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Persimmon (Diospyros virginia)

Persimmon TreeIt is not quite winter yet. For now there are still things to forage out there - Blackberries, Walnuts, Sweet Chestnuts, and various roots as well as mushrooms. But winter will be upon us soon enough, (and who knows when I will next be able to update the site) so I am giving advance notice of a wonderful winter foraging delight. It is sweet, delicious and only really comes into its own after the first frosts. In fact, prior to that it is quite inedible.

I remember well the first time I came upon this mysterious fruit. The leaves had already dropped to the ground and a wintery bite chilled the air. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a handsome little tree, entirely naked of leaves, but beautifully decorated with what at first appeared to be bright orange Christmas balls (baubles). I couldn’t imagine a tree that still bore fruit in the middle of winter. You can tell, I was born and bred in more northerly latitudes. Upon closer examination the orange balls indeed revealed themselves as fruit, but a fruit I had never seen before: Persimmons!

Euell Gibbons calls them ‘sugarplums’ and is quite rapturous in his descriptions. American persimmons, which are native from Pennsylvania to the southern states, grow wild even in depleted soils where little else will grow. They are extremely tart and astringent before they ripen, but once bitten by the frost their fruit pulp turns to an almost jelly-like consistency and its flavor takes on a delicate, sweet note, reminiscent of apricot.

Although they mostly lend themselves to sweet dishes, such as pies, cakes muffins and sweetbreads, they can also be used in savory concoctions with a sweet note - for example, spiced with chillies and made into chutneys.

Native Americans made a fruit wine with them, dried them or mixed the pulp with flour to make a fruit bread.

Persimmons are quite nutritious, being rich in vitamin A and C particularly, and an exceptionally rich source of fibre. They also contains some valuable anti-oxidant flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. It is said to be particularly good for strengthening small blood vessels (e.g. in the retina of the eye).

But don’t be sad if you live in an area where persimmons don’t grow wild. Cultivated varieties from Japan and China can be purchased at the store. There are two main varieties, which mostly differ in terms of their astringency. There are the heart-shapes Hachiya persimmons, which must be fully ripe before they become edible, and the non-astringent Fuyu, which can be used even while still quite firm. As the fruits originate from Japan, Japanese cook books, or websites offer a wealth of suggestions of what to do with persimmons.

Here some simple recipe ideas:

PERSIMMON JAM –USA

Prepare fruit by cutting into small pieces and then pureé. Measure fruit and water into large kettle.
Stir in pectin and lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 30 seconds. Add sugar and again bring to a rolling boil for exactly 4 minutes, by the clock. Stir constantly. Remove from heat and pour into sterilized containers. Makes 6 jars of jam.

from: FAO non-wood forest products from temperate broad-leaved trees

Persimmon Pudding
2 cups persimmon pulp
2 eggs and 1 yolk
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
2 c. flour
1 c. milk

Use a 13 x 9 pan, bake on the middle rack at 350F for 30-35 mins.

You can also use a pumpkin pie recipe, but using persimmon instead, or to partially replace the pumpkin.


Persimmons

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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