07 November 2009

Soup from the garden

When my family moved to Santa Barbara back in the 1980's, we had a lot of fun trying all the different types of fruit that grew locally. We had been living in New York, Germany, and Illinois prior to our move out here, and many of the fruits we saw here in the produce stores and farmers markets seemed quite exotic at the time! Our garden was an exciting Eden in itself, with about a dozen established fruit trees including pomegranate, avocado, grapefruit, persimmon, and guava. We bought a citrus juicer and enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice for the first time. Snacks became walking out onto the back patio and grabbing a tangerine off the tree, throwing the peels down the hillside, and eating the sections one by one in the outdoors. Or getting a guava, cutting it in half, and scooping out the soft flesh with a spoon.

One of the really interesting fruits in our garden was the persimmon. We had never seen anything like it before: lightly sweet, seedless fruits about the size of an apple with a hint of cinnamon flavor. And did you know, they're actually considered a berry? We'd eat them crisp early in the season and bake the softer ones into puddings and cookies later in the season. Recently, I started experimenting with other uses of persimmon, and came up with this persimmon soup, spicy with fresh ginger. You'll have to try it out and let me know what you think!
Now, there are two types of persimmons commonly found in California, introduced in the 1800's from China and Japan. The persimmons I know and love are the fuyu variety; they are shaped like squat tomatoes (wider than they are tall) and can be eaten raw even when firm. The hachiya variety, on the other hand, with a very high tannin content, must be ripened until the fruit is essentially liquified inside its skin. Try eating it any sooner, and you'll be unpleasantly surprised by its astringency. The hachiya persimmons would lend themselves best for baking. But if you're out shopping for persimmons, or have the opportunity of planting a persimmon tree, go for the fuyu type. They are the most versatile and delicious!

Persimmon Soup

2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
6 fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken stock

In a large pot, saute the ginger, garlic, onion, and bay leaf with a little olive oil, until onion is soft and translucent. Deglaze bottom of pot with white wine and continue cooking, until wine is reduced by half. Add persimmons and chicken stock, and simmer until soft. Remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup with an immersion stick blender until smooth. Season with salt to taste and thin with more stock, as desired.

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