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Where the Wild Things Are, part 2 (Persimmons)

September 26, 2011

Nutrition, Wild Edibles

Persimmons as a survival fruit

A few months ago, I suggested that you begin thinking about what foods you can forage (for free!) around your own property.  I focused on an ever-present “weed”- the dandelion.

Well, now that fall is coming on, I want to encourage you too look for wooded areas and see if you can find a native tree that is beginning to offer up its bounty- the American Persimmon.

I know, you hear the word “persimmon,” but what you really imagine is “puckery.”  And that reputation has some merit, but they can also be a tasty and worthwhile forage food.  The word translates to mean “fruit of the gods.”

Go for a Walk

When we first bought our farm years ago, I made a point of trying to walk around our property at different times of year to see what we already had growing here.  I was happy to find that we had at least 6 persimmon trees scattered around.

Unlike apple trees (and some other domestic fruit and nut trees), these typically bear every year.  Certainly some years there is a more bountiful crop than others, but every year I can remember, our persimmon trees have had a crop.  By contrast, about every other year, our pecan and apple trees have none or at least not enough to leave us any after the squirrels and other animals have been there.

You can identify persimmons by the size of the fruit, the distinctive 4-petaled calyx, and the cluster or multi-trunk appearance they have.  Where we live, they are an understory tree-  they grow amongst taller hardwoods and usually don’t get full sun.

What Are They Like?

Persimmons are an unusual fruit.  We were trying to describe the flavor amongst ourselves the other night while we ate some.  The dominant note I taste is somewhat apricot-like, but other family members said it reminded them of a plum, or pancake syrup, or something else they couldn’t quite put their finger on.

Native trees often grow is small clusters.  They usually have hundreds of 1 – 1 1/2″ orange fruits on them by late August.  That is NOT the time to harvest them.  They are quite “astringent” then.

Persimmons have tannins in them that mellow with fall weather and they become sweetest after several cool nights.  You will want to wait until you see them begin to fall from the tree on their own to try them rather than “picking” them.

What are they good for?

Persimmons are low in calories and fat, but high in fiber.  They contain many healthy phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.  They are considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-infective, and anti-hemorrhagic.  They contain vitamin A, beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and cryptoxanthin.  In addition, they contain healthy amounts of minerals like potassium, manganese , copper, and phosphorus.

You can buy hybrid persimmon trees to plant and get larger fruit from them.  The native varieties are small and probably half seeds.  They can also be very mushy if you are late collecting them.

For this reason, you don’t make a meal of them so much as you could use them to produce jam (also note the articles on making and processing pulp in the right hand sidebar).  You will need a way to press them to extract the seeds, though.

My mother-in-law gave us a great sieve/food mill used for just this purpose.  I believe it is an antique (that still works great!), but Lehman’s sells new ones and they get good reviews on there.

Another plus about having this forage food-  it will attract game.  The area around these trees is well-trodden during the fruit drop.  Deer like them.  So do lots of birds.  Our chickens and turkeys think they are a great treat.  When I see them disappearing into the woods, I have a good idea the fruit has started to drop.

Another Johnny Appleseed Story

Their popularity with wildlife is why you often find the trees growing in clusters.  A day or so after a dessert of persimmons, deer and other critters “plant” the seeds in piles of “fertilizer” as they roam.

A couple of times after a heavy rain, I came upon what looked like pyramids of seeds in mowed areas of our property.  I puzzled over that for a moment until I realized they were persimmon seeds and then it dawned on me how that came to be.

Where Can You Find Them?

Persimmons were originally native to China and Japan.  There is some debate about whether the ones found in the US were introduced through California or developed on the east coast.  They are found throughout the US, but seem to be more common in the east.

You will probably never see a native persimmon for sale in grocery stores.  Much like pawpaws, they are a very soft fruit and would not withstand cross-country shipment.  In fact, the impact of the fall onto the ground often bruises or splits their skins.  To aid in collecting them, get a couple people to hold a sheet beneath the tree while you shake it.

If you are too late to try them this year (you find them all splatted on the ground or just piles of seeds), try to note the location or mark the tree for yourself for next year.  Then pencil onto your calendar to look for them earlier next year.  Keep in mind that cool weather seems to trigger the fruit drop, so the harvest time may vary from year to year according to the temps.

Ever tried a persimmon?  If so, what did you think?

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9 Comments on “Where the Wild Things Are, part 2 (Persimmons)”

  1. Laura Says:

    I keep meaning to do a post on EatTheWeeds. It is a fantastic wealth of information about wild edibles. There are web pages to view, but GreenDeane also has great videos on YouTube that shows him identifying, harvesting, cooking, and eating wild edibles that are in very common places.

    Anyway, here is the link for his page on persimmons.

    http://www.eattheweeds.com/www.EatTheWeeds.Com/EatTheWeeds.com/Entries/1940/6/25_Persimmons_Provisions.html

    Reply

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