Also known as kaki or Sharon fruit, and one of my favourite winter fruit. It is in full season now and as it happens, I am staying with a great friend who has a tree laden with them. So, every morning I go down in my dressing gown and slippers to eat a few picked straight off the tree. It reminds me of my childhood Syrian summers when we stayed with my aunt whose house was surrounded by jujube, pomegranate and fig trees to name but a few. One thing I learned this morning as I was reading through the wikipedia entry for persimmons is that the species of trees bearing the fruit belongs to the ebony wood family, another favourite — I once wanted to do my kitchen in solid ebony until a friend who was in the wood business told me that the trees are endangered! Fortunately, persimmons are not and those on my friend’s tree are fuyu whereas most of the ones I used to eat in Lebanon are Hachiya which are very precious when dried.
I have this theory that however cosmopolitan and well-travelled you are, you always go first to the dishes you liked as a child. At least this is my case and even now, nearly 40 years after I left the home country, I always want to eat one of my favourite Lebanese dishes, mehshi silq bil-zeyt (stuffed Swiss chard in olive oil in Arabic), as soon as I see Swiss chard in the shops. I normally get my mother to prepare it for me because it is very time-consuming but she is in Beirut. So, I decided to take the plunge and make myself some when I saw fabulously fresh Swiss chard at Zeina in Moscow Road where I shop for my Lebanese ingredients.
Like figs, pomegranates are the symbol of fertility. Legend has it that Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of fruit and fertility, was carried off to the underworld by Pluto. To force Persephones’s release, Demeter prevented plants from bearing fruit thus creating winter which did not exist previously. Persephone also did her bit by going on a hunger strike although she eventually succumbed and ate a pomegranate which she spat out except for 6 seeds. After which Demeter struck a deal with Pluto whereby she agreed that he would keep her daughter for 6 months of the year, one month for each seed, and she would have her for the remaining 6 months. And this is how summer and winter were created with pomegranates starting to ripen towards the end of summer.
Finally back in London and already missing the bustling Arab markets with their abundance of seasonal produce and where I can taste anything I want without any of the vendors being offended as they would be in Europe.
This year, I was lucky to be in the Middle East during fresh chickpeas season, my favourite snack as a child. My mother used to buy us large bunches from street vendors and we would sit on our balcony, popping pod after pod – unlike peas or fava beans, chickpeas come each in its own pod, except for the occasional twin chickpeas in the single pod – to munch on juicy and tender chickpeas.