"And Let Us Never Forget Where Home Is", A Persimmon Pumpkin Pie Recipe
The world goes on forever when you live in small towns. Some parts of Indiana look like a prairie and some parts look like a jail cell. It all depends on if you make eye contact with strangers passing by on the street. It all depends on if you can afford the generic medicine at the only pharmacy in town. It all depends on if you can remember the last time you paid your grandmother’s electric bill. It all depends on if you have enough gas in the car to drive to any city that will take you in. Family doesn’t seem that special when the world looks so flat and so wide from the water tower.
My mother said she used to smoke cigarettes with boys on the fence of a cemetery in the summer. She said the world was a panorama back then, and now it’s just full of old, dead trees that fight the corn for sunlight. It was that same summer she had a panic attack in a laundromat and watched Gilligan’s Island in her cousin’s air-conditioned apartment to calm down. By the fall she was living on her own. She worked at a video rental store and a gas station, married my dad and moved to Florida. She doesn’t smoke anymore. She doesn’t consider Indiana her home anymore.
But every Thanksgiving we’d drive west from Pennsylvania. We’d see the eruption of the Alleghenies lay down to slumber on the back of Ohio. We’d fight for room in the backseat of the Pathfinder, the Jeep, even an RV we had once. Whatever we could afford. Whatever was cheap and drivable, sometimes bought in cash from a used car dealership owned by a Mennonite family down the road. We weren’t always able to grasp the idea of family, but each of us understood the meaning of going home.
Each year at Thanksgiving, we would watch the trees in the woods behind my aunt’s house die in preparation for winter and each year we’d hug our grandparents a little tighter around the waist. Each year, my aunt who sold Mary Kay cosmetics looked a little paler until they finally had to buy her a wheelchair. Each year, I would grow a little taller and get a little quieter. Each year, my uncle restocked the freezer on the back porch with Schwan’s Food Company ice cream for my cousins and myself. Each year, I promised myself I’d visit more.
I haven’t been back in seven years now. But I remember everything in the shadow moments between nostalgia and grief. I remember the ham that was cooked in the Crockpot and the can of Coca-Cola for basting. I remember the turkey that was either too pink or too dry and my mother apologizing to everyone who took a piece. I remember the old serrated bread knife with the wood handle for carving. I remember eating on the couch one year when the kid’s table leg broke. I remember spraining my wrist doing cartwheels out by the tire swing. I remember running until I got sick, trying to catch a stray dog that didn’t have a name.
And I saw myself through the world I still stand at the periphery of. My uncle promised the old truck would be fixed by Christmas, red plastic cups littered where he drank at night in the garage. The cat hair that clung to the air mattress, to the condensation on the water glass, to the static on the blue TV set in the back spare room. The steam from the coffee cups and the red nail polish that my mother chewed off when she was nervous around her brothers and sisters. The muddy shoeprints on the kitchen floor after my uncle brought in the groceries. The second trash bag of paper plates, no one really wanting to unload the dishwasher. The two scoops of whipped cream my sister asked for in everything from pumpkin pie to her hot chocolate. Everything in that world was sweet and full of promises. The recycling bins on their side and the trash spilled out in the gutter. Good intentions, no execution.
And I think the only time any of us on my mother’s side of the family ever prayed was right before Thanksgiving dinner. Some of us bowed our heads; some of us rolled our eyes. Others balanced their paper plates on their knees and clasped their hands tight. “Bless this food and our family. And let us never forget where home is.” Sometimes my aunt’s costume jewelry snagged her sweaters and you’d hear a quiet, “Damn it!” after saying grace.
And I don’t think I can ever forget where home is. It’s the Heartland where the pulse beats quickest in an Indian summer, when the crop can grow high and the creek runs fast. It’s where the water tower casts long shadows over the town like a lazy sundial. It’s where my grandfathers own a plot of land called Tanglewood and where my father mowed the same cemetery my mother smoked her first pack of cigarettes. It’s the place I learned to ride a bike. Where my sister lost a tooth and cried for two days. Where my grandfather forgot my name and lost a finger in the same month. Where my mother swears a cardinal followed her home the day her mother died. And the place where I fell asleep on the porch one Thanksgiving after eating so much pumpkin pie, my mother’s flannel shirt wrapped around me, the porch light reflecting on a small pool of oil underneath the old truck that my uncle never did get running again.
Persimmon Pumpkin Pie
Nothing is more traditional and regional to the Midwest than persimmon pudding. Not usually advertised, but always ubiquitous on a Ripley County table around the holidays, this dessert is more bready than your normal custard dish. Baked in an almond meal crust and with the addition of vanilla, pumpkin, and orange zest, it is at once homespun and versatile. A great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner.
Ingredients for Crust:
- 1 1/2 cups AP flour
- 3/4 cup almond flour
- 3/4 tablespoon white sugar
- 3/4 tablespoon brown sugar, dark
- Pinch of salt (taste almond flour—if naturally salty, adjust salt)
- 9 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
- 1/3 cup + 1 TB vegetable shortening, cold
- 5-8 tablespoons of ice water
Directions for Crust:
- Put all dry ingredients in a food processor, fitted with a steel blade and pulse 3 times to blend together
- Add fats and pulse 6 times or until fats have incorporated and are pea-sized
- With motor running, spoon out water one tablespoon at a time. When dough begins to form and pull away from sides, turn motor off and turn out onto a floured work surface
- Gently roll into a ball with floured hands and wrap in plastic wrap
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes
- Preheat oven to 400*F and lightly spray a 12-inch pie pan
- When dough has rested, roll out onto a floured work surface in a round
- Lay dough onto pan and fit around edges, tucking and crimping as desired
- Using a fork, poke several holes throughout dough
- Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly
- While cooling, reduce oven temperature to 250*F and prepare the filling of the pie.
Ingredients for Filling:
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1/4 cup shortening, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup honey (preferably clover)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ cup persimmon pulp
- ¾ cup pumpkin puree
- ½ tablespoon orange zest
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda, sifted into the flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted into the flour
- 1 ¼ cup flour
Directions for Filling and Pie:
- In a large bowl, sift together baking soda, baking powder, and flour. Set aside.
- In a small measuring glass, combine buttermilk and white vinegar and allow to set while you prepare the remainder of the filling.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter, shortening, and sugars until light
- On medium speed, add honey, vanilla, egg, and spices. Allow to blend until well mixed and egg is a pale yellow. Add pumpkin puree, persimmon pulp, and orange zest. Mix on medium for 30 seconds
- Mix in remainder of ingredients. Mix by alternating between the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, starting with the dry ingredients and ending with the wet.
- Turn off mixer. You will have a wet filling that is almost a batter, which should be a pale but solid orange color with flecks of cinnamon and persimmon visible. Using a rubber spatula, fold filling a couple times, scraping the bottom to ensure all ingredients have been fully incorporated.
- Pour filling into prepared piecrust, smooth out the top with spatula. Batter puffs up slightly in the heat, so ensure you leave edges on the crust to avoid any spilling.
- Bake in 250*F oven for one hour and 35 minutes to two hours. Begin checking at the 1 hour 20 minute mark for doneness. It will be done with the edge of a knife comes out clean and the center has the slightest jiggle still to it, but is otherwise solid. (Sometimes, pies like this crack on the top. To avoid this from happening to you, place a small pan of water or even ice cubes on the tray below the pie and the steam will help to moisten the custard while it is setting)
- Remove from heat and enjoy while warm (or especially good cold for breakfast with coffee before you buy that big screen TV on sale for Black Friday that you probably don’t need)