Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Power of the Persimmon

First Bread from New Sourdough Culture

What a wonderful year this has been at the Sonnenhof! Things are really starting to come together here.  A few weeks ago, we picked up the newest members of our family – four American Guinea Hogs – a gilt and three piglets.  Then just a few days ago, we put down a deposit on two Nubian dairy doelings. They will not be weaned until June so we have a little more time to get ready for them, but we’re certainly looking forward to fresh milk and cheese next year. The incubator is loaded, we’re getting plenty of fresh eggs, and there’s an order of 25 black broilers coming next week. We’ve located rabbits for the fall. The pigs are digging up new garden beds and we’re planting strawberries, rhubarb, radishes, lettuce and onions this weekend.

Meanwhile, this has been the coldest winter I’ve seen in probably forty years! Which has given me ample time to develop some new interests, like a return to the artisan breads I’ve always wanted to make and charcuterie.  I pulled out my sourdough starter last week and attempted to revive it, but it just wasn’t meant to be. .. So I added some bread flour to some of our good well water, then went in search of something with yeast on it. I’ve learned over the years there’s ALWAYS something like that lying around on a farm, and if not, of course wild yeast will develop on its own in a culture, given enough time. That’s when I remembered the persimmons!

We have at least 5 wild persimmon trees on this property, maybe more. And we had a bumper crop last fall. Picture this, times five!

Here is a basket of the fruit. Just look at all the wild yeast on the skins.

The sheer abundance caught me by surprise, else I would’ve at least made wine out of some of them. As it was, I put about 40 pounds in the freezer. We’ve enjoyed cheesecake a couple of times and I still plan on making pudding soon. This is a grain-free cheesecake – the crust is made with pecans, sugar and butter. The topping is from sour cream.

And here is a jar of brandied persimmons. I packed them into jars, dissolved a little sugar (maybe ¼ cup per quart jar, I don’t really remember) into some brandy, then poured it over the persimmons. I capped them loosely and put them in a dark cool place for several months. They can be eaten this way or used over ice cream and other desserts, and of course, the brandy is still good to drink.

Anyway, wild persimmons don’t have much in common with cultivated persimmons. The cultivated varieties are large and have a very high water content. If you try to use them in the same recipes as the wild persimmons, you’ll end up with a very watery product.

Wild persimmons don’t keep well and start fermenting the day you pull them off the stems. BUT, if you leave them on the tree, the high sugar content makes them very sticky and they dehydrate right on the stems. Even strong winds don’t blow all of them off, which makes for a nice winter feast for the wildlife – woodpeckers and opossums are especially fond of them. Here is what they look like in February, after hanging on the trees all fall and winter.

And so, I plopped 4 of the wrinkly little things into the sourdough culture. I’ve made sourdough culture several times in my life and I know these things take time to develop. My last took the full two weeks as recommended in “Breads from the La Brea Bakery” by Nancy Silverton. This one, however, started bubbling within 24 hours. By 72 hours, this is what it looked like.

Of course, it’s still considered a “culture” not a “starter” at this point, but I decided to test its leavening power on a slow-rise sourdough. I started at the 72 hour mark and mixed a Poolish (sort of) with 1 cup culture, 1 cup water and 1 cup bread flour. Then I let it sit overnight. The next morning, I added another ½ cup of water, 4 teaspoons of sea salt and a scant 4 cups bread flour. It was a fairly wet and sticky dough, but I let it rise for several hours. Not much happened at that point. It may have doubled in size, but just barely. I gave it another gentle kneading (being careful not to break all the bubbles inside) and left it alone for several more hours. I got busy doing something else and when I came back, it was pushing the lid off the bowl!

So I gently folded it a few more times, then set it upside down in a bowl lined with a flour sack towel (dusted heavily in flour). I preheated the oven and a cast iron Dutch oven (with lid) to 500 and within about 45 minutes, the bread was ready to go in. I turned it right side up directly into the Dutch oven, made a few slashes, then put the lid on and closed the oven door. Twenty minutes at 500 degrees, then 30 minutes at 425-450 degrees after removing the lid, and the bread pictured above was the result. The crumb is beautiful, the crust is chewy, and it’s just perfect, though the flavor will get a little more sour with care and feeding of the starter. And I'd like the crust a little darker, but I couldn’t be happier with the overall result.

I’m already in the habit of baking bread several times a week, and this morning we fed the old yeast-leavened bread to the pigs. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat such a thing again after such a great sourdough! Oh and, guess who else loves persimmons?..... 
Severus, Hermione, Ginny and Albus


deana sidney said...

Love this idea... and I have a crush on your pigs!!!

Diane said...

LOL! Thanks Deana. I've raised just about every form of livestock and the pigs are by far the smartest and most personable.

say what? said...

I happened upon persimmons in the supermarket this morning. Not a hint of yeast bloom on them, but they were HUGE compared to the dried ones you sent me. They were also from Spain.

I considered them for a moment then walked on by. I don't want my memory of the wild persimmons tainted by some "bigger is better" product from an industrialized system not even within our borders. I get enough of that with hothouse cucumbers from Canada. :-)

Diane said...

Hans buys those giant persimmons (like in the picture above) at the Asian market. They're nice for eating fresh but in recipes, I notice a lot of people substitute one for the other and don't get the same results because of the high water content in the large fruits.