It’s the time of the year when wild persimmons begin dropping in most places and it’s the perfect time to forage for these fall delicacies. If you want to enjoy wild persimmons this year, you would need to hurry as raccoons, deer, birds and pretty much every living creatures will be looking for these tasty delights.
Before you start foraging for wild persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), a little research is required as you need to be sure you are able to correctly identify the plant before eating anything you can forage. An interesting fact regarding persimmons is that these trees have been cultivated since prehistoric times and the Native Americans were the ones who documented the use of fruits and wood coming from the persimmon tree.
How to find wild persimmons
Wild persimmons can be found from southern Connecticut to Florida and west to Texas, Kansas and Iowa, and while the fruits are smaller than their commercial cousins, the taste hasn’t change and is just as delicious.
The tree can grow up to 80 feet tall and it’s easily recognizable due to its craggy, grey to blackish bark, which is more distinctive in older trees. You should know that fruiting occurs when the tree is about six years old. It’s advised to look for the trees in the summer and mark their location for later foraging using a GPS or a mental note, if you’re no stranger to those hiking grounds. During your summer hiking trips, look for well-drained soils in rocky or dry open woods, prairies, abandoned fields and small trees that range from 30 to 70 feet in height. The trees have a slender trunk and spreading, often pendulous branches, which form a broad or narrow, round-topped canopy. During the months of May and June the staminate flowers borne in two to three-flowered cymes can be observed of white-yellowish color.
The fruit of the persimmon trees is a juice berry containing one to eight seeds, globular in shape and pale orange in color, often red-checked. Wild persimmons will turn yellowish brown after the first frost.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the time of wild persimmons ripening is variable based on the growing region. While sometimes the fruits ripen early in the fall, there are times when you must wait for the first frost if you don’t want to harvest bitter persimmons. The new forager might get confused regarding the best time to forage for this fall delicacy and most of them make the mistake of eating wild persimmons before they’re ripe. If you want to be sure you’re not eating under-ripe persimmons, you are better off if you wait for the fruits to being to drop off the tree. If you are lucky to find some wild persimmons on the ground untouched (as I said before there is a big competition for these fruits), you can pick one and taste it. If it’s deliciously sweet and has a gelatinous texture, you hit the jackpot and you can start shaking the tree and gather some more. You might find that the tree is too large and sturdy to shake, case in which you would need to test your climbing abilities, especially if the critters got to the falling fruits first.
Related reading: Foraging for wild foods this fall, just like the pioneers did
Eating wild persimmons
There is no doubt that wild persimmons are wonderful eaten raw out of the hand and it’s an enjoyable reward especially for the young foragers. However, if you want to cook with wild persimmons, you will need to remove the seeds. The pulp obtained for persimmons can be used in cakes, breads, jelly and jam, and any other recipe that requires pulp from wild persimmons. You can also freeze the pulp for later use if you have a vacuum sealer.
Persimmons are quite nutritious, being rich in vitamin A and C, and an exceptionally rich source of fiber. These fruits contain some valuable anti-oxidant flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. Various studies are conducted to prove that persimmons have the particularity of strengthening small blood vessels.
If you want to cook using wild persimmons, here are two recipes, my grandmother passed along:
During the winter season my grandmother used to make spiced persimmon bread and every family member loved it. There was never enough of it and we were always craving for more.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 ½ cup persimmon pulp
- 1 ½ cup of sugar
- 1 ¾ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon clove
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chopped wallnuts
How to do it:
You will need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Get a large bowl and blend the sugar and oil, to which you will add the eggs and persimmon pulp. In a separate bowl you will need to sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Add the nuts and mix well. After that, you should stir the flour mixture into the persimmon mixture. Turn the bread dough into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake for one hour or until done, testing the center of the loaf with a pick. Turn it out on a wire rack to cool. My grandmother used to freeze persimmon bread for later use as it freezes well and it lasts for a long time in the freezer.
- 6 average size ripe persimmons
- 1 cup water
- 6 cups sugar
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 package pectin
How to do it:
Cut the fruits in small pieces and then puree. You should measure the fruit and water into large kettle.
Stir in pectin and lemon juice. You need to bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 30 seconds. Add sugar and again bring to a rolling boil for exactly 5 minutes, by the clock. Stir constantly. Once the boiling time ends, you should remove from heat and pour into sterilized containers.
Recommended reading: Survival Skills Your Great Grandparents Had That You Don’t
Other uses for wild persimmons
The persimmon tree was widely used by the Native American tribes and in fact the name comes from the Powhatan name for the fruit, pichamin. The genus name of wild persimmons was often translated as “fruit of the gods”. While persimmons were a favorite fruit of many tribes and it was used for wine making, most often, wild persimmons were cooked into sweet dishes. A common practice was to dry the fruits in the sun and store them for winter use. The Indian method was to spread a quarter-inch of pulp on a peeled log and let it remain until sun and air-dried to the consistency of tough leather. It is said that this persimmon leather could be kept almost indefinitely if one managed to protect it from dampness and mold. The tree’s bark and syrup were often used for their medicinal properties to calm sore throats and mouth ailments.
The first settlers followed the footsteps of the Native Americans and assimilated some of their recipes. The persimmon pudding is one of the most common early American deserts that were associated with the Algonquian people. Persimmon beer was a favorite beverage of the settlers and it remained popular in the South.
The importance of wild persimmons to earlier Americans is also evident from the Civil War records and one such story comes from Milton Cox, a soldier in the confederate army led by Gen. John B. Hood out of Alabaman toward Nashville in November 1864. Milton’s son recalls about his father struggles: “After the fall of Atlanta, we marched northward into Tennessee over frozen ground and how cold it was! Our shoes were worn out and our feet were torn and bleeding …Our rations were a few grains of parched corn. When we reached the vicinity of Nashville we were very hungry and we began to search for food. Over in a valley stood a tree which seemed to be loaded with fruit. It was a frost bitten persimmon tree, but as I look back over my whole life, never have I tasted any food which would compare with these persimmons.”
Wild persimmons are part of our rich American heritage and we are lucky enough to benefit from their unique flavor each fall. The persimmon tree is a remarkable native tree with a rich folklore and its fruits will quickly become a favorite wild edible for the young foragers. Wild persimmons were used as a staple by the Native Americans and we should learn to appreciate and use these underrated wild fruits.
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