By Lois Hoffman
Down here in central Indiana, folks get excited this time of year about a little-known fruit. Persimmons are little fruits with big hearts. Not widely known to many, they can be a sweet treat to your list of fall favorites.
This soft, edible fruit has a taste all its own and they are often referred to as “divine fruit.” Scientifically, they are classified as a berry although most people think of them as a fruit. Whichever way you classify them, they have one quality that sets them apart from all other fruits.
Not having these little gems in Michigan, I was introduced to this special feature of persimmons in a unique way. We were checking out Ron’s persimmon tree a couple years ago in early fall before the fruit was ripe. He plucked one off the limb and was shining it up on his jacket, much as you would do an apple. Instinctively, I grabbed it and bit into it, eager to try it for the first time. That was a mistake. My mouth instantly drew up into a pucker worse than any dill pickle had ever affected me.
All persimmons have soluble tannins which accounts for their bitter taste which makes your mouth draw into a pucker. This is only while they are still green. When fully ripe, their high glucose content gives them a sweet and delicate flavor. To reach this stage, the small orange fruits must go through several frosts and freezings, even to the point where their flesh starts to turn black and they are soft when squeezed.
There are two varieties of persimmons, Hachiya is the more astringent type while the Fuyu is not so much. They both mature late in the fall and the season for harvesting them can go from September to December, depending on the weather. They can be picked before they are completely ripe and left on the counter to fully ripen or they can be placed in a paper bag with apples, pears or other fruit that release ethylene gas to speed up the ripening process.
Persimmons are rich in fiber, manganese, beta carotene, vitamin C and iron. They have been grown in China for more than 2000 years. They can be eaten raw, dehydrated or cooked and are good in salads, on breakfast cereal, in parfaits and in desserts. Down here in Indiana, it is a delicacy to have persimmon pudding.
I experienced my first batch of this autumn treat this past week. Let me say, it is only for the industrious. Getting to the pudding is no small feat.
Picking the persimmons is a little tricky. Not only do they have to be ripe or nearly ripe, but there is a small window between when they are ripe and when the deer and other critters also like to scarf them up. Trees can get fairly tall so, to harvest most of them, you need some kind of equipment that will get you to the upper branches.
When they are ripe, they need to be washed and the stems and tails removed. The tails are little tiny protrusions on the bottom that don’t necessarily want to release. After this, they need to be run through a colander or sieve to separate the pulp from the pits and skins. Needless to say, this quickly becomes a gooey, sticky situation.
According to folklore in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, persimmon seeds can be indicators of winter weather. If you crack open a seed and the kernel inside is spoon-shaped it means lots of snow to shovel, if it is shaped like a fork it will be a mild winter with powdery, light snow and if it is knife-shaped there will be frigid winds that will “cut like a knife.” Of course, you will want to use a locally-grown persimmon so that it forecasts local weather.
As for the pudding, after you have the pulp, it is pretty easy to make. The hardest part is waiting for it to bake. When done, it has the consistency of pumpkin pie filling but needs to take at least an hour and maybe more to make sure it is done.
It is definitely worth the wait. Persimmon pudding, topped with real whipped cream, is a fall treat that ranks right up there with my other fall favorites. With a distinct flavor all its own, it is a welcome addition to other harvest favorites. Persimmons offer twice the pleasure, the fun of gathering and preparing and then the delight when eaten. Here is Ron’s recipe, handed down through his family. If you are in persimmon country, you may want to give it a try.
Persimmon Pudding Recipe
- 1 qt persimmons = 2 cups
- 3 eggs
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 2-1/2 cups rich milk ( whole milk with the cream at the top or use evaporated milk)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup raisins or nuts, optional
- Mix sugar and butter then add eggs and mix well
- Add milk and seasonings
- Add persimmons
- Add flour, baking powder and soda
- Pour into a 9 x 9 inch greased (or use cooking spray) baking dish
- Bake in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 1 hour or until it is firm
Photos courtesy of Lois Hoffman
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