Nate and I returned from a two week vacation to find that fall has arrived in Northern California. The maple leaves are turning shades of rust and gold and there are persimmons on our neighbor’s tree. Pumpkins perch on every other doorstep. Mornings feel hushed. It’s my happiest time of year and I retreat into sweaters and cups of tea.
Perhaps the most reliable signal in the change of weather was that I caught a vicious cold; a fate I suffer every year. While working in restaurants and catering there was no such thing as calling in sick. I would charge bullishly into work armed with kleenex and cold meds, “doubling down” on Emergen-C packets mixed in giant plastic quart containers. This year I folded. Blessed (or cursed) with a mostly freelance career I allowed myself to sink into the depths of sickness and my sheets. It was divine.
Although it may look like fall here, we’ve only had a day or two that actually felt like fall with regard to the weather. One of these days happened to land on the first that I felt well enough to pull my groggy head from the covers and step back into the kitchen. After several days of soup and tea I suddenly felt hungry and quickly took survey of our refrigerator. I found the last of the summer squash, as well as the first of the persimmons. Forgotten during my sickness, the flesh beneath the shiny, jewel-toned skin had turned to mush. I thought about a cake someone once brought my mom during the holidays. A deep brown, dense, spicy persimmon cake. She kept it on a plate in a cupboard away from the dog’s reach, but she couldn’t hide it from me. Sneaking tiny slice by slice from its hiding spot, day after day, I ate until it was mostly gone. My mom pretended not to notice.
Looking back down at my zucchinis and mushy persimmons I decided cake was exactly what a sick girl needed, and set to work.
ZUCCHINI & PERSIMMON AFTERNOON CAKE / Makes 1 loaf
This cake is not really like the one in my mom's cupboard, but it does have persimmons and it’s the perfect cozy thing to keep around the house when you need a pick-me-up. It also has pecans and cinnamon, because the first day I made it I wanted my house to smell of them. Olive oil for flavor, but you could easily substitute vegetable oil. I imagine coconut oil, warmed to its liquid state, would also work well. Feel free to use only all-purpose flour, but the whole wheat mix does lend a certain nuttiness that I love. Nate likes his cake in the morning, plain with coffee. I like it toasted and smeared with goat's milk butter and big flakes of sea salt.
1-2 very ripe Hachiya persimmons
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup sugar, divided
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup olive oil
1 heaping cup of chopped, toasted pecans
turbinado sugar, for topping
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Lightly grease and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
Cut the tops off of your persimmons. Scoop out the ripe, jelly-like flesh with a spoon. Measure out 1/2 cup and set aside.
Combine the zucchini with 1/4 cup of sugar in a large sieve or mesh colander and set over a larger bowl or the sink. Find a bowl slightly smaller than your colander and set on top of the zucchini. Press gently and let sit for 15 minutes or so, until much of the liquid from the zucchini has drained off. You can put some water in the smaller bowl to weight it down if you like - just be careful it doesn't slosh into the zucchini.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices and set aside. In a large bowl combine the olive oil, eggs, and the persimmon puree. Add the flour mixture in two parts, mixing until just combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the zucchini and two thirds of the pecans.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and top with the rest of the nuts and a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar. Bake until the top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 55-65 minutes.