It started with a gift of green walnuts last summer, which are in the process of becoming an Italian liqueur called nocino. Then this fall my neighbors called to inquire whether we might want to come pick a few of the quince that were threatening to break several branches on their overburdened trees, which prompted me to chop up a few and throw them in a jar with vodka.
Drenched but pleased.
A few weeks later, my friend Kathryn called to see if I'd be interested in helping her harvest persimmons from her neighbor's tree across the street, which were just going to end up falling and making a stinky, slippery, insect-attracting mess on the road. These persimmons were the variety called fuyu, the squat, non-astringent variety with a slightly sweet, mild flavor that can be eaten out of hand, sliced into salads or served alongside, oh, say, a seared duck breast.
I arrived at Kathryn's just in time for a drenching downpour, despite which we managed to haul the ladder out and pick a bushel of the still-rock hard fruits. I suggested that might be enough for our needs, but, coming from generations of hardy Kentucky women, rain or no rain Kathryn insisted on filling up both fairly large baskets.
Sliced persimmons in vodka.
A little over two weeks later, the persimmons had just started to ripen to the point where they could be used. This gave me some time to do a few searches online, and I narrowed the options down to three: I'd make and freeze a purée for use in summer margaritas and a batch of sorbet; then thinly slice enough to fill a gallon jug which I'd top with vodka and decant in a month or so to make a liqueur for next fall.
The third intriguing option was to pack layers of the whole fruit into a gallon jar, covering each layer with cane sugar. The idea was for the moisture contained in the fruit to gradually melt the sugar, making a syrup as well as preserving the fruit itself. So with the purée in the freezer and the two gallon jars sitting on a shelf in the basement, all that was left was to wait until something (hopefully delicious) happened.
Persimmons packed in sugar.
Four weeks later, the magic had worked. I decanted the now-pale orange vodka from the sliced persimmons and put it in a jar that went back down in the basement. Then I poured off the syrup from the preserved fruit, sealing it into tubs that went into the freezer. Well, almost all of it went into the freezer. I kept a little out to make homemade fruit syrup soda for my nephew, similar to the rhubarb soda he'd so loved last spring. And of course Dave immediately put his name in to use a few ounces for cocktail experiments (see below), a request I'm always happy to oblige.
Being the magnanimous sort I am, and thinking maybe there was a chance another cocktail recipe might be forthcoming, I shared a bit of the syrup with my neighbor Bill. Within a few hours he'd texted back a recipe for a lovely rye-and-lemon concoction he called the Good Fuyu. We tried it alongside Dave's version of an Old Fashioned he dubbed Old Persimmon's Old Fashioned after the nickname that T.S. Eliot gave Ezra Pound.*
Not to brag, but now I have two excellent new cocktails to add to our growing list (and now so do you)!
Old Persimmon's Old Fashioned
2 oz. bourbon
3 tsp. persimmon syrup
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash orange bitters
Fill a cocktail mixing glass half-full of ice. Add all ingredients except orange peel to mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into short rocks glass. Holding the orange peel skin-side down over the drink, twist and then drop into the liquid.
* * *
1.5 oz. rye
.75 oz. persimmon syrup
.5 oz. lemon juice
Dash Peychaud's bitters
Fill a cocktail mixing glass half-full of ice. Add all ingredients except cherry to mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into short rocks glass. Add cherry.
* Apparently the two writers frequently corresponded by—gasp—handwritten letters and, inspired by the Uncle Remus folk tales, Eliot referred to Pound as "Old Possum" while Pound dubbed Eliot "Brer Rabbit."