When the frost nips and the trees are bare, a peek into the woods reveals a marvelous treat. Step a little closer…
Persimmons can be found all around the world, from Asia and India to Europe, Mexico, and North America. While similar, they all have their own unique qualities botanically, culinarily, medicinally, and even in folklore. I will now refer you to a surprisingly comprehensive and thoroughly interesting Wikipedia page on persimmons. I’ll wait here while you read… Go on. It’ll only take a minute.
Fascinating, yes? Diospyros virginiana are the variety that grow here in Missouri and much of the Eastern United States. They differ in several key ways from the Asian persimmons often seen in grocery stores or fancy markets–mainly in signs of ripeness and number of seeds. Unlike Asian persimmons, this humble woodland variety is pretty seedy and not so pretty when ripe.
They look delicious, don’t they? But don’t be fooled by the gorgeousness. When they look like this–all lovely and plump and orange–they are total pucker-suckers. Seriously. I’m surprised dentists don’t use unripe persimmons to dry up saliva while they do dental work. They could retire “Mr. Thirsty” the spit vacuum entirely. The tannins in unripe persimmons are impressively effective. It is really, really fun to give someone an unripe persimmon. But only if they deserve it.
So when are persimmons ready? I’ll show you.
The cold frost has worked its magic, and now this wrinkly, darkening fruit is ready to eat. A quick shake of the tree will send ripe fruits plummeting to the earth where they can be gathered and taken back to the kitchen for making jams, wines, and breads. Or you can do like I do and stand under the tree and gorge your face with all the persimmons your belleh can hold. You know, either way.
I love the softness of the flavour, the way it is fruity without being overly sweet. I love that it is a source of wild fruit hanging ready and waiting when everything else is dying or going dormant for winter. I love that these trees grow wild wherever they please in our woods. As a child, when we first moved to the farm, I was always giddy and not a little bit in awe that this wonderful fruit was just there, in the woods, for the eating. No driving to the supermarket, no toiling in a garden or orchard. Just part of the woods. An invitation to also be part of the woods. The most wonderful gift of the persimmon.