Persnickety towards Persimmons? Don’t be…they’re Perfect!

Prominent throughout the Deep South and up through Virginia to Connecticut and back down towards Florida and west to Kansas and Texas, the common Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, makes for a Farmer’s favorite with its growth habit, bark, leaf shape, and fruit color…that fabulous color holding the rank somewhere between terra cotta, salmon, apricot, and orange.

“Don’t you EVER bite into a green persimmon…it will turn your mouth INSIDE OUT!!!” That is what Grandmother, Mimi’s grandmother, my great, great grandmother would exclaim about this fruit. Tart and sour, the unripe persimmons are about as useful as a boar’s teat, but the ripe persimmons are lovely, flavorful, and quite delicious. “They’ve got to be DEAD ripe,” according to the grand dame Mimi herself.

Because of their extreme astringency, the persimmon will most often make you pucker, but once the sour cells within the fruit are “bletted" or partially rotted the fruit becomes much more palpable.  Killed by cold, the astringent cells actually rot somewhat and cause the fruit to take on a sweeter flavor, and, thus, the old adage that persimmons are not ripe until the first frost. There is a whole chemistry lesson here but I shan’t attempt to explain the how’s and why’s – just know persimmons most often become ripe after the first frost.

The persimmon I see most commonly throughout the South is that common persimmon, with ovular to globular shaped fruits clustered on the branches clad in pretty green leaves. Well, maybe more so clustered or scattered on the ground around the base of the tree, for once the fruit is ripe, these little morsels become a buffet free-for-all.  Wildlife may dine on this forest delicacy throughout the fall and you’ll find hogs, deer, squirrels, bear and birds taking part in this feast. Possums will scatter up the tree and gorge themselves on the delicious persimmons, thus why the tree is sometimes referred to as a “Possumwood Tree.”

For those of us who do not scavenge the forest floor for our daily sustenance, the wild persimmon can be a wonderful autumn treat for your table. Of course, your local farmers markets and even grocery stores carry varieties of persimmons this time of year, including the American persimmon’s cousin, the Japanese persimmon.

Since the Far East and the Deep South share similar latitudes and climates, we often can assimilate our native flora and transport plants with ease i.e. azaleas, camellias, and hydrangeas. Each of these has a native species in the South but also grow naturally in parts of Asia. The persimmon is prime example. Another interesting sharing point is art. Persimmons are often depicted in Asian art and styles as decorative motifs for wallpaper, porcelain, and paintings. The Native Americans depicted persimmons in their motifs as well, and fossilized persimmon trees have been found throughout North America. 
With a taste akin to an apricot, persimmons are perfectly paired with pork and chicken dishes. Marmalades, jams, and jellies can be made from the fruit; and dried persimmons are delicious in baked goods and granola. I think these trees and their fruit are just fascinating and worth reading up on (click here). 

While on your fall forays into the forest, gather a few persimmons for a treat. From this Farmer’s natural garden, the woods and fencerows of the Deep South, remember to not be persnickety towards persimmons.

Persimmon Jam
Just imagine this jam on an oven fresh biscuit! Makes 6 jars of jam.

3 cups prepared fruit (pitted and stem removed), about 5-6 average-size Japanese persimmons or about 2 dozen of the much smaller common persimmons
1 cup water
1 package pectin
½ cup lemon juice
6 cups sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of grated orange zest

  • Prepare fruit by cutting into small pieces.
    Measure fruit and water and pour into large kettle or pot.
  • Stir in pectin and lemon juice.
  • Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 30 seconds.
    Add sugar and bring the mixture again to a rolling boil for exactly 4 minutes, by the clock, and be stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat and pour into sterilized containers.
  • Use as holiday presents or host and hostess gifts or keep it all for yourself! Ha!

Persimmon Marmalade
***Probably the easiest recipe. Quite elegant as well, served with ham, pork, biscuits, or bread.

  • Blend enough persimmons to make a quart of persimmon puree, about 4 cups.
  • Add a cup of sugar and a cup of pure orange juice and a teaspoon of orange zest.
  • Add a can of crushed pineapple and bring to a boil, stirring often and until the mixture is thick.
  • Pour into jars, seal, but do not put into a hot water bath.
  • Lovely gift for any occasion!