Standing under the broad canopy of a tree in front of Kansas University's Strong Hall, one can not only get a late fall snack, but also a glimpse of what winter will bring.
The tree, to the right of the main walkway into the building on Jayhawk Boulevard, is a persimmon tree. And for weeks now, it's been dropping its golden fruit onto the lawn. Split open one of the fruit's seeds, and the shape might help you predict the next season's character, says Mike Lang, campus landscape manager.
"You cut open a persimmon seed, and if (the shape) has a spooin it, it's a wet, snowy winter. A fork is a mild, powdery, snowy winter. And a knife is a cutting, cold winter. (That) is what they say," he says. "I guess it's one of those old things that goes around."
That farmers' tale, just like the persimmon, has been growing for a very long time. According to the "Field Guide to Produce" by Aliza Green, American settlers learned how to eat the persimmon from the American Indians, who let them ripen through much of October until they were at their sweetest. It became an important fruit for the early settlers, who used it to make puddings, preserves and wine from its flesh.
But since then, the persimmon has been more of a mainstay on golf courses - where its wood is used in clubs - than in many grocery shelves, despite its American history. Lorene Cox, who enjoys native persimmons that grow on her Linwood property, thinks she knows why.
"They're more fragile, and they don't have a shelf life like an apple or a peach," Cox says. "And they have to be ripe to eat them, otherwise they will make you pucker, and you're very sad that you bit into a green persimmon."
Most native types must have gone through the year's first frost to be ripe, including Cox's fruit trees. The fruit is worth the wait, says Cox.
"There's a lot of recipes that have been used for years and years in making puddings and cookies," she says, "and just eating them fresh, though, is a pleasure."
Lang says the KU tree, which has sister trees on the north end of campus near the Sudler Annex building that houses KJHK, has been bearing fruit for most of October, simply because of its variety.
"It's on a planting plan that I have seen, and I would guess it was planted in probably the 1940s. It's actually a named variety, it's an early golden," Lang says. "And if you notice, the native persimmons, it normally takes a frost to make them good to eat. But this one, the one on campus in front of Strong, has been, we've been eating on them for three or four weeks now."
Lang and his grounds crew aren't the only ones enjoying the fruit, which he describes tasting somewhat like "a jam that hasn't been sweetened enough." In fact, he says the tree requires little cleanup at all - the fruit is too popular to stay around long.
"Normally it's hard to find them because people who work in Strong and other places, know about it. It's definitely not a messy tree for us because they get picked up," he says. "It's really a nice, sweet one in front of Strong. I hate for everyone to know about it, but I think everybody does anyway."