Persimmons grow naturally in America and Asia. You can find them in USDA hardiness zone 6-10 in places with generally mild winters. They are a unique tasting treat you will definitely enjoy.
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Diospyros virginiana L.
Common persimmon is a wild deciduous fruiting tree found in north America. It is the only persimmon native to the United States. While other persimmons are grown here, they are cultivars from Asia, including Japanese and Chinese persimmons.
Persimmons are an interesting fruit because they are ready in the late fall and early winter. In fact, many people swear they are sweeter after the first frost of the season. This unique fruit starts green and turns yellow then finally a vibrant and almost electric orange. There are different shades as it ripens with the final color being almost red.
Part of the ebony family, persimmon trees are dioecious. This means that you need at least two trees, a male and a female to pollinate proper and get fruit. Their range is throughout the southeastern and eastern United States.
The easiest way to tell the persimmons is the telltale leaves that are stuck to the top of the fruit. Another common way to tell them is the fact that they do not get color until the fall. Some people mistake them for wild plums but unlike plums, and all stone fruit, there is not a central, hard seed core in the middle of the fruit. Its shape and appearance is more like a tomato or an apple. The flesh itself is similar to that of a plum or peach.
They can be quite tall, up to 21 meters and the bark is generic gray to brown, and chunky looking. It is actually a rather “normal” looking tree and the fruits are pretty small so sometimes they are hard to notice until the leaves are gone and delicious orange persimmons remain in the fall. This makes them pretty distinctive because most other wild fruits have already dropped their fruits and leaves and will be totally bare.
The trees are mature enough for fruit at about 5 years old but do the most production 25 to 50 years! They can live a long time so once you find one you can come back year after year.
Harvesting wild persimmons is not as easy as you might think. They are not ripe until they look like they’re about to go bad. Once their skin is wrinkly and the flesh is pretty soft. I have harvested them prior to this point and they are ok but not at their sweetest. Even when they are orange, if you harvest too early they are very bitter and make you tongue go numb!
Some people have luck with shaking the trees after the leaves have fallen and gathering the fruits. You can put down a tarp and collect them. I have not had much luck with this. Usually, they just stick well to the branches and I have to manually pick them. Or I get a fruit picker like this one (<-affiliate link).
Persimmon cakes are a popular option. This wild persimmon and bourbon cake sounds AMAZING! While there are lots of persimmon recipes, most of them rely on larger, cultivated persimmons that are more flesh and less seeds. But there are some recipes that simply require some puree which is easy to replicate in wild persimmons, you’ll just need more of them. You can check out this great looking persimmon cookies too! Here are some more persimmon recipes you can adapt for wild persimmons:
Remember, whenever considering a persimmon recipe, you may not be able to use amounts such as “3 persimmons” because wild persimmons are much much smaller and more seedy that the cultivated varieties. You can still do it but you may have to work to get the flesh away from the seeds a little more.
What is your favorite foraged food? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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