Collecting Wild Persimmons
Persimmons are one of the most common yet overlooked American fruit. They are native to a very wide swath of the eastern US and has been introduced to many locations outside it's native range. Trees produce heavily and reliably. The fruit is high in nutrients, and has a wonderful flavor.
One of my earliest childhood memories related to collecting wild food is of persimmons. My Mother and Grandmother collected them by the dishpan full in the fall under a tree on my grandparents farm. The fruit were big, juicy, and didn't have lots of seeds.
The farm has long since been sold, so access to that tree is no longer possible, but I managed to start some seedlings from that tree a few years back. I now have a grove of fifteen 10 year old trees that started producing a couple of years ago.
Where and When to Collect Persimmons
September is persimmon time here in Southern Indiana and they are an abundant resource that many people don't even know about. They are an excellent source of potassium (much higher than bananas)and other nutrients, and are easy to collect, process, freeze and prepare.
Persimmon trees grow in open woods, along fence rows, in parks and backyards. Some fruit need a good frost before they will fall, others ripen well before. You can spot trees easily in the early fall, by looking for the orange 1 to 2 inch fruit hanging from the trees. Persimmons are generally very prolific and will produce LOTS of fruit every year. An easy way to find them is looking for the smashed fruit beneath wild trees along country roads. Always ask permission before you collect wild food from private property.
American persimmons (Diospyros Virginiana) should be allowed to fall from the trees before collecting. Unripe persimmons are VERY astringent and unpleasant to bite into. Getting some gullible kid to bite into a green one was a fairly common prank among the country kids when I was growing up.
When you collect, only gather whole sound fruit. If they are smashed or appear to have been eaten on, leave them for the animals. Possums, raccoons, coyotes, birds, deer and other wild animals eat persimmons as well.
I prefer to remove the "caps" from the stem ends while I'm collecting, because it's cleaner and it makes processing quicker and easier later. Some folks will leave the caps on, and remove them later.
If you can't process your persimmons within about 24 hours, it's a good idea to refrigerate them. Plan on about 2/3 of what you collect being usable product (pulp) and about 1/3 being seeds and skin.
My grandmother used an old time kitchen utensil she called a potato ricer to pulp her persimmons.
Turns out, she was pretty smart (as if I didn't already know that!), because, I've tried using colanders, tomato presses, Foley mills - all of which will get the job done - but I keep coming back to the potato ricer as the most effective way of separating the pulp from the seeds and other waste.
Place clean ripe fruits in the cone shaped base of the ricer, fill it nearly to the top, and use the wooden plunger to start smashing. As you begin pressing / punching with the plunger, pulp will begin to flow through the holes in the ricer, and collect in a bowl underneath.
When the mass of squashed stuff in the ricer gets to be about a third of it's original size, and you don't seem to be extracting any more pulp, use a spatula to scrape down the pulp on the outside of the ricer, remove the cone and discard the remaining seeds and skin. Refill the ricer and repeat the process until all of your persimmons have been processed.
The discarded seeds can be dumped on your compost pile, or if you would like to grow your own trees, dig a hole about 8" deep in a corner of your garden that you can avoid tilling until late the next spring. Dump the seeds into this hole, cover it up and leave it alone until next year. Enough of these seeds will germinate the following spring that you can transplant them and make your own persimmon grove.
Packaging and Freezing
I pack persimmon pulp into quart Ziploc freezer bags. My recipe for Persimmon Pudding calls for 3 cups of pulp, so I freeze that amount in each bag.
I use a canning funnel and a 1 cup measuring cup to measure out the pulp and put it neatly into the freezer bag. I will also use some type of container to hold the freezer bag while I'm filling it so that it doesn't fall over. A freezer box, or a 2 cup Pyrex measuring pitcher works pretty well.
Once you have a bag filled, squeeze out excess air, close the zipper, and lay the bag flat. I've found that it's easier to label your bags BEFORE you fill them. Always write what's in the bag. You'd be surprised how much frozen persimmon pulp can look like other things (pumpkin pie pulp for example...) Also, its a good idea to write the year it was frozen and how much is in the bag.
I've found that it's a good idea to place the bags flat in your freezer. This serves two purposes.
First - flat frozen "stuff" tends to stack neatly and take up less room in your freezer.
Second, flat frozen "stuff" will thaw out more quickly and evenly than a big round lump when the time comes to make persimmon pudding.
Persimmon pudding is one of my favorite dessert treats of all time. I will occasionally make one and take it to work for office pitch-ins. The most common thing I hear from people is "I haven't had persimmon pudding since I was a kid" One thing is sure - there's never any left to take back home at the end of the day. I always have to make two batches, so my family has a chance to get some.
My persimmon pudding recipe has been handed down in my mother's family for at least four generations, and I suspect more generations than that. It seems to be one of the best I've tried (but maybe I'm biased!!!). If you'd like to try my persimmon pudding recipe, E-mail me through my
page, and ask for it. I'll be happy to send it to you.
Little Known Facts
Persimmon trees (both American and Japanese) are related to the ebony tree found in India and south Central Asia. They are all in the Diospyros family. The wood is dark, fine grained and dense like it's cousin ebony. It was used historically for weaving shuttles, spools and bobbins in the textile industry because of its durability. It is also used for golf club heads and pool cues.
Persimmons also have the unusual (for plants) feature of having separate gender. Most plants have both male and female reproductive features on all plants. Persimmons actually have male plants and female plants. Both have blossoms, but the female blossom is 2-3 times larger than the male. The male trees produce pollen only, and the female trees bear the fruit. If you are going to grow your own trees, you'll need to have at least one of each. Problem is there's not a way to tell the difference until they bloom.
Persimmons are a native resource that few people are aware of. the fruit is healthy, high in nutrients, and free for the taking if you can find a tree. Processing and preserving the pulp is easy, and persimmon pudding is a taste treat that goes back to pioneer days in some parts of the US.
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