My persimmons and burrata story: I have a confession. I have trouble throwing food away. I blame my mother. When I was a kid my mother used to say, “It’s starting to go bad. You have to eat it.”
So I’d eat it.
It’s not like we were poor. My father is a pediatric cardiologist. We were “well-off” to borrow my mother’s colloquialism. So if a piece of fruit was bad or starting to go bad, you’d think we’d have the freedom to simply toss it.
My mother’s attitudes about food were most definitely passed down to me. Including this near paranoid fear I have of letting food go bad. Not just the food in my refrigerator, any food. Anywhere.
So all these years later I am living in an affluent part of the Hollywood Hills, oh heck, let’s just be honest, every part of the Hollywood Hills is affluent. I’m not saying we’re rich. In fact things are quite difficult financially at the moment. So we’re grateful for a beautiful home in a cool part of Hollywood.
I have probably mentioned that I like to take walks in the wild open spaces of the hills behind my house. I often forage for food in those hills. I have written about the mustard greens I collect every spring several times.
But there is more food in ‘them thar hills’ than meets the eye. Because nestled among the cute little bungalows, Spanish style mansions and the mid-century “masterpieces” of my neighborhood there is a hidden secret.
This is an old neighborhood. So much of the landscaping is quite mature. The mild southern California climate is perfect for quite a few varieties of fruit trees. Most every house in these hills has itself at least one. Lemons and oranges are the most common and most popular.
Those trees don’t worry me. As I monitor the fruit trees in my neighborhood I can usually rest easy that the owners of the house harvest most of the lemons and oranges they grow. This fruit is shared amongst the neighbors and very little seems to go to waste. So I don’t have to expend much energy stressing over wasted citrus. I can’t tell you what a relief that is.
But like I said this is an old neighborhood with old plantings. These planting reflect a bit of gastronomical history, because there are fruit trees in this neighborhood bearing more unusual fruit. Fruit that was much more popular say in the 1920s than they are today.
LA in general went through an ‘occidental’ phase in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s. Anything Chinese (30s) or Japanese (50s) was considered quite chic. You can see Asian influences in the architecture of that time right here in my neighborhood.
Well that interest in Asian also extended to fruit. Because there are quite a lot of ‘exotics’ planted during those periods still thriving all around me in the yards of my neighbors.
When the loquat trees blossom each spring the sweet fragrance can actually wake me up in the morning. By March there is so much heavy golden loquat fruit fallen on the ground that it actually slicks the street in one area of the hills so much that my car has skidded out when braking on that pulpy mush.
Well to a waste-a-phobe like me, March is an extremely stressful month. I try to eat as much of the ripe fruit as I can steal, but I am just one man with one stomach. Most people let it rot on the tree. At least it makes our local flock of parrots happy. I hear them squawking drunkenly as they gorge themselves on fermented fruit.
Figs too go to waste. Yes, even figs. It’s gotten a bit better these past few years as figs seem to be going through foodie fandom. I have actually been yelled at by a neighbor for helping myself to a few of his figs. The same neighbor who lets rotten loquats lay broken and sad all across his driveway until the gardener comes each week to wash the mess down the storm drain. So his proprietary feeling towards figs makes me feel a bit better.
But I am not here to discuss loquats or figs. Nope I’m here with a more pressing question.
Why don’t Americans eat persimmons?
It’s very problematic for me. You see there is a persimmon tree two doors south of me. It’s in an area of the yard that is out of my reach without a proper invitation, because there is ‘salvaging’ and then there is ‘breaking and entering’. I hate to see food go wasted, but I am not willing to spend much time in jail to protest that waste.
So as summer turns to fall, each year I watch the persimmons ripen. Most years by November they glow in perfection, and then fall, over-ripe from the branches along with the colorful leaves each December.
But this year that house sat vacant all summer long and into the fall. As the persimmons began to ripen I hatched a plan. With the house sitting empty I would help myself to all the persimmons I could ever want! This year those persimmons would not go to waste. They would not become rodent food. They would come to my house where they would be honored and loved.
But then just as I was readying for my first foraging venture. A jack-o-lantern appeared on the front porch of that house. Someone had moved in just a few weeks before harvest. Dang. Stymied once again.
“Who moved into that house?” I asked another neighbor.
“A family from Orange County” I was told.
Orange County. The squirrels were celebrating already. I had to act fast. I summoned up all the courage I had and knocked on the door of the new neighbors. A fit blond woman about 35 opened the door, drinking water out of a bottle. She was a stay at home mom. I could tell by looking. So that meant these persimmons would not be left alone during the day. My alternate plan of attacking while most people worked was not going to be effective.
I introduced myself under the guise of welcoming a new neighbor. I presented a small basket of lemons and oranges I harvested from my own trees as a housewarming. She smiled and said beamingly, “I love homegrown citrus. I wish this house had a lemon tree. I think I’ll plant one right away.”
“Yes, lemons are nice, but I can’t help but noticing that you have a gorgeous and prolific persimmon tree way at the back of your property”
“Oh, yes, that old thing. Who eats that fruit? It’s so nasty. I’m thinking of having it removed”. She said as she closed the door in my face undoubtedly to check on junior who had been left un-coddled for at least three and half minutes.
I had lost a prized fig tree another couple of doors up the hill to this attitude. I would not see this persimmon tree go down the same way. I considered a petition. But then I realized this was a persimmon tree and we lived in America. Most people would consider its demise to be a good thing. No I needed to devise a better plan.
So I knocked on the door again. The same woman opened the door, this time just a crack. She looked at me suspiciously. “Forget something?” she questioned.
“Well, actually I was wondering if I could have just a few of your persimmons” I stammered nervously. She got the most quizzical look on her face. Then a look a fear flashed in her eyes.
“I could just run back there really quick and grab a few of the low hanging fruit. I wouldn’t need a ladder or anything,” I anxiously mouthed.
Perhaps a bit too anxiously because her perplexed expression turned quickly to panic, and she said, “Why don’t you come back when my husband is home, I know he’d want to meet you.”
As she locked the door I realized I might have just sped the demise of that persimmon tree exponentially with my dramatic desperation.
So now I needed a Plan C! I usually get what I want by Plan B. So in truth, I did not have a Plan C.
Persimmons and Burrata
Or did I? I recently wrote a non-award winning review of a local restaurant called District. There I enjoyed a wonderfully seasonal preparation of persimmons and burrata adorned with ruby colored pomegranate and big chunks of luscious persimmon. It was wickedly simple, and luxuriously impressive.
Now if I know anything about fit moms I know this. They want to make their men happy. The best way to a man’s heart is through his penis, sure. But the second best path is through his stomach. I could tell by looking at Mrs. New Neighbor that Mr. New Neighbor was the proud owner of a happy penis. She must stay fit for a reason, right? But in my plan this same lucky neighbor could have a happy tummy too. He works hard, I am sure he deserves it.
So I decided to take, “come back when my husband is home, I know he’d want to meet you” as an official invitation. When Sunday rolled around I walked down the hill to the Hollywood Farmers Market and picked up several perfect persimmons.
I had my brother pick the perfect wine and I put together a simple presentation emulating the burrata dish I had first encountered at District. Fuyu Persimmons with Burrata, Pomegranate and Mint. I plated it beautifully. I grabbed the wine three glasses and I walked two doors south.
The man of the house opened this time the door. I could tell immediately that my earlier visit had been discussed. Only this time I was invited in. After all I was carrying food (and wine) even the suspicions bred behind the orange curtain aren’t strong enough to distrust a man bearing edible gifts.
We gathered around a kitchen table and chatted about their child, as I knew we would. I have enough friends with kids to know all the right phrases to set parents on the path of their favorite subject. So while they were regaling in all the poo poo progress they were making with junior I was dishing up the burrata with persimmons and pouring the wine.
Well she was the first to pick up a fork, and politely scoop a bit of the burrata into her mouth. “So is this a ‘dairy product’? she asked.
“Yes” I said ”it’s cheese”.
“What’s this?” she then asked as she speared a bright orange chunk onto her fork and into her mouth. “It tastes like candy”.
I casually ignored her question because I knew that my tree’s salvation did not rely on the taste buds of my blond nemesis. I needed her handsome husband hooked on the stuff.
He was a more of an adventurous eater than his wife fortunately. Because he scooped a big combination of ingredients into his mouth; then without saying another word, scooped up another bite. Then finished his plate.
This was a good sign. But then came the coup de gras. He reached across the table and grabbed his wife’s plate from right in front of her! And cleaned it off too.
The Mrs. seemed pleased by this action. I would have bitten his hand off, but then like a poor pound dog– I can be aggressive about food.
“So what did you say this was?” she asked.
“Persimmon” I said knowing my work here was done.
“You mean like the kind we have growing in the back?”
“Yep, one in the same.”
Now it was time to go in for the kill. So as I casually gathered my empty platter and wine glasses. I gently enquired about the tree. “So before I go”, I said, “could I grab a couple of those fuyus you got growing the backyard? I could just run back there really quick and grab a few of the low hanging fruit. I wouldn’t need a ladder or anything.”
“Oh no”. She said. “I don’t know if we can spare any.”
Dang, foiled again by my own ingenuity!
SERIOUS FUN FOOD