Jan 2010

Una Serena Epifania a Tutti!


Yesterday I stood at the kitchen counter mashing persimmons through a strainer. I found myself in this situation against my will. Two weeks before Zio Danilo, while lunching with us on Santo Stefano, calmly asked if anyone wanted a few persimmons. A gift to one of the priests, probably from a backyard tree, was sitting unwanted in the church basement.

“Campo,” Anna Maria said. The field across the street was her solution for many unwanted things; old fruit, Christmas trees, worn out clothes, my kitchen table. Of course she used it as a metaphor…most of the time.

“Sure, I’ll take them,” I said, not wanting to turn down free local produce. Of course I had not understood exactly how much fruit he had been talking about until Zio Danilo reappeared from a dark room under the church with a
crate of the carrot-orange fruit. He swung it into the car as I stared at the work cut out for me and rethought my decision.

So I educated myself on how and, most importantly, when to use persimmons, called
cachi in Italian. Hachiya persimmons, as I discovered, must be eaten only when extremely soft, like a water balloon. “Unripened persimmons contain the soluble tannin shibuol, which, upon contact with a weak acid, polymerizes in the stomach and forms a gluey coagulum that can affix with other stomach matter.” I got that off Wikipedia and while alarming, the first sign that a persimmon may not be ready to eat would be the throat-closing astringency. The gluey coagulum is just the cherry on top, so to speak. As I scooped up the gelatinous flesh into the strainer, repeating to myself water balloon, water balloon, I wondered who on earth might have been the first person to eat such a fruit. No wonder they hang unused on trees everywhere here. I sighed as I picked up one more caco. Water balloon, water balloon.

Yesterday was the Epifania, the celebration of the visitation of the Magi to the Baby Jesus. I got that off Wikipedia too. Here it is simply celebrated with 40 foot bonfires, candy toting witches and hot mulled wine. We were expected next door at Anna Maria’s and Giancarlo for lunch, sort of a closing-out-the-season-blow-out meal. Before going, as I mashed cachi, I listened to a variety show on television, sort of a Catholic televangelist holiday special. In the living room I could hear the host wishing a “
serena epifania a tutti” or a peaceful epiphany to everyone. I thought that was nice.

Epiphany also marks the day that we can take all the Christmas decorations down, though truth be told, I had already removed the beautiful, but frail tree that I had bought to replace Luciano’s. I had banished his five year old tree that just wouldn’t die to the outside terrace this year, but decorated it with a bag full of old ornaments I bought at the market. At the same market I purchased its replacement, a symmetrical, elegant specimen that almost immediately dropped almost all its needles in a spiteful rain of green confetti which then lay in drifts beneath its suddenly naked branches. It now sits in the sun facing the campo, awaiting the inevitable. Luciano’s tree, squat and smug, is going nowhere.

new tree

At lunch we ate roast pork and new potatoes, grilled radicchio and artichoke crème. For some reason, even after eating entirely too much in the last few weeks, it tasted wonderful; honest and satisfying, full of flavor without being heavy. I complimented her again and asked for the artichoke recipe which I have written up along with Luciano’s favorite artichokes in the cooking section.

Again she commented, “I am not a chef, I am a woman who cooks.” With that she pulled out a card from a hidden drawer of the table. With a quick look at me she opened it and read. I closed my eyes to concentrate. She often tries to read the cards she gets from my family, but the English, read in pure Italian pronunciation, is really tough to get. Nobody understands anything. This time, it was Spanish and then…Italian! A Christmas card from my sister-in-law written in Italian. With a satisfied smile Anna Maria snapped it shut.

I told her about my freezer full of persimmon flesh, ready to use. I did not mention the coagulation issue.

“That is great. Have you used the pomegranate seeds yet?”

This was last year’s free case of local produce, a gift from the family down the street, that I had processed, frozen and not yet figured out how to use.

“Not yet.”

She wagged her finger at me, “I don’t want to see that persimmon come over here this summer.” Every year I bring over a few items for her to keep for me in her freezer while we are away. The pomegranate seeds had already summered there. I need to get cracking.

I also told her about the news of Spot our neighbor the doctor’s dog who had recently learned how to climb over the fence to dance in the street, blissfully dodging cars and death. I had gotten the latest from the doctor’s wife when I went in to refill my prescription. I have become quite attached to Spot, a gangly untrained English setter, but it was alarming to see him on our side of the fence, not just a little out of control. During his last escape Spot ended up under a car. He was unhurt but the understandably shaken driver of the car knocked on the doctor’s door after seeing the dog who, knowing he was in trouble for something, had gotten back over the fence and was nonchalantly whistling his best “who, me?” in the garden. He has since been exiled to a friend’s house who is keeping him in his roofed cage next to his wiry, hungry hunting dogs while a new prison…er, kennel is being built. Poor silly Spot.

“How do you know all this?” Anna Maria demanded to know.

I get the scoop”, I answered.

Una Serena Epifania a Tutti!

my tree