In Assisi, the Glory of Nando’s Persimmons
In past years while driving through the late fall/early winter Umbrian countryside, you’d spot now and then a tree with orange balls dangling on the scrawny branches, bare of leaves. No, not oranges but the last of the kaki (persimmons), orbs of brightness in the winter dusk, beacons of cheer in winter fog. For me, Nature stringing her trees with bright Christmas ornaments.
Cultivated in China over 2000 years ago – and one of the first fruit trees cultivated by man – the persimmon arrived in Europe via France in the 19th century but only as an ornamental plant. Italy’s first persimmon was planted in Florence’s Boboli gardens in 1871.
As the soft-skinned persimmons ripen quickly and are not easily stored, those with kaki trees give generously of the abundance. Peppa’s son Leonello has always happily given me their persimmon surplus – for my holiday persimmon nut bread loaves (the result of a bit of playing with a banana nut bread recipe – see below).
But not this year: “Leonello non ha kaki quest’anno,” a sad-faced Peppa told me the other day. I’ve been on the “persimmon hunt” throughout November and it seems that like Leonello’s trees, most are nearly bare and the few persimmons are often wormy and plop to the ground before ripening.
This year’s too-warm climate has diminished olive and wine production in our area – and now, the persimmons, too.
…and when I recently stopped to check on a persimmon tree near the Basilica di Santa Chiara, I could barely spot any orange fruit. It’s generally laden. (Can you find the persimmons in this picture? Look to there right.)
I knew Peppa wasn’t expecting persimmon nut bread at Christmastime this year. But she might have a surprise. Driving home a couple days ago, I spotted a wide wooden door open along an Assisi via.
The entrance to the garden of a vacant villa, that door is rarely open.
I noted an orange flash as I drove by the open door. . I circled back. Sure enough, a couple persimmon trees spread out over the salads and fennels sprouting in that garden – and their branches dangled with heavy fruit abundance!
The persimmons seemed ready to drop onto the 13th-c Basilica di Santa Chiara..
…and Assisi’s 14th-c city bell tower was framed too by the persimmons..
I locked my car and headed down into the walled garden.
I was under the persimmon trees taking photos when a bespectacled elderly man in a blue hat exclaimed “Anna!” I hadn’t seen Ferdinando (“Nando”) in years. A retired elementary school janitor and once a tenor in the Assisi choir, he now spends his days caring for the land and cultivating the garden and the small vineyard for the villa owners. The owners live in Rome and most of the garden yield is for Antonio. Tomatoes were still on a few plants, rows of salad were in a corner and bushy green fennel was in full bloom
I asked “Nando” what they’d do with all the persimmons and he told me that he and his wife Antonietta gave them away. He then started to pull down branches to pluck the orange fruits for me, holding each persimmon gently, almost with affection
I told him about my Christmas persimmon nut breads and this year’s futile persimmon hunt and he told me to come back any day I wished for more – with a crate!
(When I called today to say grazie for the persimmons from Nando, his wife Antonietta told me that the trees had far fewer than last year, almost breaking the branches with the persimmon load!)
Just a few this year…?
We chatted and wandered the garden, Nando proudly showing me the five Roman stones on one of the surrounding walls:
…and he pointed out almost proudly the incision of two birds on the largest stone:
What treasures in that garden – and not just the persimmons. Mille grazie, Nando.
Those persimmons you gave me are ripening now at home
Later in December, I’ll be bringing you some of my persimmon nut bread.
Persimmon Nut Bread (2 loaves)
If the persimmons are not fully ripe, putting them in a paper bag with an apple or pear does the trick. And after all, persimmon nut bread seems an idyllic demise for the kaki whose scientific name “diospyros”means “bread of the gods”
(*Note: I never use the same spices twice when making this nut bread! You, too, may enjoy experimenting….)
2 c flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sunflower seed oil or peanut oil – or olive oil!
1 c. white sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 c of mashed very ripe persimmons (fine to leave skins on)
2 eggs, beaten
1 c nuts – can be slivered almonds, chopped hazelnuts, chopped pecans or chopped walnuts (or a combination of all or any)
1- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 t cloves
(or use about 1 1/2 allspice instead of cloves and cinnamon)
a dash of ginger if you wish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 loaf pans (9×5) or line pans with waxed paper and then rub with the cooking oil.
Sift flour and first three ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil and sugar until well amalgamated. Stir in the beaten eggs, then the persimmons (mashed with a fork – or even squeezed with your hands!). Add spices. Mix by hand and then fold in nuts (a few currants or raisins, too, if you wish). Add the persimmon mixture to the dry mixture and stir only until blended. Divide batter evenly into the two loaf pans and bake for 60 mins approx or until a knife inserted into the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in pans and then turn out.
…and buon appetito!
Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)