aka: Sugar Plum
Family: Ebenaceae (Ebony family)
Latin name: Diospyros virginiana
Harvest time: October-November
Uses: food… so sweet
Habitat and Cultivation tips:
I generally find fruiting American Persimmons at an elevation between 700 and 2700 feet. They seem to prefer well drained soil, but are also found near creeks.
They grow in forests, but yield much more fruit if grown in the open. In the fall, while driving down country roads, just after the leaves have fallen, I keep my eyes open, looking for the distinctively delicate trees 10 to 30 feet tall with brightly orangey-pink fruit the size of a golf-ball.
Persimmons are dioecious, meaning that there are male and female trees. I learned this by observing the trees on my property which I have never seen fruit, but under-which there are a bevy of baby persimmons. In the past, when I would get my pasture mowed, I asked that the babies be left alone, thinking that I would transplant them, and spread the persimmons. I assumed that because of all of the babies around the base of the tree that this large one must bear fruit, but that I just hadn’t seen it. After 3 years of watching it not fruit, and the small trees on my neighbor’s land bear fruit, I grew suspicious, did some research, and learned that persimmons spread from root suckers as well as from seed. I will probably cut the parent tree, and replace it with a female that will bear fruit. I would be happy to cultivate the males in the forest, but in the prime real estate of my pastures I only want trees that bear fruit. I am waiting to do so until I have a use for the wood.
Another name for the American persimmon is “sugar plum” (anyone ever hear of the sugar plum fairy?). This name is very indicative of the qualities of the American persimmon… they are shockingly and wonderfully sweet. I find that I can eat no more than 5 at once, or I get a sugar high, and a subsequent sugar crash.
The fruit is only edible when it looks like it is about to go rotten; the skin will be very wrinkled, and the fruit itself will appear quite mushy. The color will be a bright orangey-pink. If you try to eat the fruit before it is ripe, you will remember the result for a good while. While unripe, the fruit is quite astringent, enough so that it will make your mouth pucker quite uncomfortably.
American persimmons cannot be found in stores because they are difficult to transport and do not keep well. You may have seen their relatives, however, Asian persimmons for sale. Asian persimmon trees are not quite as hardy as our native ones, and may not survive winters at higher elevations. Asian persimmons, however, have a better shelf life, and are much larger, but slightly less flavorful than our power-packed little sugar plums.
Ethno-Botanical History and Gathering tips:
The wood of persimmon is dense and beautiful. It is, after-all in the ebony family. Persimmon lumber, however, does not have significant commercial value because the trees do not tend to grow very big or very straight, butit does make lovely spoons, spatulas, and knife handles.
As mentioned above, American persimmons are ripe and ready to eat only when the fruit looks like it is about to rot. For fresh eating, it is important to let the fruit stay on the tree until it is ripe enough to fall. When harvesting persimmons, I generally clean up under the tree first, tossing any fruit that has turned sour away from the tree, and putting any fruit that looks like it is about to turn, but has not yet turned into a bucket (I never use bags to gather persimmons, as the fruit is so darned mushy that creates a big mess when squished up in a bag). I then grab branches and shake, or get up in the tree and shake with my whole body. If the tree is ready, there will be a great avalanche of sweet fruit. Make sure not to look up when you shake, as you might end up with fruit, leaves, or little wood particles in your eyes. Sometimes I put sheets, drop cloths, or tarps on the ground under the tree. I tend to stay away from old tarps, as the paint and plastic can be apt to stick to the fruit, rendering it inedible… and isn’t this the whole point…to obtain the edible?
Favorite fresh preparation:
I never, ever recommend cooking persimmons. What I love about persimmons is the delightfully smooth texture, and unique sweetness. When cooked, this texture turns boring, and the sweetness dissipates. Many recipe books suggest making a persimmon bread similar to a banana bread, or a cooked persimmon pudding. I highly recommend against these uses; I think that they make waste of the lovely uniqueness that persimmons offer.
Raw Persimmon Pudding:
6 c very ripe persimmons
½ c heavy whipping cream, half and half, sour cream, or coconut milk
½ t salt
0-5 t honey or maple syrup, depending on desired sweetness (totally optional!)
½ t vanilla extract (optional)
¼ t ground cardamom
In order to make persimmon paste, run persimmons through Foley food mill using plate with the largest size holes, or, if you don’t have a food mill, pick out all of the seeds from the persimmons by hand and mush up with potato masher or with hands until the result is a shiny, smooth paste.
Combine all ingredients well in bowl. Chill. Serve. The pudding can be served on its own or with cookies, either shortbread, snickerdoodles, vanilla wafers, or with what are known as “Gallettas” in latin food stores.
Persimmon pulp can make a great addition to homemade ice cream mix, especially in combination with sassafras root.
Favorite preservation methods:
Persimmon wine and mead are both awesome! I always sterilize persimmons before adding them to mead to prevent the mead turning to vinegar by some errant lacto-bacteria that has already started colonizing the ripe persimmons. I do this by pouring almost boiling water over the fruit, and letting the fruit and water cool before adding both to my brew bucket. Do not cook the fruit on the stove-top, as this will remove much of the flavor. I generally use one gallon of ripe persimmons per 5 gallon batch of wine or mead. I generally add persimmons to the primary fermentation. I have also added one or two cinnamon sticks, and a vanilla bean to my persimmon ferments. Please refer to the fruit wine recipe on p._____ or the melomel recipe on p._____. I find that the subtle flavor of persimmons comes out more in a wine than in a melomel.
I like to put a cup of whole, ripe, persimmons in a jar, and pour moonshine on top. Sometimes I add a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean, vanilla extract, a bit of wild cherry bark, and/or quarter cup of evaporated cane juice, panela (the real evaporated cane juice that can be found in cones or cakes in latin food stores), honey, or maple syrup
I dry persimmons in two ways; I dry them whole, and I make fruit leather with them.
Once, years ago, my old land-mate, James Price, shared some dried persimmons that he had found that had happened to dry on the tree, in a year that happened to have a very dry fall. I found these sweet little treats to be much akin to medjool dates. I love dates, but we can’t grow them in Appalachia, so I was willing to put some energy into figuring out the drying of the whole fruit.
When drying persimmons whole I have learned to break all of the rules. I had many bad experiments with trying to dry the ripe fruit. The dried fruit looked fine, but inside the skin the fruit had turned into a somewhat tasteless brown powder. I asked around about this, and someone, I wish that I could remember who, told me that to dry the fruit of a persimmon whole, one must start with unripe fruit. This seemed counter-intuitive to me, but I tried it.
I found a persimmon tree with low hanging branches, picked some light orange, but not yet ripe fruit, and put it on the drying racks above my woodstove. After a couple of weeks, the fruit had dried, and ripened as it dried. The result was very similar to the date like treats that I had enjoyed off of a tree years before.
Persimmon Fruit leather:
In order to make fruit leather with persimmons, I make a paste, the same as above in the persimmon pudding recipe. I spread it out onto parchment paper, and place it on my drying racks in my cabin or on fruit leather sheets provided with most electric dehydrators. The flavor of persimmon leather can be a bit sweetly bland. Because of this, I sometimes add in crushed Autumn olives, which add a nice tartness, and are harvested at about the same time of year, apple syrup (recipe found on p. ____), or spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, to add interest and flavor.
As I have mentioned above, I find cooking persimmons to be a waste. I therefore make no preserves with them.
I like to make plain persimmon pulp as in the recipe for persimmon pudding, put it in pint or half pint jars, and freeze it in order to combine it with the other pudding ingredients for holiday feasting.