In case you haven't noticed, persimmons are everywhere this year. Native to North America, Diaspyros virginiana gets its common name from the Algonquin Indians who called it 'putchamin, pasiminan or pessamin' depending on the dialect of the tribe. Maybe due to the large number of fruit clinging to the trees, there have been many questions about what can be done with the "Fruit of the Gods," as it has been called. The first and most important thing to figure out when you want to use a persimmon fruit for food is when is it ripe?
Persimmons can be classified into two general categories: those that bear astringent fruit until they are soft and ripe and those that bear non-astringent fruits. This astringent quality is caused by tannin present in the fruit when it is not completely ripe. Astringent persimmons will ripen off the tree if stored at room temperature. When firm astringent persimmons are peeled and dried whole they lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, date-like consistency.
When looking for fruit ripe from the tree look for bright orange colored fruit, soft to the touch. Harvest is done after frost and sometimes the quickest way to confirm ripe fruit, besides biting into one, is to look for fruit that has fallen from the tree. You may want to lay out a tarp in the morning and come back at the end of the day to see what has fallen or you might be able to jar a tree enough to cause fruit to dislodge. If you take fruit from the stem then only take the pieces that come off in your hand. If you have to make an effort to pick fruit from the tree then there is a good chance you will not have that sweet taste you long for. Once fruit is ripe, it should be used quickly.
From the persimmon you can create puddings, breads, cakes, toppings, candy, cookies, drinks, pies, jams and frozen puree for later use. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and can be a good source of vitamin A, and fiber. Always make sure to wash and peel your fruit to make certain it is clean before using it.
When freezing as a puree you can add 1/8 teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid or 1-1/2 teaspoons crystalline citric acid to each quart of puree. For wild Missouri sources you simply clean and peel, pack into a container with some headspace, seal and freeze. When using a cultivated variety you may mix in 1 cup sugar per quart of puree before packing leaving headspace, sealing and freezing.
Consider predicting the weather when you cut the seeds of the persimmon lengthwise. The shape that shows up the most inside each seed will indicate what kind of winter to expect. The shape of a knife indicates there will be a cold icy winter with wind that cuts like a knife. If the split seed are shaped like a spoon then there will be plenty of snow to shovel. A Fork shape means there will be a mild winter.
The largest persimmon tree in Missouri is located at N 36° 38.653 W 089° 17.091 in Big Oak Tree State Park with a circumference of 93 inches and a height of 131 feet. The crown is 40 feet wide.
Helpful Sources: Persimmon. Copyright 1996. California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.. October 29, 2009. http://crfg.org/pubs/ff/persimmon.html.
The Extension office is located in Kennett, Missouri at 101 South Main Street (the old bank) on the 2nd floor. Open Monday -- Friday or you can call 573-888-4722 if you have a question.
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Sarah Denkler is a horticulture specialist
with University of Missouri Extension
in Dunklin County.