In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Persimmons offer ornamental beauty and provide a tasty ingredient for holiday baking.

Persimmon: Food of the Gods

Persimmons may well be the Rodney Dangerfields of the fruit world. They are often left out of the fruit section of nursery catalogues or relegated to a back page. In the supermarket produce section, they are placed off in a corner with the kumquats, plantains, and other obscure fruits. For most people they're either the golfball-sized wild fruit of childhood that taught them in no uncertain term what the word astringent meant, or the bland, tasteless baseball-sized varieties commonly sold in grocery stores.

Food of the Gods

I am here to defend this much maligned fruit and hopefully rekindle some interest in it as a valuable addition to our gardens. Its genus name, Diospyros, actually means "food of the gods." The rich, subtle flavors and aromas of a fully ripe persimmon are something to experience. Many wonderful persimmon varieties are available with excellent flavor and aromatic qualities, and most offer a pucker-free experience even when not fully ripe.

Native American Persimmon

Although some pretty tasty wild types have been identified by fruit explorers, the chief contribution of the eastern persimmon, D. virginiana, native throughout the eastern U.S., is its superior performance as a rootstock onto which the larger Asian varieties (D. kaki) can be grafted.

Persimmon Basics

Late fall through winter is an excellent planting time for persimmon trees. They prefer a moderately to well-drained soil and a full sun exposure. They will tolerate a variety of soil types, as long as the roots don't stay soggy. Give them room, since most trees can grow from 10 to 40 feet tall, depending on the variety.

Persimmon Varieties

Persimmon varieties can be divided into two groups: astringent and nonastringent. Astringent types must be fully ripe (almost jelly-like) before they can be eaten. Some people are a bit turned off by the "messiness" of a ripe persimmon, but its texture is really no different than that of pudding or jelly. Perhaps we need a national persimmon board that could take up the slogan "Persimmons - the fruit you eat in the bathtub!"

Pucker-Free Persimmons

The nonastringent type of persimmon may be eaten after it turns fully orange, before it gets soft. Many new varieties are nonastringent and, as such, are very popular. However, I think even the nonastringent types should be allowed to soften for the best flavor.

Few Pest Problems

Persimmons are virtually pest-free trees. The only significant pests are the twig girdler, which occasionally prunes off branch ends, and a leaf spot fungus. Neither pest requires spraying.

Persimmon Pie

Persimmons ripen in mid to late fall. Their bright orange fruits hang on the tree into early winter after the leaves have fallen for a beautiful, ornamental effect. If any of your neighbors have a tree, maybe they'd trade fresh persimmons for a loaf of holiday persimmon bread. Although delicious fresh, persimmons can be used in a variety of holiday recipes, including recipes for pudding, custard, cake, sherbet, and a wonderful holiday bread made with black walnuts.


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