I’m a big fan of wild persimmons (Diospyros virginiana). I try to hit the woods this time of year and procure a good mess of them. Sometimes the deer and other animals beat me to it. Wild fruit are seedy and a lot of work, but the sweet pulp is worth the effort.
These unique fruits, which are about an inch in diameter or slightly larger and have a cross-shaped calyx on the stem end. Trees are large with dark brown blocky bark. Once you find a persimmon tree you will be able to locate them from a distance just by the bark. The leaves usually have noticeable white veins.
In fall leaves are often covered with a black powdery substance called sooty mold. It is unattractive and depresses the yield, but it doesn’t affect fruit quality. There is one other item to note, however. In your quest to find these tasty morsels you will notice that not all trees bear fruit. Wild persimmons are dioecous. This means that some trees are male and some are female.
Most people think wild persimmons have to be exposed to frost to be palatable, but this is not necessarily the case. They do have to be ripe, however. Anyone who has ever bit into a firm persimmon isn’t likely to forget the experience.
They can be ripened off the vine the same way green tomatoes can and aren’t edible until they are soft and somewhat wrinkled. Their color is usually some shade of orange and the sweet pulp inside is orange as well. This goes for some of the cultivated types too.
Asian persimmons come in two main types. Some are astringent and these are usually the elongated ones. Korean, Giombo and Hachiya cultivars are examples, although the Korean is flatter bottomed. Most flat bottom persimmons are non-astringent and can be eaten even when they are firm. Fuyu is probably the most common cultivar of this type.
The astringent types are good for cooking and are less work than the wild ones. They have no seeds and are much larger. Yields can be very high, so you can have loads of pulp to can or freeze. As is the case with wild persimmons, the texture can turn people off of they are eaten fresh. Ripe fruit is mushy and sticky.
Enter the non-astringent types. These keep longer and can be eaten when crunchy and firm. At this stage the flavor reminds me of a cross between apricot, pear and cantaloupe. Over time they soften and the flavor begins to approximate a typical persimmon.
Persimmons are easy to grow and the Asian types begin to bear fruit much faster than the wild ones. Yields are also much higher and disease problems are less. Also, trees have both male and female flowers on them, so all will bear fruit. Their biggest problem is winter hardiness. Wild persimmons can handle temperatures as low as -20F, but an exposure to 10F could cause winterkill on the Asian types.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).