Persimmons and fog, two sure signs that the autumn is waning and winter is just around the corner. My home town of
Castell’Arquato is on the fringes of the bassa padana, or Po Basin, otherwise known as Europe’s biggest natural fog trap.
The fog here is relentless. It can lie for days on end. Luckily, as I said, I live on the very edge of the basin and from time to time we get a break in the weather – not always, just from time to time. I’m not complaining because travel just a few miles down the road to the neighbouring market town of Fiorenzuola and it’s not unusual for the fog to make camp for 10 days at a time. I feel sorry for my neighbours. Indeed, just a few more miles further down the road, along the banks of the River Po, the fog’s so dense that it only takes minutes to soak to the skin.
But then again, if we didn’t have to suffer these unique climatic conditions, our local cured meats would be much the worse for it. The humidity in the air, they say, contributes as much to the local cuisine as does the pig.
As if by way of compensation, once the fog settles down, it means that the persimmons are just about ready to eat. Persimmon, or kaki trees, are grown throughout the region. How they got here, I can’t say for sure. The tree didn’t arrive in
Europe until quite recently – some time in the mid-19th century. Yet despite their late arrival, they are hugely popular. On the other side of the Po, in Romagna and in , kaki are cultivated commercially. Campania
Here everyone seems to have a persimmon tree or two in their garden. They yield a lot of fruit and require minimal maintenance. We tend to pick the fruit just before it fully matures, allowing the kaki to ripen slowly in the cantina. They are ready to eat when bright orange, meltingly soft to the touch and deliciously sweet. They can be eaten in ice cream, as a preserve or simply on its own, as a dessert fruit (if anyone’s interested, I’ll post a recipe for the preserve early next week once the kaki are ripe enough). As I walk out the door, a whicker basket and step ladder underarm, it occurs to me that in the fog persimmons remind me of oversized Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, however, these decorations have to come down early!