Come the holidays, we’re happy to sing about figgy pudding. But we’re happiest to find persimmon pudding — a dark, rich, time-honored Christmas confection that’s not quite custard and not quite cake — on our plates.
’Tis the season for figgy pudding. Though the English figgy puddings of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” were sometimes made with raisins, currants, or prunes, original recipes from the 1860s called for figs — just like the ones that grow on Ocracoke Island.
Don’t be disgusted: Persimmon pulp may look like baby food, but for pudding and cakes, it’s must-have manna from heaven.
I FEEL PRETTY
A perfect brown turkey fig is an unlovely brownish-purple. Inside, creamy yellow flesh surrounds a delicious core that’s red and tentacle-y looking, like a mutant Venus flytrap.
Most persimmon trees are wild, with seeds spread by animal poop. A persimmon tree takes seven to 10 years to produce fruit, but a ripe persimmon will only last a day or two.
According to fig expert Chester Lynn, a fig tree doesn’t die of old age. When a branch touches the ground, it takes root and keeps on keeping on.
Called the “first-frost fruit” by many, grower Gene Stafford says that’s an old wives’ tale. Persimmons fall when “the tree lets loose of them,” he says, usually in September and October.
In the early 1900s, figs were becoming rarer and more expensive, so cooks turned to raisins or other dried fruits as substitutes in their “figgy” pudding.
Persimmon pudding can be served hot or cold, meaning you can eat it right out of the fridge on Christmas night after everyone else has gone to bed.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Here, folks cook figs slowly or freeze them whole, the better for cakes, curries, syrups, beef stews — yep, the way prunes or apples lend flavor — and, of course, puddings.
Gene Stafford is a persimmon grower and harvester, and organizes the annual Colfax Persimmon Festival.
Chester Lynn is Ocracoke’s “Island Fig Expert” and the author of Figments of Ocracoke: An O’Cocker Says a Word.