda, each sip blooming with the essence of spring and summer. Now that I make my own elderflower cordial, the associations are not just with my time in England, but also the lovely days and places where I foraged the blossoms here in Southern California.

elderflowers
Many other creatures depend on elderflowers; forage responsibly!

Black elder trees (Sambucus nigra, also known as European elder) grow throughout Europe and North America, typically in sunny locations. Here in Southern California, we also have an abundance of blue elder (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea, also known as Sambucus mexicana or Mexican elder). When foraging, pick flower heads that are fully open with sweet smelling white or cream colored blossoms (brown ones can have the musky odor of cat urine!) and shake off any insects. Once you get home, do another insect inspection and separate the flowers from the stems using your fingers. If you’re like me, keep sniffing your fingers as you go along, marveling at how they’re covered in magically fragrant elderflower dust.

To make a cordial, steep the flowers plus lemons (some people also add oranges) and citric acid (used as a preservative) in a sweetened syrup. Traditionally one uses sugar, which has a more neutral sweetness, but this year I used honey and personally I liked it even better. Different recipes call for leaving the mixture to sit for one to five days before straining; I usually go for about two. To use the syrup, dilute it to taste in still or sparkling water, or try it in cocktails, drizzled over cake, ice cream, etc.

Elderflower Cordial – Sugar Version

Makes about about 10 cups

25 elderflower heads
2 unwaxed organic lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon citric acid
8 cups sugar
2 quarts water

Shake the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or insects. Separate the flowers from the stalks, trying to remove as much of the stems as you can (a few are fine, but too many can be toxic). Place the flowers in a large bowl with the lemon slices and citric acid.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool to lukewarm. Pour the syrup on top of the elderflowers and lemons and stir to combine.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 1-3 days, depending on taste. Strain and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Elderflower cordial also freezes well; to freeze, pour into freezer-safe containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace to allow for expansion.

elderflowers

Elderflower Cordial – Honey Version

Makes about about 10 cups

25 elderflower heads
2 unwaxed organic lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon citric acid
4 cups honey
6 cups water

Shake the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or insects. Separate the flowers from the stalks, trying to remove as much of the stems as you can (a few are fine, but too many can be toxic). Place the flowers in a large, heatproof bowl with the lemon slices, citric acid, and honey.

Bring the water to a boil. Pour the water into the elderflower bowl and stir to dissolve the honey.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 1-3 days, depending on taste. Strain and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Elderflower cordial also freezes well; to freeze, pour into freezer-safe containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace to allow for expansion.

elderflowers