In her charming autobiography, The Mandarin Way, Cecilia Chiang recalls Chinese New Year in Peking, when her mother would bury fresh persimmons in the snowdrifts outside their home and then serve up the frozen fruit with a spoon as a sort of instant sorbet. This recipe, from my cook and writer friend,
Combine the water and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is entirely clear. Let simmer undisturbed for 3–4 minutes, uncovered, then remove the pot from the heat and let the syrup cool before using.
The syrup may be made well in advance of making the sorbet. Stored in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator, it will keep indefinitely.
Slit the persimmons in half, then squeeze or scoop out the pulp. Using a flexible spatula, press the pulp through a fine sieve to remove any seeds, fibers, or gelatinous bits of pulp. Purée the pulp until thoroughly smooth in a food processor fitted with the steel knife or in a blender or food mill. Put aside 2 level cups purée. Extra purée may be blended with a bit of lemon juice to prevent discoloration, then frozen for future use.
Combine 2 cups purée with 1¼ cups syrup and 4 tablespoons lemon juice, stirring well to blend. Taste, then continue to add lemon juice by the drop just until the mixture peaks in a lively, sweet flavor. Remember that the mixture should taste too sweet at room temperature if it is to be just sweet enough when frozen.
If you wish to delay the freezing, the mixture may be sealed airtight and refrigerated 1–2 days. Stir well before using and taste to see if more lemon juice is needed.
Freeze in an ice-cream maker or sorbetiére according to manufacturer’s instructions. Or, if you do not have an ice-cream maker, freeze the sorbet in a shallow tray and whip it to smoothness in a food processor. Once “frozen,” pack the mixture into a small container, rap it on a counter several times to dislodge any air bubbles that might cause the mixture to crystallize, then seal airtight with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on the surface. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours so the flavors ripen and the texture firms before serving.
For best flavor, serve the sorbet slightly soft. If it has frozen too hard, put it in the refrigerator to soften 15–30 minutes before serving.
Serve in chilled bowls or goblets that will show off the pumpkin color of the sorbet.
Leftover sorbet will keep for about 2 days in the freezer before the flavors fade noticeably. Seal airtight before freezing, with a sheet of plastic film pressed directly on the surface.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.