December 10, 2012
Falling in love with a place is much like falling in love with a person. For a while, this place can do no wrong; its flaws all have silver linings; each street, shop, and tree possesses some sort of magic to hold your fascination. Inevitably, the novelty of its newness will fade. The place won’t just be a place anymore—it will be a part of you. It will frustrate you and humble you and excite you and teach you about yourself and humanity. And one day, if you leave, you will face the jarring realization that it will always be a part of you and you will always miss it, even if you never want to return.
The first time I had such a realization was in 2010 when I moved back to the US from Egypt. Standing in the back yard of my parent’s house in New York, looking at the forest and the fallen leaves and the patches of melting snow that were so poignantly not Egypt, I knew that wherever I was, I’d feel a longing for the place that I wasn’t. Even now I sometimes stumble into a vivid flashback of the vegetable market near my apartment in Giza or the filthy roach-infested dive bar that I loved for the diptych of the owner and Gamal Abdel Nasser at the entrance. Sometimes I want to be standing on a hill in al-Azhar Park at dusk listening to the hum of mosques as they slowly join the call to prayer.
Now that I live in California, I feel the same longing for New York—for a hike on the Appalachian Trail when the leaves are changing color; for a coffee in Riverside Park when the tulips are in bloom; for a cross-country ski with my dad through sparkling fresh snow and icicle trees. Southern California, I already know, will always be a part of me too, and one day, if I leave, I’ll miss its friendly, politically engaged atmosphere and its barren alien landscape.
Perhaps it’s time for me to stop moving before my self is a collection of fragments scattered around the globe!
Or maybe someone will discover teleportation soon so I can spend my morning in Aswan and my afternoon in San Francisco. Until then, at least I know I can always bring the cuisine of a place I left to my new place of residence. It’s also fun to take an ingredient from one place and add it to a dish from another. That’s how I ended up making the best cranberry sauce I’ve ever had.
The day before Thanksgiving this year, my coworker gave me a few persimmons from her tree. Persimmons aren’t exactly common in the Northeast. My only previous experience with them came from Egypt, and it wasn’t very pleasant. When I was a study abroad student in Cairo, one of my Egyptian friends brought over a mysterious fruit for me and a few other Americans to try. He didn’t know the name for it in English, but said it was called “kaka” in Arabic, which amused those of us who had taken Spanish in high school. I didn’t know “kaka” is persimmon until—well, two minutes ago when I read this article about persimmons. See, my friend brought over the persimmons as a joke. When you bite into an unripe hachiya persimmon, it gives you immediate and intense cottonmouth. I vowed never to eat “kaka” again.
Luckily, the persimmons my coworker gave me in California were fuyu persimmons, which are rounder (fuyu persimmons look like regular tomatoes and hachiya look like roma tomatoes) so I didn’t make the connection to the “kaka” I had sworn off for life. These persimmons had a sweet, mild flavor with a hint of cinnamon. I planned to cook with them after the holiday, but when I started looking up recipes for cranberry sauce I came across one that utilized persimmons on Amateur Gourmet!
Persimmons and cranberries aren’t the likeliest combination, mainly because of the drastically different climate conditions required to cultivate them. Persimmon trees like hot, dry climates (which is why they’re readily available in Southern California) and cranberry shrubs need to literally be submerged in water! My favorite part of road trips through Massachusetts as a kid was looking for the sea of red on the side of Route 6. Despite their agricultural differences, I thought persimmons and cranberries would make a good culinary pair since one is sweet and the other so sour. I decided to add the persimmons to my cranberry sauce.
Since I had already settled on flavoring my cranberry sauce with orange and allspice, I used the Amateur Gourmet recipe as a guideline for my own creation. I omitted the star anise, but kept the red wine because red wine gives cranberry sauce a much-needed depth of flavor. A bit of fresh ginger and honey balanced out the heaviness of the wine and the warmth of the allspice. Perfection. I suspect even cranberry sauce purists would appreciate this variation because the cranberries are still the star, no one flavor overpowers, and the persimmons add a lovely but subtle textural contrast.
This cranberry sauce was by far my favorite dish on Thanksgiving and I’m usually partial to the mashed potatoes. I think it would also go very nicely with roast pork or—for a vegetarian option—a savory mushroom bread pudding.
Persimmon Cranberry Sauce
Combine the cranberries, red wine, water, sugar, allspice, orange peel, ginger, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the cranberries pop, about 10 minutes. Stir in the persimmons and honey to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. Discard allspice berries and orange peel and serve at room temperature or chilled.