An Encounter with the American Persimmon

Story and Photography by Francisca Figueroa

The first time I ever tasted a persimmon, I’ll admit that I picked it up off the sidewalk. My mother always warned me against eating strange wild berries, let alone food off the ground, but these fruits, roughly the size of silver dollars and luminously orange simply beckoned to be eaten. As my teeth broke the delicate skin, any worry I held about toxicity or appearing civilized vanished and something like liquid caramel mixed with flower essence and jam enraptured my entire being. I must have spent the next 10-15 minutes like Pooh Bear confronted with a pot of honey, orange goo slathered across my face and palms. After the episode, I exited my senses, returned to my sensibilities, and spent the next hour googling what on earth this mysterious fruit could be.

I was shocked to discover that it was a persimmon! No stranger to the waxy, matte-orange, tomato-shaped fruit sometimes found in the exotics section of the grocery store, I even bought one several years ago. I can recount the experience as something between biting into a crab apple and licking sandpaper. I didn’t understand how Kroger could be passing off those ugly hulking fruits as persimmons when nothing-short-of sugar plums littered the streets of Bloomington.

 

As it turns out, the astringent encounter I had with the imported supermarket persimmon, could be chalked up to the fact that the fruit had not been allowed to properly ripen. Persimmons remain extremely tannic almost up until the moment they fall from the tree, however, once they are ripened, there is very little possibility of shipping them because the meat is so soft. The wild North American persimmon has an especially delicate skin making it particularly difficult to transport, or sell.

 

While persimmons certainly pose problems to the market, there is nothing like picking them fresh. This year I made sure to find as many persimmon trees as I possibly could. Using a food mill, the persimmons can be pulped and the pulp can be jammed, canned, or cooked into sauces, baked into cakes or bread, or blended with ice cream.


 

Persimmon Jam

Ingredients:

4 cups of persimmon pulp

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 cups honey

1 cup water

 

Tools: Food mill to pulp persimmons, pot

 

Steps:

Place all ingredients in a large pot and cook, stirring frequently, until you start to see the fruit “gel” or “clump”.

It won’t be the entire pot that does this, just a little from the bottom of the pot when you stir.

Once you see this, immediately remove from heat and pour into jars.

Allow jars to cool for an hour, then refrigerate.


Spiced Persimmon Butter

Ingredients:

4 cups of persimmon pulp

1 lemon (juiced)

1/4 cup of pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

 

Tools: Slow cooker, mason jars, food mill to pulp persimmons, blender (optional)

 

Steps:

Put the persimmon pulp and lemon juice into the slow cooker and cook covered, on high for two hours

Stirring vigorously, add your spices and maple syrup.

Cook on low, uncovered, for 8 hours or overnight. (stir several times if possible)

Once the butter is done cooking, blend everything in the blender to the level of smoothness you desire.*

*Be careful to let the mixture cool slightly before blending and always blend hot mixtures with the lid sealed.

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