In the Garden:
Ripening persimmons are an ornamental addition to the landscape as well as a superb ingredient in baked holiday cuisine.
Fall is Persimmon Season!
Many readers are familiar with our common American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), native from Florida to East Texas, north to Connecticut, and across to Kansas. Each year as shortening days and cool nights signal the trees to drop their foliage, the fruit of wild persimmons remain like ornaments adorning the trees.
Wild persimmons are quite tasty but also quite astringent due to high tannin content. This tannin breaks down over time and exposure to light and cold weather. Captain John Smith experienced this fruit as a visitor to the New World in the early 1600s and wrote "if it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment."
I love to gather the wild fruits as I travel around and carry them around with me for days in a small box on the seat of the pickup, like candies for the road trip. If you put them in the freezer for a night and then allow them to thaw out, it will help take the pucker out faster. Otherwise grabbing even a soft wild persimmon can be a type of culinary Russian roulette!
There is also the Oriental persimmon (Diopsyros kaki), the species usually sold for home or commercial fruit production. These are larger-fruited persimmons available in numerous grafted varieties.
Some of these Oriental varieties are astringent types, but many are non-astringent, lacking pucker even when still quite crisp. Being a self-proclaimed connoisseur of persimmons, I must say that the astringent types provide the best flavor if allowed to fully soften and ripen.
Persimmons are easy to grow, requiring plenty of sunlight and good-to-moderate drainage. The trees grow slower than most other fruit species but can begin bearing at an early age. This is one fruit that has very few pest or disease problems and can easily be grown in most areas without the need for sprays.
I add mulch to the soil surface around each tree, extending out to the outer branch spread for the first five years after planting. This reduces weed competition and helps maintain adequate soil moisture. Young trees are prone to dropping their small developing fruit, especially during droughty spells.
The trees provide good fall leaf color, a rarity in the Lower South. Then after the leaves drop the orange-red fruits remain to decorate the landscape for several more weeks.
Persimmons ripen to a very soft consistency, much like bags of jelly enclosed in a thin skin. You can freeze then and then spoon out the thawing interior like a frozen custard. I prefer to just eat them fresh, a not-so-tidy activity. The fruit is rich in wonderful aromas and is very sweet.
Persimmons are superb in holiday baking. Persimmon pudding and persimmon breads are among my favorites. Not everyone shares my love for these fruits, but this is good news. I have bartered with unappreciative owners of persimmon trees on more than one occasion to obtain a good supply for fresh eating and baking.
If you have room for a persimmon tree consider adding one in late winter during fruit-planting season. If not, find a neighbor with a fruitful tree and begin making plans to barter!
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