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Posts Tagged ‘persimmons’

unripe wild persimmons “possum apples” Franz Xaver/Wikimedia Commons

“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”  Psalm 104:24

When I was just a slip of a girl and playing with my friends outdoors, one of the boys plucked a hard little green ball from a nearby tree and offered my brother and I a taste of an unfamiliar fruit. It looked sort of like a green apple. I had eaten green apples on occasion with no ill effects. This little green thing was not quite an apple though, and I was hesitant. But that boy assured me it absolutely would not hurt a bit to taste it. That it was in fact, good. Precisely what the serpent said to Eve, right?

Yep. Sure enough, it was a lie! I knew it when my mouth began to pucker up and turn inside out and the other children began shrieking with laughter! I sputtered and spit it out as if it were poison. My mouth felt horrible, bitter as quinine and dry as dust. It was my first experience with a persimmon – a wild one at that, and nowhere near ripe.

Later on when I was grown, my in laws had persimmons, big ones, on trees in the middle of their garden. These my mother in law smashed and made into a sweet baked dish that she called persimmon pudding. It was sort of the consistency of sweet potato pie and pretty tasty as I remember.

Many years later while visiting a friend I was reintroduced to wild persimmons. It was October. The persimmons had ripened and dropped on the ground beneath a tree at the edge of the woods. They were delicious, even better than the big persimmons my in laws had grown. I had heard possums favored persimmons. Now I could understand why.

ripe wild persimmons

So I was pleased a number of years ago when I came to my home here to find a wild persimmon tree right at the edge of the back yard. It still isn’t very big and doesn’t bear much fruit, but some years there are enough persimmons that the animals leave me a few. But I am very cautious in eating them. The old folks used to say they weren’t fit to eat before frost. I don’t know about that, but I know they must be very ripe; if they aren’t, they are NOT good.  What makes unripened persimmons so puckery is the tannins within. Tannins are natural compounds found in a variety of plants, including oaks, walnuts, tea, rhubarb, grapes and others. As the fruit of these plants matures, the tanin content is reduced and the fruit becomes edible.

female flower of the wild persimmon

Besides their fierce astringent properties, our native wild persimmons are unique in that they are dioecious. There are male persimmons or female persimmons. Both male and female trees bloom. But the male trees do not set fruit. The female trees will, provided the bees cooperate and bring them pollen from a male persimmon. Now what about that! Persimmons are a rarity; only a small percentage of the world’s plants are dioecious. And while we are discussing this characteristic of persimmons please note if you are planting holly for its beautiful red berries, make sure most of your plants are female. The male holly blooms profusely, but nary a berry will he give you. I discovered that early in life. We had a tall and shapely holly in our yard. Every spring it was covered in white blossoms and every Christmas I was disappointed that the blossoms had not borne fruit. Finally, when I was complaining to my mother of our barren holly, she gave me a lesson in reproduction, the story of berries and bees as pertains to hollies.

original photo from National Agriculture Library

Persimmons belong to a plant genus called Diospyros, meaning: food of the gods. That should give you a hint of how delicious they are. Farmers in China have cultivated them for thousands of years. Foreign varieties of persimmon were introduced as food crops in the United States in the 1800’s. However, our native persimmon – Diospyros virginiana – has flourished in the wild and nourished both animals and people for, how long?

Maybe just about forever…..

Here is a 1935 photo of a magnificent native persimmon tree. Note how it simply dwarfs the man standing near it on the left.

 

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