Persimmons are known by many names: sugar plums, ‘simmons, opossum apple or The Gloppy Stuff Stuck to the Bottom of My Shoe. Whichever moniker you choose, the sweet orange fruit is in peak condition right now and practically begs to plucked from the tree and sampled.
A medium-sized native tree, the persimmon (Diospyros virginina for those of a scientific bent) is found throughout Hoosier woodlands and the occasional city street. Unfortunately, trees found in yards are often turned into cabinet wood because of the mess they produce in the fall; such a waste of fine natural sweets!
If you know anyone with a persimmon tree, they will often allow you to harvest all the fruit you want if you’ll help clean up the mess.
Anyone can identify the persimmon. The golf-ball-sized orange fruit often clings on the bare tree until late winter or a hungry racoon or outdoorsman happens along, whichever comes first. The trick lies in determining when the ‘pucker factor’ departs the fruit. The sugar plums are famous for the mouth-drying astringent they contain when unripe.
Common wisdom says that the fruit is inedible until touched by frost but practical field experience shows that frost is only an indicator; time is the key factor. This writer usually gathers persimmons around the middle of November when the fruit is very ripe but many are still clinging to the the tree.
Gathering persimmons can be a slow, back breaking chore or a breeze depending on your technique. Picking up downed fruit is messy and usually results in a high incidence of sticks, leaves and bugs trespassing in the finished product. Hand picking fruit is difficult due to tree height. The simplest method I have used is to place lightweight plastic sheets below the tree and shake the limbs, sometimes using a short rope or expandable painters pole as necessary. This action results in a bombardment of soft fruit that remains clean on the plastic sheet. With the fruit carefully placed in under filled gallon plastic bags, the entire process only takes a few minutes to clean a tree.
Another problem with the tree picking method is the real possibility of an unripe fruit spoiling the entire batch of pulp. This is a valid concern but can be minimized by waiting until November for harvest and then carefully examining the fruit before pulping. Any that appears firm or partially unripe should be allowed to age like an unripe tomato.
While examining the haul remove any remaining sticks or debris and throw the obviously bad fruit into the compost pile. Don’t forget to eat a couple of nice ones just because; call it field testing. At home, the good fruits are then squashed in a colander or sieve to remove the skins and large, waxy seeds. The remaining sticky orange glop is the highly prized persimmon pulp. There is probably brown flecks of stuff mixed in with the pulp but it is simply the outer layer of the seed coat and will not affect the taste. Don’t forget to scatter the leftover seeds in the woods before winter.
While you have seeds, crack a few open. Many old timers swear that you can tell the degree of severity of the coming winter by looking at the embryo plant inside. “Spoons” tell of a severe winter while “knives” foresee a milder winter. We can never remember to try it out because we’re too eager to sample the persimmons themselves! So far, we’re hearing reports of all spoons.
After all the processing your kitchen is a mess and there are several large containers of pulp sitting on the counter. Immediately proceed with the baking, freezing, canning or eating. Persimmon recipes can be found in the Joy Of Cooking, Stalking The Wild Asparagus and most wild game cookbooks.
If you happen on fresh persimmons at a grocery store, they are likely the larger Asian versions which, to our down home palate, are a poor substitute.
Of course, the most important use for the pulp is to produce a warm persimmon pudding for dessert on Thanksgiving day. This grand treat requires freshly-whipped cream on top and is so good that it might be illegal in some states. Fortunately, Indiana isn’t one of them.
We also tried persimmon ice cream last month at the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival and found it heavenly. At least one container of this year’s batch will remain frozen until next summer when we can whip up a batch of the sublime frozen treat.
The weather is starting to (finally) take a turn for the worse but on the next pleasant afternoon it is time to gather up a few gallons of persimmons. They won’t be around much longer and you’ll regret missing out on the bounty so act fast.
Please just remember to check the tree before shaking; it really creates a mess when a camouflage-clad outdoor writer splats down onto your tarp.
Persimmons Part of Autumns Bounty – WildIndiana.com
Persimmon Song video from WildIndiana friend Rev. Peyton: possibly the new state song!
Persimmon Info from Wikipedia
Persimmon Recipes from Epicurious
Mitchell Indiana Persimmon Festival