Easy Cook: Persimmon Custard

Today I’m making egg custard with an autumn twist. I have several persimmons remaining on my backyard tree and decided to add one to the custard which I am cooking. It gives the custard a unique “kick” for an interesting change. Custard is probably one of the most revered and beloved “comfort foods” around. I am sure that this custard will quickly disappear when my husband figures out that it is in the refrigerator — he absolutely loves custard. While rummaging around for custard recipes, I found several variations. This recipe is cooked on the stove — rather than a baked — which saves alot of preparation time. Although custard recipes traditionally do not contain cornstarch, this ingredient helps the custard thicken since it is not baked in the oven. I really like this recipe. It is fast and relatively easy to prepare. The custard is creamy and smooth without an “eggy” taste.

Wild persimmons are native to North America. In fact, the word “Plaquemines,” is derived from the native Indian Atakapa word “pikamin”, meaning “persimmon.” Plaquemines Parish is the most southern parish (county) in Louisiana. The Atakapa people is a native American Indian tribe who inhabited the coastal and gulf regions. When the French arrived, they built and named a fort on the Mississippi River, “Plaquemines”, because of the numerous persimmon trees in the area.

Wild persimmons are small, hard and too astringent to eat. Edible persimmons were first imported from the China and Japan in the 1800’s where the fruit trees have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Branches of these oriental trees are grafted onto root stock of native American persimmons to make the persimmon trees which are grown today in this country.

Nutritional Value of Persimmons

The bright orange color of persimmons gives a clue that they are full of nutritional value. Persimmons contain beta-carotene (Vitamin A) as well as some Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins (such as folic acid), fiber and a host of minerals including copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. They are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants (with chemical compounds too numerous to name) which are protective against free radicals and chronic diseases and they help with the immune system. So, move over, highly processed foods.

Louisiana Persimmons

Persimmon trees grow well in Louisiana. In fact, an LSU research farm located on the grounds of an old, old plantation has several rows of persimmon trees. I enjoyed walking around in the persimmon orchard on the Burden Research Station grounds one afternoon and searching for persimmons which were similar to mine so that I could identify my own backyard tree variety.

The Burden family owned the plantation which is in the center of Baton Rouge with the interstate dissecting it — the city has grown around the farm. The family bequeathed the grounds to LSU with the stipulation that the farm will only be used for education and research. What a treasure cove of botanical history. The farm’s owner loved research and planted all these varieties of persimmons. This interesting-shaped persimmon is similar but not identical to mine.

I think that I have finally determined that my persimmon tree is the Hachiya variety. The persimmons are large with an acorn shape. The fruit are very astringent and you must let them ripen completely until they are very soft and jelly-like to rid them of this astringent mouth feel and flavor. Fortunately, you can pick this variety of persimmon while it is still firm and the fruit will ripen on your kitchen counter. My persimmon tree produces a bounty of fruit every other year. So, this year I harvested only several persimmons. I added one of my precious persimmons to the custard. This is what my tree looked like last year — just full of persimmons.

It is important to note that Hachiya persimmons are entirely different from the Fuyu persimmon variety. Fuyu persimmons are more commonly found in grocery stores. You can use Fuyu persimmons in recipes and eat them while still firm. They do not become soft and gelatinous. So, it doesn’t work to substitute Fuyu persimmons into the custard recipe.

Custard vs Pudding Recipes

Custards refer to a variety of thickened dishes made with eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla and/or other flavoring ingredients. In contrast, puddings refer to sweetened milk or cream mixtures which are thickened with flour or cornstarch. Custards are often baked and they tend to be thicker and firmer than puddings. There are, however, many combinations or hybrid desserts. Puddings sometimes contain eggs and custards may contain flour or cornstarch. For example, crème anglaise is a custard-type dessert with added flour or cornstarch. So, technically according to French cuisine, I’m making crème anglaise. There are many other custard variations. Crème brulée, for example, is a rich custard usually made with heavy cream and a burnt sugar glaze. I posted a great recipe for that dessert in February. Putting terminology aside, these are all soothing “comfort” foods.

Persimmon Custard Recipe

Here are the ingredients for my cooked egg custard recipe. My dessert is cooked on the stove rather than baked, so the resulting custard is soft and creamy. This method of making custards is also quite a time saver. I used only the egg yolks — saving the egg whites for another recipe. What did I do with the whites? This time I used the egg whites to make French Toast. In my custard recipe, cornstarch is included as a thickener. To give an aromatic flavor, I added just a small amount of nutmeg. I used one very ripe persimmon, which was about 1/2 cup of pulp. The other ingredients included whole milk, sugar and a pinch of salt.

This is one of those recipes which is most efficient to get all the ingredients pre-prepped first before cooking the custard. So, strain the persimmon pulp and set aside.

Separate the eggs yolks from the whites. Blend the sugar, cornstarch, salt and nutmeg in a separate small bowl.

I use an electric mixer to blend the ingredients for the custard. Beat the egg yolks until they are pale and creamy. Then blend in the sugar mixture and persimmon pulp.

Next scald the milk. This means heating it on the stove until steam appears and there are bubbles around the edges. The milk must not boil (it will curdle if boiled). Then slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture stirring constantly so that the eggs do not cook.

Pour the custard back into the pot. Return the pot to the stove. Over low heat — and I emphasize low heat — stir the custard until it thickens. With the cornstarch added to the mixture, the custard will become very, very thick and it can easily clump. If it clumps, you can strain it; let’s hope this doesn’t happen. Pour the thickened custard into individual ramekins or custard cups. My recipe makes six – 1/2 cup servings. If you have larger custard cups — divide into four cups. If you prefer, pour the custard into one large ceramic dish.

Cover the custard cups with plastic wrap (let the plactic wrap touch the top of the custard to prevent a film from forming on the custard). Chill overnight in the refrigerator. It is actually okay to eat the custard immediately while it is warm or you can wait a couple of hours.

For serving, I sprinkled on a little nutmeg and added a sprig of fresh mint.

That’s it. This is a quick and easy custard recipe. The persimmon pulp adds an autumn “twang.” However, if you don’t have persimmons available (or don’t like the flavor), then skip this fruit — instead add one teaspoon of vanilla extract for flavor.

Enjoy this autumn twist on cooked egg custard. It can be served as a simple dessert at a family supper or at a formal dinner. It is that good. Delicious comfort food!

Persimmon Custard

  • Servings: 6 -1/2 cup servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 very ripe Hachiya persimmon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • fresh mint, garnish, if desired

Method and Steps:

  1. Remove skin from persimmon, press persimmon pulp through fine sieve into small bowl. Set pulp aside. Discard skin and seeds
  2. Add egg yolks to medium sized bowl of electric mixer. (Save whites for another use.) Beat on medium speed until egg yolks are pale yellow and creamy.
  3. Combine sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg and salt in another small bowl. Add to egg yolks in electric mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until blended. Remove bowl from electric mixer.
  4. Meanwhile, scald milk. Add milk to heavy, medium-sized saucepan over low heat until milk is steamy and bubbles appear around the edges. Do not let boil.
  5. Very slowly, stirring constantly, pour a few tablespoons of the milk into the egg yolk/sugar combination. Repeat this process several more times. Then slowly pour the remainder of the milk into the egg yolk/sugar combination.
  6. Transfer the custard back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. The custard should not boil. With the addition of cornstarch to the recipe, the custard should become quite thick.
  7. Transfer the custard into six custard cups or ramekins. Cover each one with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least three hours.*
  8. When ready to serve, garnish by sprinkling a small amount of ground nutmeg on the top of each custard cup and add a small spring of fresh mint, if desired.

*NOTE: If desired, pour into four larger custard cups or into one large ceramic bowl.

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