Vol. 13 Issue 4, Winter 2008
By Mary LoPresti
While not the most memorable Thanksgiving Day food, persimmons have left their mark on American history. During the 17th century, colonists stumbled upon persimmon trees. Yet until the Native Americans showed them the right season for harvesting, not even the adventurous Captain John Smith could stomach the bitter, astringent fruit.
Before the pilgrims arrived in the colonies, Native Americans were baking loaves of bread from mixtures of dried persimmons and crushed corn; they also dried persimmons into jerky. In fact, in the language of the Algonquian Indians, their word for persimmon, “putchamin,” is translated as “dried fruit.”
The persimmon fruit is referred to as the largest true berry produced by a tree native to the United States. The persimmon tree, which can grow up to 80 feet tall, has hard, black wood, twisted branches, and oval, elongated leaves. Fruition, or the bearing of fruit, occurs during the summer months, and produces green persimmons, which ripen into yellow, orange, reddish-purple, or even black colored fruit. Ripening begins in autumn and can last through the winter months. Ripe persimmons have a bulgy appearance, due to the fruit forming a fleshy, slurry within the skin.
Persimmon trees can be found growing down the eastern seaboard, in the Midwest, and in California. Internationally, there are 475 species of persimmons, which are known scientifically as Diospyros. Only two types are native to the United States: Diospyros virginiana and Diospyros texana. Many species of wildlife dine on the sugary, sweet matured persimmon fruit, including raccoons, foxes, coyotes, boars, skunks, wild turkeys, and opossums.
The opossum loves this fruit to such an extent that the American persimmon tree is often nicknamed the “possumwood.” Some ants colonize beneath persimmon trees to be close to a constant food supply of fruit fragments and seeds, which they strip clean. Butterflies and moths also use the fruit as a food plant during larval development.
Like any fruit, persimmons can be used to flavor a variety of desserts or salads. The most popular dish made with persimmons is pudding, especially in the southern part of the United States. No need to worry about not owning a persimmon tree, persimmons can be found at your local grocery store. Here is a simple recipe for your family to enjoy:
Becky’s Best Persimmon Pudding
[Becky Hankins of French Lick, Indiana]
1 cup persimmon pulp
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
Mix all ingredients together and pour into an ungreased 9×13 inch pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 350º F.
More persimmon recipes like this one can be found at: