It was pretty much a total disaster. None of my roommates were especially welcoming, which may or may not have been due to the fact that my friend's girlfriend, who was not particularly attractive to begin with, was extremely insecure about her hold on him. This may or may not have been due to the fact that he was a former theater major whom she asked out as he was on his way to the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco.
And when I say "not particularly welcoming," I mean cold, passive-aggressive, and downright rude.
One of the small consolations of living with next-to-no-money in a household filled with people who did not like me was the fact that this house was situated two blocks from the old Berkeley Bowl-- a place where one could choose from a mind-boggling selection of produce and come home with a bag full of beautiful fruits and vegetables for, well, next-to-no-money. As a result, there was always a big bowl full of fruit residing on the kitchen table in our happy little home.
One morning, as I was sitting at that table, nursing my coffee and poring over the newspaper, two of my housemates wandered into the kitchen, poured their own coffee, and sat down with me. They gave me a perfunctory "Good morning," and continued the string of conversation that they had been carrying on for days.
"What colour was yours this morning?" asked Helen, the nearsighted English girl.
"Black. Really, really black," replied Marci, who always had a bit of a pinched look on her face and was from nowhere especially interesting.
"You're lucky. I haven't even gotten to black yet," said Helen, who sounded more than a little envious of Marci's fecal matter.
The two girls were on a cleansing diet. All they seemed able to talk about was their bowel movements. I asked if they wouldn't mind changing the topic, since I was just about to make breakfast. Marci shot me a look.
"Those persimmons look beautiful," she said looking at the fruit bowl. "Are they from The Bowl or from the neighbor's tree? Have you tried one yet?"
I told her I wasn't sure where they were from. Surprised and encouraged by the fact that she was even talking to me, I went as far as telling her that I had never, in fact, seen a persimmon before moving to Berkeley, let alone tried one.
"Oh, you have got to try one. Here, take this one. They're amazing. You can eat it just like an apple."
So I took an enormous bite. Having no prior persimmon knowledge, I did not understand the difference between the fuyu persimmon, which may be eaten "just like an apple" and the hachiya, which must first be ripened to near mush before being consumed otherwise, their extremely high tannin levels will suck all the moisture from one's mouth, making for great discomfort and/or great pleasure from those looking on. Three guesses as to which kind were in that bowl.
As I ran to the kitchen sink to spit out the persimmon and found that no amount of water seemed to replace the lost moisture in my mouth, Marci and Helen howled.
"Oh my god, he fell for it. I can't believe he's that stupid!" is what came out of Marci's still moistened, but thin lips.
Had I known anything about persimmons, this scene could have been easily avoided, of course. Had I understood their medicinal properties, I could have actually participated in their cleansing conversations, sharing with them the knowledge that, in traditional Chinese medicine, for example, raw persimmons are used to treat constipation and hemorrhoids and that, however contradictory it may sound, the cooked fruit is helpful in the treatment of diarrhea. Perhaps, if I had known and shared this informations with them, we might have been great friends and they would have felt comfortable enough to invite me to cleanse with them.
Of course, that did not happen. After a rather dramatic episode in which the girls suddenly became mortally offended by the Mammy-motif heirloom cookie jar I kept on the kitchen counter, I was asked to leave the house. And leave I did. Gladly. My "living-in-Berkeley issues" had finally been resolved.
For years, I had always associated persimmons with the unpleasant chill of my Berkeley housemates. I have since gotten over that. More or less. Today, I prefer to associate them with the much more pleasant chill of Autumn. I still don't have a lot of experience with fully ripened Hachiya persimmons, but I really love the other kind, the ones you really can eat like an apple.
And with that, I would like to end with a little, thankful message to Marci, wherever she is:
Persimmon Salad with Honey-Orange Vinaigrette
Where I work, we do a fresh fuyu persimmon salad and give it the Greek name Lotosalata, which is unsurprising, since we tend to give everything a Greek name with the possible exception of the Ladies' room. The term lotos is a possible reference to the Lotophagi, or Lotus Eaters, found in Book Nine of the Odyssey, who tempted members of Odysseus' crew with food that causes those to eat it to forget where they have been and where they are going.
I cannot promise that my version of lotosalata will make anyone forget anything. But it's damned good. I can, however, promise you it will be the least fattening thing on your Thanksgiving table, with the possible exception of the napkins and flatware.
Do give it a go.
2 fuyu persimmons, sliced about 1/8" think lengthwise. Don't bother to peel.
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, well-cleaned and thinly sliced (or shaved) lengthwise
1/2 half shallot, treated exactly like the fennel (minus washing)
The juice of one orange
1 teaspoon of zest from that same orange (Please zest prior to juicing, thank you).
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (This is not a classic oil-to-acid ratio of a vinaigrette. Less oil works better for this particular salad.)
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Pomegranate seeds for garnish
1. Whisk together orange juice, 2 tablespoons of the honey, and a pinch of salt. Place persimmon slices in a wide, shallow dish and toss with orange-honey mixture. Let persimmons marinate for at least 15 minutes. Toss them occasionally.
2. To make the vinaigrette, I typically use a small mason jar, since the days of my brother showing me how the souls of the dead are sorted out in the afterlife with the aid of a free-with-purchase Good Seasons cruet are long behind me. Place zest, olive oil, vinegar, and salt (add black pepper, if you wish) into jar, close lid tightly, and shake vigorously, which is always somehow extremely satisfying. Shake again as needed, whether it is for your benefit or that of the vinaigrette.
3. In a mixing bowl, place fennel and shallot. Pour over vinaigrette, toss, and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Think "slaw" and you might get a clearer picture of where I am going with this salad.
4. When you are ready to serve the salad, pour off and reserve the excess vinaigrette from the fennel and shallots. Place them on the serving dish of your choice as a sort of bed for the awaiting persimmons. Remove persimmons from the orange juice and honey, shaking off any excess moisture as you go, and arrange them atop the fennel/shallots. Drizzle persimmons with some of the reserved vinaigrette and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
6. Refrain from talking about anything fecal while at the dinner table.