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Persimmons: Sweet as Pie

Perfect for preserving or eating fresh, this native fruit allow you to eat really local — from your own backyard.

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Solovets - stock.adobe.com
Orange persimmon fruits on the grey background under the snow.

Autumn in the country brings cooler weather, colorful foliage, and persimmon harvest season. Although an underripe persimmon is mouth-puckeringly tart – and practically inedible, except to hungry goats – one that’s ripened to perfection is sweet, with a complex caramel-like flavor. The ripe fruit can be eaten fresh, or baked into delectable autumn treats. Its flavor pairs well with warm, comforting spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

Multiple persimmon trees thrive on my family’s property, requiring little care. Native, or common, persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) grow semi-wild in our part of Alabama. They can also be found in a wide swath of the eastern and Midwestern United States, from Connecticut to Florida, and Kansas to Texas.

Native persimmon trees can also be intentionally planted in Zones 4 to 9. You can choose from improved cultivars, such as ‘Early Golden,’ ‘Yates,’ or ‘Prok.’ They’ll tolerate most growing conditions, but will produce the best harvests in moist soil. American persimmon trees can grow more than 80 feet tall, making harvest a challenge, so I leave the fruits on the taller trees to wild critters. In addition to their fruit, persimmon trees are prized for their dense wood, which is used to make the heads of golf clubs.

Japanese persimmons are also popular for planting, as they produce high yields and are self-fertile. On the other hand, they’re not as cold-hardy and have a different flavor and texture than the native species. The fruits of Japanese cultivars are larger, flatter, and firmer. The fruit produced by the ‘Fuyu’ cultivar is also known to have no astringent qualities.

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Image by Maggie Bullington

Ripe persimmons.

But there’s just something special about the native species. Most American persimmons require a male and female tree in the same vicinity to bear fruit. We have a male persimmon on the edge of our yard, where it’s the focal point of the view from our kitchen window. This male tree produces a plethora of inconspicuous blooms in spring that are nevertheless attractive to pollinators. My favorite of our fruiting persimmons stands just inside the pasture gate, near the barn, and produces fruit about the size of a half-dollar. It’s a dwarf tree, standing only about 25 feet tall.

After the tree leafs out in spring, green baby persimmons come on in full force. In fall, as the leaves begin to drop, it stands beautifully loaded with fruits the color of a desert sunset, which stand out in stark contrast against the blue autumn sky. I like to wait until after a substantial frost before harvesting, to make sure the fruit is fully ripe. At this point, the skins will wrinkle and take on a dusty purple-black hue, then gradually mellow into a squishy, plump mass of sweetness that’ll virtually melt in your mouth.

Dead-ripe persimmons fall off the tree on their own. Unfortunately, our most productive tree is in a pasture, where cows, chickens, and wildlife clean up the fallen fruit. So, we drive our Suzuki mini truck beneath the tree and pick the fruits while standing in the truck bed. Persimmons need to be soft and willing to release from the branches with a gentle tug. You can also lay a tarp on the ground and give the tree a firm shake to dislodge the ripe fruits. It’s fine if they split or squish when they land.

After harvest, we wash the persimmons before processing them with a manual food mill, or a simple wire strainer. This removes the seeds and produces a beautiful orange pulp that’s ready for baking. You can use the pulp right away, or pack it into small containers in the freezer for future use.

Recipes


Maggie Bullington lives in rural Alabama, where she enjoys growing flowers and food fresh from the farm. She’s blessed to work with her brothers, who handcraft outdoor tools available at Lucas Forge and Wolf Valley Forge.

Updated on Oct 18, 2021  |  Originally Published on Oct 7, 2021

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