Stalking the American Persimmon

In the headlong stampede to Thanksgiving, home cooks and the publications that love them are ecstatic over the usual autumnal suspects: sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, lacinato kale, and the illustrious members of the winter squash family. But what about the persimmon, which is also in season?

The fruit certainly has its fair share of admirers, though it’s never enjoyed the mass popularity of the pear or apple. No one’s ever staged hayrides and pumpkin-carving contests around a persimmon orchard, much less tried to cover them with caramel and impale them on popsicle sticks.

That may be because persimmons aren’t readily available in some parts of the country. But it’s also, I think, because many of us don’t know what the hell to do with them.

Anyone who does know persimmons probably knows the most widely cultivated species of the Diospyros genus, the Hachiyas and the Fuyus, cultivars of the Asian persimmon. Both are the color of cooked butternut squash, but that’s more or less where the similarity ends. The Fuyu, which looks like an orange tomato, can be eaten at any stage of ripeness, like an apple. But the Hachiya, which resembles an onion dome turned upside down, needs to be soft, almost to the point of rotting, before you even think about tucking in.

And then there’s the Diospyros virginiana, or American persimmon, or, simply, simmon. Though it grows widely throughout Southern and Mid-Atlantic states, it shows up as far west as Texas. Used for centuries (it found favor with Native Americans and European settlers alike) the fruit, says Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, is nothing like the Fuyu or Hachiya. Like the latter, though, it’s “tannic and pretty much inedible when firm,” Shaw notes.

Round or oval-shaped, American persimmons are best ripened on the tree and have to be mashed and used in baked goods—one of their most celebrated iterations is persimmon pudding, a classic dessert with as many fans as there are recipes.

The DIY-inclined can forage for wild persimmons, but you can buy larger, cultivated American persimmons all over the place, says Shaw. However you decide to get them, do it soon: Like fall itself, persimmon season is fleeting.

Image source: Flickr member janet.powell under Creative Commons