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Growing up in Palo Alto, California in the 1970s, Adeena Sussman’s family wasn’t like her neighbors. They were one of the only Orthodox families in the area. On Shabbat, as her family walked to synagogue, well-meaning neighbors would stop and ask if their car had broken down and if they needed assistance. Finding kosher ingredients wasn’t easy either. The family picked up kosher meat at a nearby Conservative synagogue that was shipped from Chicago once a month. Kosher certified cheese was so difficult to find that her parents Steffi and Stanley started a small cheese business out of their garage as a public service for other Jews living in the area.
“When it came to kosher desserts there was really nothing,” Adeena explained to us during a recent interview in her sun-filled Tel Aviv kitchen. That left the task of baking to her mother, Adeena and her sister Sharon. “We’re only living 20 miles from Chez Panisse, but we are so far removed from that world,” she adds. Still, California crept into their kitchen. Their neighbors had fig, loquat, and persimmon trees and would share their bounty. “My mom started making this persimmon bread, which is really a cake but we called it persimmon bread,” Adeena adds. The recipe, she explains, likely came from an edition of western lifestyle magazine Sunset, which was always in their home.
The cake, like many of the recipes Steffi made, was pareve, made without milk or meat. “We joked that her kitchen was like Switzerland,” Adeena says. It made the recipe versatile, so it could pair with any meal. On Saturday afternoons, when friends and family would stop by and play Scrabble, Steffi would serve the bread. “We loved it as is, but really the best way we ate it was the next day toasted. She would put it in the toaster oven and then we would spread cream cheese on it and that’s like the classic childhood snack,” she adds.
As an adult living in New York, the persimmon bread faded from Adeena’s life. And when Steffi became ill and passed away, the recipe disappeared. It returned when Adeena moved to Tel Aviv several years ago. Living near the Carmel Market, fruit like plump orange persimmons was often at hand. “I saw persimmons everywhere,” she adds.
While working on her new cookbook Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen, Adeena started to recreate her mother’s recipe, adding her own spin to it. She borrowed from a pumpkin loaf she and Sharon make for their annual bake sale to raise funds for awareness around ovarian cancer. Adeena also worked in three types of ginger: fresh, candied, and powdered to add complexity to the flavor. The result is a warmly spiced cake with a moist and fruity undercurrent.
“I miss my mom,” Adeena says. “I think the recipes become more important as you get older.”
From Adeena: Once a week during high season my mother would make her persimmon bread, a dense loaf cake with caramelized corners we’d warm in the toaster oven after school. The edges would almost burn, turning crispy from the combination of sugar and that intense toaster heat. We couldn’t spread the cream cheese on top fast enough, so much so that half of it would slide off while we burned the roofs of our mouths with each bite. Here is a slightly springier, lusher version that’s great fresh out of the oven, even better the next day—and best toasted, with a schmear of labneh or cream cheese.