Every month brings us a fruit or vegetable’s peak season. Already, markets, grocery stores and maybe even your back yard are full of traditional fall produce. You can get a great deal on butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, and fresh apples or cider. I have read and written countless articles this time of year on the fall harvest. Although those items above are nutritious and valuable additions to our diets, I want to showcase a little known, but abundant autumn fruit in Tennessee; the persimmon.
Have you ever been hiking in the woods or working in the yard and step on a small orange squishy fruit? Most people see the persimmon as a pesky surprise in the grass, but not only are persimmons perfectly edible they can be a nutritious way to change up your favorite fall dishes like quick breads, puddings and pies. Persimmons come many varieties but here in Tennessee the native tomato shaped fruits are smaller than a golf ball and contain around 10 large seeds. In the US persimmons can be found from Florida to Connecticut and as far west as Iowa. Other varieties of persimmons are grown around the world in Asia, Japan, and even Europe. Persimmons native to America must be allowed to fully ripen and fall from the tree before harvesting. Unripe American persimmons have a strong astringent and bitter flavor.
Persimmons found in specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods, are larger and commonly grown in nurseries in the US and are from an Asian variety of tree. These persimmons are larger and can be eaten when firm or soft and are ideal for salads or spreading over toast or crackers. All Persimmons pack a pretty serious nutritional punch. Their obvious orange color attributes to a moderate vitamin A content but they are surprisingly an even better source of vitamin C, manganese, fiber and various phytonutrients.
After you spend some time with the kids sifting through leaves for the precious fruit, what do you do with them? Native persimmons are very soft when ripe and contain so many large seeds, the best method for processing them is to remove the stem and run them through a food mill. The extracted sweet orange pulp can be use for baking or preserving into jams and butters. Its flavor is similar to that of other fall vegetables like pumpkins and pairs well with fall spices like clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. Persimmon pulp also freezes well for up to 1 year in freezer boxes or bags.
Be sure to keep at least one seed, as an old rumor says the persimmon seed can forecast the coming winter’s weather. The seed can be split in half vertically to display or white center that will be in the shape or a knife, fork or spoon. A spoon predicts the winter will be cold with a lot of snow to shovel, the knife a cold winter with ice and cutting winds, and the fork guesses a mild winter with little snow.
Finding, gathering, and processing persimmons can be time consuming but very rewarding. If you’re looking for a new fall venture this year consider locating a native persimmon tree on your own or a friend’s land. If you need a less messy option pick some up on your next trip to Whole Foods. And try out the Cranberry Persimmon Muffins recipe below. Who knows, you may discover a new fall favorite!
Cranberry Persimmon Muffins
2 cups whole grain wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp allspice
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
¾ cup persimmon pulp
2 cups fresh cranberries (or ¾ cup dry)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Mix together dry ingredients
- Whisk together oil, eggs, and persimmon.
- Add wet ingredients to dry and blend. Fold in cranberries.
- Spoon into muffin cups or prepared muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Adapted from the USDA Mixing Bowl at whatscooking.fns.usda.gov