Growing up in New England I had no idea what a persimmon was. As far as I was concerned, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines–these were the fruits of fall. It wasn’t until I visited Northern California that I first met the noble persimmon, and smelled the unique, floral scent and tasted its unusual flesh. Now that I live in the American South, persimmons are surprisingly common though, sadly, often forgotten. Many people around here remember fondly eating persimmon jam in the fall, but their memories are often amended with “my grandmother used to make that.”
When we moved into this house two years ago, our friend and landlord immediately showed me the persimmon trees and made a similar comment as above. In this case, it was his dad that used to make the jam. Last fall, deep in the throes of morning sickness, the idea of climbing a tree or even scavenging around it to make an unusual local delicacy wasn’t exactly an option. But this year I decided to change that.
In Greek, the word persimmon translates to, ultimately (with some debate), “divine fruit”. Our word for the fruit, persimmon, is from the Algonquin. It essentially means “dry fruit”. Which makes sense. When it’s first ripe it’s crunchy and hard and not at all delicious. The most common persimmon is found in China but is also quite popular in Japan and other Asian countries. When it comes to the American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, the kind that grows in my yard, were talking a much smaller, often tarter version.
People are often taken aback by the rather astringent taste to the persimmon, but there are a few ways around that. Most often, the tartness is due to not being picked late enough. The unripened fruit is notoriously pucker worthy. I’ve read a few suggestions on how to cut down the bitterness, including freezing beforehand. However, I think the best way is just to be patient.
How about harvesting? I was able to harvest probably about 2 liters or so of persimmons from my trees (I have two). Because the tree is so tall and spindly, honestly something you might overlook, it takes some effort to get enough fruit. I used the “climb a ladder and grab lower hanging branches” method, much to the delight and amusement of my six year old. I also did a little foraging. Because so many creatures (particularly possums) really love the fruit, the ones that fall are consumed in the night, so in the morning new ones on the ground are usually in pretty good shape when it comes time to harvest.
Anyway, a word to the wise: if a recipe says “just scoop out the seeds”–be warned. I had no idea that the inside of American persimmons were so riddled with seeds. It cuts way down on the edible to inedible ratio, not to mention the work and final yield. Small to begin with, our persimmons are yellow to orange with the calyx still attached. Very pretty, but concealing some hefty seeds.
Inside, it’s surprisingly like a tomato with huge seeds (apparently you can predict the weather, according to common folklore, by slicing open the seeds). The seeds look like flattened kidney beans, and are dark black, clinging mercilessly to the pulp. After trying unsuccessfully at “simply scooping out the seeds” I ended up switching them all in a colander and essentially making purée by smooshing it with my hands. It’s quite a slimy business, but I ended up with the yield of exactly (I couldn’t have done better if I had tried) 2 cups. Also, don’t let the seeds fall into your garbage disposal. Just saying.
Since I didn’t want to bother with pectin, I used a basic persimmon freezer jam recipe from allrecipes and adjusted it down to 20 servings to match the amount of puree I had. Here’s the adjusted recipe I used:
Persimmon Freezer Jam
- 2 cups and 1 tbsp pureed persimmon
- 1 1/4 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
- 1 tbsp and 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp orange or lemon zest
- nutmeg to taste
When it’s ready, you put it into a jar and stick it into the freezer. It yielded exactly enough for one regular pint Ball jar (pictured a left). According to various sources, when making freezer jam it isn’t absolutely necessary to sterilize the your jars. I did, just to be on the safe side.
My result? It’s a sweet, tangy, very autumnal tasting jam that leaves just a little bit of fuzziness behind. That’s entirely my fault, seeing as some of my persimmons could probably have waited another day or two to ripen. Sometimes enthusiasm is your biggest enemy in the kitchen! But for a newbie, I figure my results were pretty good.
Applications? Well, toast is obvious, but I’d think it’d also work lovely as a glaze on poundcake (to keep with the Southern theme), drizzled on waffles, or on crackers with a little bit of mild cheese, like Brie.