Persimmons on mesoamerican pyramids.
MacGregor Campbell, AI Illustration/MacGregor Campbell / OPB


Superabundant dispatch: Eat like a Talokanil and celebrating fall’s weirdest fruits

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
Nov. 18, 2022 2 p.m.

The persimmons are in, but what to do with them?

Editor’s note: OPB’s video series “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest. Now we’re taking the same guiding principles to a new platform: Email. We’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and botanist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem every week. This week she takes a look at some of the season’s strangest fruits.

Click here to subscribe. For past issues, go here.


Ah, November: the time of year when, between elections, cold weather and our kids’ repeated breaks from school, our eyes become as glazed as a pan of sweet potatoes. It’s also the season for some of the weirdest fruits — ones that rarely seem to hit markets, yet are suddenly all over the place. What do quinces, medlars and persimmons have in common? Read on to find out!

PS: Next week we’ll take a break to digest our pie, but we’ll be back again the following week.

Small bites: Chicken tenders for the tenderhearted, Talokan turkey at the holiday table, and a better way to know bees

Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:

Move over, bacon, now there’s something meatier! (Spoiler: it’s science.)

Step aside, plant-based meat analogs: Real, live animal tissue can now be grown in a lab, as recently reported by NPR’s Allison Aubrey. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Uma Valeti had already 15 years growing human heart cells in vitro to help heart attack patients before realizing the potential for growing other (more delicious?) edible muscle cells using the same process. He co-founded the meat-cultivation lab Upside Meats and after years in research and development, Upside Meats scientists have developed a market-ready product currently under FDA review. No Temple Grandin Hug Machine necessary.

Talokan may not be real, but the people and cultures represented in Wakanda Forever are.

If you watched Marvel’s new “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” your first thought after leaving the theater might not have been “hmm, ancient Mesoamerican food would be really cool to learn more about,” but it’s Native American Heritage Month and we love a rabbit hole. In the film, the fictional civilization of Talokan is a fantastical amalgam of several Mesoamerican cultures. Incidentally, traditional Mesoamerican cuisine is woven into the fabric of the American Thanksgiving meal — turkey, sweet potatoes and potatoes are all first foods of Indigenous Latin Americans. It’s estimated that around 40% of Oregon’s agricultural workers are Indigenous Latin Americans, many of whom speak primarily Indigenous languages (of which 22 are represented in Oregon).

Bees are the real superheroes.

Now that the Northwest has had its first frost, it’s time for backyard beekeepers to start buttoning up the hives for the coming colder temps — in 2020, nearly a third of all managed colonies were lost over the winter. More importantly, now is also the ideal time to start learning about how to support pollinators in your own yard. The Oregon Bee Project has helpful resources for gardeners, citizen scientists, land managers and even pesticide-applicators (oh, and they’re also in the process of cataloging every single bee species in Oregon). Want to get started right away? This is also the ideal time to plant spring bulbs, trees and shrubs and most native wildflower species can be seeded in the fall for spring and summer blooms. They also have cool Oregon bee posters and bee trading cards for the budding melittologists in your life. Watch the Superabundant Honey episode.

Painting various fall fruits.

Image generated by Stable Diffusion AI using prompt: "turkey, made of persimmons, quince, medlars, botanical illustration, oil painting, psychedelic, by Jan van Eyck"

MacGregor Campbell / OPB

Blet it be

It’s November and you know what that means. It’s the real part of the season where the golden, photogenic, fake fall is in the rearview and this cold and drippy reality will be on the horizon until June, with only hygge coping strategies (or travel to sunnier climes) to keep us sane.

It’s also the time of year that you might find yourself with gobs of strange fruits that you don’t quite know how to use. Last month we had to scramble to use up a ton of figs, but late-fall fruits can be trickier. Maybe you have a productive quince tree, or someone just dropped a bag of medlars off on your porch. Now that the leaves are dropping, maybe you’ve noticed a bunch of orange orbs dangling from branches like ornaments (those are persimmons). These fruits tend to not be available fresh year-round; you can only find them during their short season, and even then only if you’re lucky. But besides being generally unfamiliar to most folks, these fruits all have something in common: they have to be bletted to be edible.

Bletting is the process by which hard, tart fruits are intentionally over-ripened through some combination of cold temperatures and time, allowing sugars to increase while the mouth-puckering tannins decrease. Unless you blet them nearly to the point of no return, the flesh of medlars and most varieties of quince and persimmon is so profoundly astringent that it’ll turn your tongue into an asphalt tile.

Bletting doesn’t just pump up the sugar; it pummels ornery fruit into submission. In the case of persimmons, it turns to silky jelly right inside the skin. Quinces are so sclerenchymatous that it takes some sturdy elbow grease and a very sharp paring knife to core them. (Sclereids make up the hard little nubby stuff in pears and ligneous celery string, too; plants evolved them for structural support and to deter chomping animals.)

Medlar (called cul de chien, or “dog’s bottom” in French for the resemblance of its sepals to a…rusty sheriff’s badge) is in the same rose-family sistergroup as Cascadian wildlings Pacific serviceberry and Douglas hawthorn. Their fruit looks a lot like a rose hip, but larger, with shiny brown, slightly goose-bumpy skin.

So, what to do with these fruits? First, let them blet until they’re soft. For persimmons, leave them on a kitchen counter or windowsill; medlars like to be arranged in a single layer in a cardboard box stashed in the basement; or if it’s quinces you’ll probably want to drape them all around your home to release their fragrance — a heady combination of pineapple and roses. Though quinces are quite hard, they bruise easily. Be gentle with them!

Watercolor illustrations of quince.

Composite of USDA watercolors of quince from 1898.



Quinces (Cydonia oblonga) are probably best known for their use in dulce de membrillo, or quince paste. This stuff is divine with Manchego cheese. You can also simmer coarsely chopped quince in sugar syrup until very thick and a deep carmine red; Eastern Europeans enjoy this preserve as slatko, murabba or varenye and it’s even better than cranberry sauce as a pairing for turkey, ham or wild game. One of our favorite uses for too many quinces, however, is an old-fashioned ratafia.

A recipe for quince ratafia.

Excerpt from A. William Schmidt’s The Flowing Bowl: When and What to Drink (1891)

MacGregor Campbell / OPB

An easier way to make this is to pack half-gallon jars with the shredded quince, add the spices in a mesh bag and then top off the jars with brandy. After a month, strain off the liquid through cheesecloth, toss the spices and simmer the remaining shredded quince with a splash of lemon juice and some sugar until tender. Mash or puree and use this quince sauce in place of applesauce for baking spice cakes and the like.

Just as apples are natural mates for pork and nutmeg, quinces pair beautifully with lamb and Ottoman spices like cumin and coriander seed.

A bowl of persimmons.

Persimmons from the author's tree.

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) was used by Indigenous people on the East Coast in a similar way as the farmers who wrote the early recipes — they very likely taught early settlers how to use the astringent fruit in the first place. “[M]any people with fine trees in their possession are allowing the fruit to waste because they do not realize its value,” lamented a farmers bulletin in 1917 and that remains true more than a century later. Back then, in areas where they grew wild, they were said to be best suited to “dogs, hogs and ‘possums,” but that’s probably because early settlers didn’t wait until the orange fruits were fully ripe before tucking in. The name ‘persimmon’ comes from the Powhatan word pessamin, meaning ‘dry fruit;’ anyone biting into an unripe persimmon gets a mouthful of tannin, turning one’s tongue into an asphalt roof tile.

Another reason persimmons may have had mixed reviews is that they require a fair amount of labor to be useful. Getting the pulp out of the skins and away from the seeds is quite a task, one requiring “the patience of Job,” according to cookbook author Martha McCulloch-Williams. Her 1913 classic Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South reflects the early pioneer use of persimmon as a wild foodstuff, good for little but brewing beer or as a substitute for pumpkin in bread recipes. We think that’s a bit harsh, but she’s not wrong about persimmon bread. James Beard’s persimmon bread recipe (from Beard on Bread) is the one we break out every year — we like it with the nuts and raisins, the full amount of sugar and bourbon.

Some Japanese persimmons (D. kaki), like flat-bottomed ‘Fuyu,’ are perfectly delicious when raw and crisp — no bletting required. Slice them onto salads, cheese trays or even a bowl of oatmeal. If you get your hands on some under-ripe ‘Hachiya,’ you can try making hoshigaki by peeling them, tying them up by their stems and massaging them daily to coax the natural sugars to the surface as they slowly dry. You’ll end up with a delectably chewy fruit confection that is just wonderful with candied nuts for a tea snack.

Illustration of medlar next to a photo of medlar jelly.

Composite image, illustration of medlar and medlar jelly, made by the author.

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


Medlars (Mespilus germanica) are one of those medieval fruits that seem to have gone completely by the wayside. Besides their aforementioned resemblance to a dog’s fundament, they have to be bletted until they’re completely brown and mushy, at which point they seem to be ready for the compost bin. But we implore you to give them a chance! If you grow them yourself, just let them blet on the tree rather than indoors; your patience will be rewarded with a sweeter fruit, redolent of autumn leaves.

Medlars are pasty, not juicy, but they nonetheless make an exquisite amber jelly that’ll put apple jelly to shame, especially with blue cheeses — just take care not to press them during straining or you’ll end up with a cloudy preserve (leave the jelly to drain through a cheesecloth overnight, as David Lebovitz instructs in his helpful recipe). You can also smash them into a jar and top it up with brandy — a perennial old-timey solution! — and let it steep for a couple months before straining and decanting. The resulting product is divine in a sidecar cocktail.

French recipes from the 14th and 15th centuries also offer some helpful suggestions for serving medlars with sugared tarts, pears and almonds as a final remove course in a large dinner. Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Jewell (1596) includes the following:

To make a Tarte of Medlers.

Take medlers that be rotten and stamp them, then set them on a chafing dish and coales and beate in two yolkes of egges, boyling it till it be somewhat thick, then season them with suger, sinamon and ginger and lay it in paste.

Thomas Dawson

If you’d like to give this one a try, we suggest whisking medlar pulp with eggs, sugar and sweet spices and then baking in a pastry shell like you would pumpkin pie.

Chess pie on a wooden plate.

This pie is not a game.

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB

Recipe: Persimmon chess pie

Chess pie, just one in the family of “transparent” pies, is a pie of making-do. Sometimes the filling is just eggs, sugar, sour milk and vinegar, yet magically transforms into something exquisitely balanced and delectable. Though the dish came from England by way of the American South, the origin of the name is complicated. Being another Southern ingredient, we find that persimmons are a natural fit for this humble custard pie. Best of all, it’s a nice respite from pumpkin.


  • One 9″ pie shell (feel free to make this from scratch!)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 large, fully ripe and bletted persimmons
  • 1 large egg
  • ¾ cup evaporated milk or heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp melted unsalted butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup whipped cream (optional)
  • ½ cup candied pecans, chopped (optional)


  1. Set an oven rack in the middle slot of your oven and preheat to 375oF. Blind bake the pie shell by lining it with crumpled parchment and add pie weights (or dry beans). Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the pie weights.
  2. Brush 1 beaten egg yolk on the pastry and return it to the oven to bake until the crust is golden brown, about 5 more minutes.
  3. Scoop the jelly out of the persimmons with a large spoon and pass through a sieve to remove any seeds or bits of skin (you should end up with about 1 cup of purée). In a large mixing bowl, whisk the persimmon jelly with the remaining ingredients (besides the whipped cream and pecans) and pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell.*
  4. Bake until the center of the pie just jiggles a little when lightly nudged, about 50 to 60 minutes (begin checking every 5 minutes after it’s baked for 50). Allow to cool fully to room temperature before slicing. If you like, serve with whipped cream and/or chopped candied pecans.

*If you have more filling than you need, feel free to bake it in a greased ramekin for 30 minutes for a tiny persimmon pudding.

Click here to subscribe.


Tags: Food, Superabundant, Superabundant newsletter