Have you ever tasted “the fruit of the Gods?” That’s what Diospyros means, which is the genus name of the fruit more commonly known as a Persimmon. If you’ve tried persimmons before, it’s likely that you ate an Asian variety like the Fuyu or Hachiya, but did you know that there are native American Persimmons, too? In fact, the word “Persimmon” comes from the Algonquin word for the fruit. Early American settlers enjoyed persimmon breads, puddings, and beers, and there are records of this sugary fruit in the journals of John Smith and hungry Civil War soldiers.
Persimmons can be classified into two types: astringent and non-astringent. Astringent persimmons have high levels of tannic acid when they are unripe: one over-eager early bite of an astringent persimmon will have you puckered up and unable to think. The proper time to eat these varieties is when they’ve passed their peak orange color and are starting to turn slightly brown and wrinkly. The flesh of the fruit will be soft, mushy, and sweet. Many cultivated varieties are non-astringent; this means the fruit can be eaten when it is firm, optimizing shipping and storage abilities and providing consumers with a more familiar eating experience. The wild American Persimmons fall into the former astringent camp, so eating them may be messier but so, so worth it.
American Persimmons grow from Florida to Connecticut and as far East as Iowa and Texas. Their fruits have a long and late growing season. While the trees flower in late Spring the fruit won’t be ripe until late Fall at the earliest. Fruit begins to ripen around the end of October but may hang onto the tree even throughout the Winter.
So what should you do if you stumble on a tree full of persimmons on your next hike (or if you’re lucky enough to have a friend or a farmers market with a reliable supply)? Here is an entire website devoted to traditional American Persimmon Pudding recipes. Tell us which one you liked best!