Autumn is the color orange, orange like pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and persimmons. While most regard apples as the quintessential fall fruit, for me it is the persimmon and we live a little too far south for apples to do well anyway.
The scientific name for the persimmon tree is Diospyrus from ancient Greek meaning divine fruit. Persimmons are one of the oldest cultivated fruits and are originally from Asia. Looking at the picture above you can see how far the persimmon as evolved through selective breeding. The fruit on the left is a non- astringent, seedless Japanese Fuyu Persimmon, the one on the right is an American native persimmon, which usually contains 5 or 6 seeds.
I have to say I love both. Generally, there are two types of persimmon fruit: astringent and non-astringent. Astringent persimmons have a “chalky” or bitter taste unless they are very, very ripe and mushy. Native Persimmons are always astringent and it takes some unpleasant eating experiences until you learn when they are really ready to be eaten. A few good tips are: Wait until they fall off the tree. When you pull the leaf (calyx) off the top of the fruit, it should come off easily and no part of the fruit should be attached to the leaf. The skin is probably a little wrinkled. The last part of the fruit losing its astringency is right under the leaf. You can touch that part with your tongue and wait a few seconds to see if you get the unpleasant chalky sensation before you stick the whole fruit in your mouth. Should you eat a not quite ripe persimmon, make sure you have a truly ripe one to eat afterward, it will take the unpleasant sensation from your mouth; otherwise, you are stuck with that feeling for a while.
Another note on eating wild persimmons: They are quite seedy and the flesh sticks to the seeds, just keep the seeds in your mouth and slowly nibble the flesh off the seeds. You can eat the skin, it is very thin. Even the 17th century Capt. John Smith, of Jamestown fame, said that if a persimmon “is not ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awry with much torment.” Yes, all that is totally worth it because they are so good. They taste a little like plums, but sweeter and they have a hint of cinnamon and dark rum. To me, they already have all the flavors of Thanksgiving desserts in them already.
Native Americans cherished the fruit and dried most of it for the winter. The word Persimmon comes from Powhatan (Algonquian) “pasimenan ” meaning dried fruit. They also mixed the pulp with grain to make a sort of bread and brewed alcoholic beverages from persimmons.
Nutritionally persimmons are a great source of Potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.
The large Asian persimmons are a delight to eat fresh. The non-astringent varieties can be eaten like apples, or you can wait until they get delightfully soft. But they are even better dried, I spend a few days each fall drying as many as I can get my hands on. You can dehydrate both varieties astringent and non-astringent, when ripe but still firm. The tannins are lost during the drying process.
The small native Persimmons are great for baking, you can use the pulp in place of ripe bananas. I have been making this Persimmon Cookie recipe for about 15 years now and I look forward to making it every fall.
The best way to separate the pulp from the seeds and skins is with a food mill, if you don’t have one, it is best to use a mesh strainer and the back of a wooden spoon, this is quite labor intensive, but you only need 1 cup of pulp for the cookie recipe. About 20 ounces of wild persimmons should give you enough pulp to fill one cup. If you don’t find enough wild persimmons in a couple of days to make the cookies, you can just freeze the ones you find and keep adding to the frozen ones until you have enough. If you want to make this recipe with cultivated persimmons, you need about 3 very soft fruits.
1 cup persimmon puree
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup room temperature butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, salt, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice
1 1/2 cup of raisins
1 1/2 cup of pecan pieces (walnuts are also great)
Set 1 stick of butter out to come to room temperature
Produce 1 cup of persimmon puree one way or another
Preheat oven to 375°F
Prepare a cookie sheet by either greasing, with a sheet of parchment paper, or with a silicone mat
Put the persimmon puree, the sugar, the butter and the baking soda in a dough bowl and beat with a mixer until creamy
Add the egg, the flour, sifted spices and mix until incorporated
Incorporate the raisins and nuts
Drop by the spoonfuls onto the baking sheet and shape the cookies a little with a wet spoon, since they don’t run when baked. I push them down a little, so they are not so tall
Bake at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown
They are best when they are fresh, if they make it to a few days old, they are better if reheated in the toaster oven. They are a little bit like muffins in their consistency.
Of course, we are not the only ones who enjoy the persimmon fruit
My friend Tim Anderson sent me a note after reading this post:
My father C.H. Anderson was a Chief Purser aboard Pan American World Airways from the Flying Boat era through to the Boeing 747. He was very adept at languages and flew on very many flights to the PI, Nippon, Hong Kong, Saigon etc. especially the R&R flights of soldiers, Marines, and Navy from Tan Son Nhut Air Base to Bangkok and Hong Kong.
He was very fond of eating local foods where ever he went; he loved Vietnamese Persimmons and tried to bring one home for my mother but the inspectors at LAX wouldn’t let him bring the fruit into the country (in fact they trashed his persimmon).
Not one to be stymied by officials, on his next flight to Viet Nam he ate a persimmon swallowing the seed as well just before departure from Tan Son Nhut.
Arriving home in California he instructed me to “Cut a piece of Hardware Cloth (aka wire mesh) to fit in the toilet bowl and draw a bucket of hot water”. I followed his instructions and he went in to evacuate his bowels. Soon we could hear him pouring the hot water into the toilet bowl and his exclamation of discovery when the seed appeared in the hardware cloth.
Then he told my brother Matthew to dig a hole in the front yard and prepare for planting.
As my father carried the seed out and planted it he told us that “persimmon seeds must pass through the intestines of a mammal in order to sprout, that across the southern U.S. where ever you see a persimmon growing a possum has shit there”.
Well, the seed sprouted and grew into a beautiful tree, bountiful with fruit that we all enjoyed. My mother, Anita Swan Kramer Anderson, made wonderful jams, cakes etc. for us.
When Saigon fell 8 years later on April 30, 1975, many Vietnamese refugees resettled into Westminster, California bringing their traditions and culture to share with us.
When our tree was loaded with fruit, we would be visited by sweet little old Vietnamese ladies asking for fruit from our tree! Our mother taught us to share, so we did.
Years later, after our parents had passed, I put the house on the market and that persimmon tree sealed the deal with the Viet-American woman who bought the place.