As many of you know, I’m doing some work for a new nonprofit business called Community Action Marin FoodWorks — CAM FoodWorks, for short. It’s a venture based on the principles of sustainability and preserving our local harvest. Here’s an example of how it works: A local farmer has more produce — persimmons, let’s say — than he can sell at market. (Usually, he’d compost them or leave them for the crows.) The farmer decides to bring the persimmons to the CAM FoodWorks kitchen, where the director, Merrilee Olson, develops a recipe — maybe persimmon pickles? The pickles are then made and packaged by CAM FoodWorks. The farmer pays for the service (this is called “co-packing”) and takes away a beautiful small-batch product that he can sell to his customers or otherwise use as he wishes.
Profits from CAM FoodWorks support the programs of Community Action Marin, one of the largest social service agencies in the county, providing assistance to more than 3,000 low-income county residents (most of them kids) every day. Isn’t that a good idea?
Eventually, CAM FoodWorks hopes to be a community center for food preservation, offering classes and events as well as preserving services. The business is bursting with good ideas. My freelance job for them has to do with all kinds of writing and communications — so I do want to tell you that you can now find and follow CAM FoodWorks on Facebook and Twitter — but sometimes I get to help in the kitchen, too. Like on the day when we made these . . .
I got to dress up in a chef’s coat — it’s a butcher’s coat, technically — and put on a hairnet. (It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wear a hairnet! I think the last time was when I was a teenager and briefly worked as a dishwasher in an institutional kitchen. I couldn’t quite figure out how to work the thing and decided it was most acceptable over the bandana.) Then I went to work cutting and peeling a big bin of Fuyu persimmons.
Of course, as soon as I got home, I wanted to make a downscaled version of CAM’s pickles in my own kitchen, using persimmons from my neighborhood — of which there are tons. I checked it out with Merrilee, and she said it would be just fine for me to offer home-kitchen versions of some FoodWorks preserves, so here we go.
Merrilee’s larger batch and my very small one are based on the same recipe, from this article detailing five fun things to do with persimmons. However, I cut my persimmons differently and I added a bit of saffron (to the already excellent combination of ginger and red chile flakes) because I thought it might enhance the flavor and help the pickles keep their color. To get started, all you need is five very firm Fuyu persimmons. Fuyus are the squat persimmons that you can eat like an apple; the elongated ones that need to soften first are Hachiyas.
Pickled Fuyu Persimmons
5 very crisp Fuyu persimmons
1 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 generous pinch saffron
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1. Wash the persimmons, cut off the stem ends, and peel them. Either slice them into wedges about 1/3-inch wide, paring away any bits of tough core as you go OR slice them as I did, into disks of equal thickness (shown above), which I then cut into four wedges, following the lovely star pattern that the fruit forms around the seed.
2. Prepare the brine by combining the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bringing the mixture to a simmer, stirring gently to dissolve the sugar and salt.
3. Jar and process your pickles as you prefer. The original recipe calls for canning them, by packing the fruit into four clean, hot half-pint mason jars and covering the fruit with the hot brine. Remove air bubbles, leave 1/4-inch headspace, and process for 10 minutes in a hot water-bath canner. I chose not to water-bath process my pickles, however. It’s not a very big batch, so I packed them into one large, clean jar, covered them with the brine, let them cool, and put them in the fridge.
My pickles are already more than half gone, because I included them on appetizer plates for various holiday gatherings and we’ve also been regularly adding them to our salads. Pickled persimmons on top of a salad of fresh greens with some walnuts and shredded, Niman Ranch pastrami? That’s kind of addictive.