Problematic Persimmons, Week Ending 12/1/2019

I hate to be a quitter, but I may have to get over American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana).

I have mentioned the nearby roadside persimmons previously, on at least two separate occasions (here and here).

I’ve never been “successful” at using these free wild foods, however, and I thought I’d missed the persimmon foraging window this season. The weather turned bitterly cold partway into November, and I wasn’t able to visit the trees before this occurred. While the fruit does continue to cling to the branches well into the winter, after multiple hard freezes I figured the fruit would have spoiled on the branches.

Imagine my delight when I inspected the trees and discovered some fruit, within reach, still appeared … well, mushy and sad but orange in color rather than the black or blue I would expect from rotten fruit.

Late November persimmons still clinging to branches
Late November persimmons still clinging to branches

The ideal persimmons are harvested from the ground, but I couldn’t find any to collect. Many wild animals like to eat persimmon fruit as well, and they had long since cleared the area. Luckily I was able to pluck 13 small, shriveled (but still well colored) persimmons from the tree’s lower branches.

So imagine my disappointment when, after all this, the persimmons I sampled still had that astringent tannin thing going on! The flavor was delectable and the texture was perfect (although some folks might consider it “slimy”), but the lingering aftertaste STILL caused the awful sucked-bone-dry feeling of an unripe persimmon. Not as acutely as it would have earlier in the season, but still unpleasant. I thought maybe I’d gotten a bit of the peel, so I tried another tiny taste making sure to only get the flesh. Again, the delicious flavor was followed by the mouth puckering astringency.  

In other words, even at this late date, a fruit picked from the persimmon tree is still not quite ripe. And unlikely to become so, because the hard frost actually kills the fruit and it will begin to rot. 

I had tracked down several American persimmon recipes, and briefly thought about cooking my little handful in the hopes that heat would help remove the last vestiges of the tannins. Unfortunately, I struggled to find recipes – cookies, pound cake, pudding or jam – appropriate for the tiny amount of persimmons I had actually collected. (Many of the recipes called for wheat flour as well, so I wouldn’t have made them anyway since grains are problematic for my digestive tract.)

A handful of American persimmons
A handful of American persimmons

In the end, I will probably do the same thing with these sad persimmons as I did with last year’s batch: plant them and hope for more trees! Five germinated last year, which I consider pretty successful. Unfortunately, it may take as long as 10 years before I know which – if any – are females!  

If you should happen to find yourself with a glut of American persimmons and desperately need recipes, you can find plenty in the following books:

Fruit by Nancie McDermott
Preserving Wild Foods (OK, this just has one, Wild Persimmon and Ginger jam, but it looks REALLY good) by Raquel Pelzel  and Matthew Weingarten 
Eating Appalachia by Darrin Nordahl
Forage, Harvest and Feast by Marie Viljoen (this one actually appeared to have several recipes which would work for my handful of fruits, but many of them called for other ingredients which I didn’t have or couldn’t easily get.)

Note: I am not an Amazon affiliate marketer, and I do not get commissions if you purchase any of these books through the Amazon links provided. I was able to find three of the four in ebook format through Hoopla. I highly recommend taking advantage of ebooks if you have that option, or borrowing books from your local library otherwise.

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