This unusual pudding comes from Cindy M., whose grandmother used to make a huge batch every Thanksgiving using ripe persimmons from her backyard in Clark County, Illinois. That was the only persimmon pudding Cindy had ever seen--until she spotted a bowlful on the table during her first Thanksgiving with her husband John's family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Then, last year, while visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, she came across a recipe for a Native American version. She deduced that her early ancestors, who first settled in the South, must have adapted the Native American dish and brought it with them when they migrated west. To bring the story full circle, when we looked for persimmons out of season (in midsummer, so we could sample Cindy's recipe), the only ones we could find were in Indiana at the home of a Native American man named Honey Bear. We interrupted his afternoon of gourd gardening when we phoned to ask if we could purchase some of his persimmon pulp. He graciously sent us three pints.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the skin and seeds from the persimmons and puree the pulp in a blender or food processor. In a large bowl, combine the pulp, milk, sugar, eggs, flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, and cinnamon until well mixed. Stir in the chopped nuts, if desired. Pour the mixture into an ungreased 9- by 13-inch baking pan and bake for 70 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream. Serves 8.