When I was younger I travelled a lot but ate very little (in terms of variety, not volume). I was one of those awfully picky eaters as a kid, and consequentially I have hardly any food memories of places I visited growing up. Imagine a France with no cheese, Japan with no sushi*, Germany where the only thing I remember eating is peanut butter sandwiches, a trip through the Welsh countryside without… I don’t even know what food there is to eat in Wales, because as far as I was concerned all that mattered was tinned spaghetti.
Clearly times have changed, judging by my trip to Singapore the other weekend, which I mainly spent wiping sweat off my brow in steamy hawker centres eating The Best chicken rice, trekking far from the nearest air-conditioning (this is bravery in 34 degrees and 100% humidity) to find my old favourite nasi lemak stall, taking a 2am stroll to eat some mighty fine bak chor mee before heading to the Arab Quarter to watch election results roll in over coconut shakes and shawarmas.
I started thinking about how much my food/travel relationship has changed because I’ve got this trip coming up where I have a daytime stopover in Honolulu. Besides the exciting possibility of a midday swim, my thoughts turned to what I should eat**… and… came up with nothing besides shaved ice and spam musubi. I’ve been to Hawaii before; surely this shouldn’t be so hard, I thought. Until I realised I was thirteen when I was last in Hawaii and I probably just ate pineapples and peanut butter sandwiches (always the peanut butter sandwich) the whole time. I don’t know, I can’t actually remember.
And basically this has been a very long-winded way of me getting back to the point of this blog post: persimmons. Back to Japan again for a moment: when I was sixteen I spent a year in Japan eating foods I would never have touched before, half out of politeness and half out of stubborn I’ll-show-you-ness (“bet you can’t eat natto/sashimi/basashi!” “I’ll show you!”). Somehow it turned out I actually liked most*** of what I was eating, and the most vivid memories from that year all relate to food.
Japanese culture, at least as I know it, places a big emphasis on the seasons.**** And in autumn, you celebrate the harvest moon by eating tsukimi udon and, among other fruits, you eat a lot of persimmons. One of my (many) favourite memories of autumn in Japan was coming home from school to a plate of exquisitely honey-sweet persimmons, cut up, stuck with toothpicks. So every time autumn rolls around and persimmons show up on supermarket shelves I get really excited and a little bit wistful for that time in my life when I couldn’t shake that wide-eyed feeling of just having discovered The Most Delicious Food In The World.
Usually I just eat persimmons plain. But I’ve been dabbling in making syrups and sauces lately, and for months now (yup, I was excited) I’ve had this post-it note stuck to my computer at work with two words scrawled across it: Persimmons. Cinnamon. I think the combination sprung to mind because I liked the way the words sounded together. (Clearly the best method of combining foods. Oh, and they’re also on that same brown-orange colour continuum.) But actually, they’re both autumn-y flavours, and sort of soft and warming, so the combination works.
You could make the syrup the long way (making juice from the fruit and then combining it with water and sugar to make a syrup and then straining it a couple of times through a cheesecloth so that it’s nice and clear) but if you’re short on time/energy this shortcut method (just simmering the fruit until it starts to break down a bit and the flavours permeate the syrup) works too. It’s so good in cold drinks and on ice cream and desserts and if you save the leftover stewed persimmon, it’s positively swoonworthy.
*Actually, Japan without sushi would be fine. There’s so much other good food there, too, but still. I can’t believe how much I missed out on during those early trips.
**If anyone knows of any must-eat foods or must-visit lunch spots in Honolulu, please share!!!
***Not so much the raw horse, it tasted fine (rather meaty) but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again.
****Come to think of it, this might be the root of my near-obsession with seasonal fruits and vegetables. And seasons in general.
PERSIMMON & CINNAMON SYRUP: (the cheat’s version, anyway)
Cut about 300g persimmons (2-3, depending on size) into cubes and place in a saucepan with 130g sugar and a couple of broken-up cinnamon sticks.* Add 2/3 cup water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until it reaches, well, a syrupy consistency. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl or jug and pour into a sterilised bottle. Done!
Now, what to do with this syrup? For starters, you can mix it with sparkling water for a refreshing drink. I can imagine it’d be good mixed into a rum-based cocktail too, something about those warming cinnamony undertones. Or you can pour it on ice cream, mix it into yoghurt, just about anything really.
Oh, and keep the strained, stewed fruit: it’s incredibly soft, sweet and infused with a cinnamony tingle. Perfect on porridge, or with yoghurt or custard. Definitely don’t throw it out (you’ll have to pick out the bits of cinnamon stick, though).
*It’s well worth using cinnamon sticks for this rather than powdered cinnamon. The flavour is more intense and you’ll retain that sunset-orange persimmon hue: they won’t turn the liquid brown like the powdered stuff might.
PERSIMMON & CINNAMON COULIS:
Here is a bonus recipe, because the first time I tried making this I accidentally pushed the fruit through the sieve and ended up with something that was more of a coulis than a syrup.
It’s hardly a recipe: basically, do as for the syrup, but use a bit less water (or simmer longer), remove the cinnamon sticks at the end of cooking, then purée (a stick blender works great here) and strain through a sieve. It’ll be a bit thicker than the syrup. And it’s awesome on French toast.