While October frosts signal the official end of the gardening season, they also usher in persimmon season, an event that generally goes unnoticed by all but a few hearty foragers and backyard persimmon enthusiasts.
This time of year ripening persimmons can be collected in the woods and from specialty produce sections of some grocery stores.
True devotees also can plant trees of their very own. The preferred variety for this climate is the American persimmon, which is hardy to 25 degrees below zero, while Asian varieties don't fare as well in temperatures below zero. Although we rarely get there on the thermometer, our wind chills don't bode well for the imports.
Persimmon trees should be planted away from flower beds and sections of lawn whose appearance you care about. The trees' roots send out suckers that pop up through the soil and create a thicket.
Left uncontrolled for years, these suckers produce a grove of persimmon trees, which is exactly what happens in the woods here in northeast Kansas. Those wild persimmons are prized prey for folks who go out and search for them.
We have a persimmon tree on our property, and most of its suckers appear either in a stretch of ground that we mow or in a nearby poison ivy patch, which we cut down a couple of times a year. For that reason, our single tree has never become a forest.
Persimmons need frost to ripen, which is why they are October fruit in this part of the country. Their flesh, which has a flavor reminiscent of apricot, is a seasonal orange color. Persimmon pulp also is amenable to baking and works well in combination with such spices as cinnamon, which makes the fruit a shoo-in for pies and other seasonal desserts.
Even after they have been hit by a series of frosts, persimmons often cling stubbornly to the tree. Right now our tree has lost its leaves but the fruit is still attached to the branch. The best fruit for picking is still slightly firm, although getting them to fall sometimes involves shaking the tree, and then the fruit may have to finish ripening in a paper bag at room temperature. Like most fruit, persimmons sweeten as they ripen.
The following alternative to date-nut bread is from one of my favorite resources for cooking with fruit, Nicole Routhier's "Fruit Cookbook."
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound ripe persimmons
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 cup dried apricots or peaches, chopped
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
Adjust an oven rack to the middle shelf and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
Peel the persimmon and scoop the flesh into a medium-size mixing bowl. Mash with a fork. (There should be about 1 cup mashed pulp.) Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until thoroughly combined. Add the persimmon pulp, sour cream and almond extract. Blend at low speed to combine the ingredients. The mixture will look curdled.
Add the sifted flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, and beat at low speed until the batter is smooth, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Fold in the chopped apricots and toasted almonds. The batter will be dense and sticky.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the load comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for about 20 minutes before unmolding.
Makes 1 loaf.