Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Juicy fruit: Bumper crop of persimmons ripens in Lawrence

Fall's cold temperatures help in the riping of persimmons.

Fall's cold temperatures help in the riping of persimmons.

November 5, 2008


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."


RedwoodCoast 9 years, 5 months ago

The Merc usually sells persimmons, but I have not been in there to see. They are the commercial Japanese seedless varieties of Fuyu and Hachiya. The Fuyu's actually do not contain the tannins that makes persimmons turn one's mouth inside-out, so they don't need to be gelatinous before one eats them. The Hachiya's, on the other hand, are like the native persimmons in the respect that they must be extremely ripe before eating them.Many people don't realize it, but persimmons are actually in the ebony family. In the past, their wood was prized for making the heads on 'woods' golf clubs. By woods I mean drivers. But you need an extremely large and old tree to get the desired heartwood.And it is a myth that persimmons must endure a freeze before eating them. Sure, some of them will be inedible, but I have noticed that, depending on the grove, there are almost always ripe persimmons as early as the beginning of October. You just have to figure out which ones will treat your mouth right.

Ronda Miller 9 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the info, redwoodcoast. I will check at the Merc. I am excited about seeing what they taste like.

Ronda Miller 9 years, 5 months ago

blindrabbit, what is the taste similar to? I have not tried one, but look forward to it - I wonder if anyone at the Farmer's Market sells them - or can we get them at Dillons or HyVee? thanks I tried a paw paw for the first time less than a month ago - the thought of yet another local yummy fruit makes me so berry, berry happy. :)

MellyStu 9 years, 5 months ago

@Ronda Miller: Hy-Vee on 6th street has persimmons--at least they were there this past weekend.

blindrabbit 9 years, 5 months ago

ronda miller: The commercial Japanese persimmons sold in the grocery stores are much larger than the native ones, and the taste is different (not nearly as satisfying as the "natives"). The "natives" must be fully ripe or they are very astringent; when ripe, the taste and texture is something like a very sweet and moist date. I have not seen the natives in the store, but if you find pawpaws to your liking you would be pleased with persimmons.I would be happy to share some of mine, but do not want to expose my identity on the open blog. The best source is the large tree in the front right lawn of Strong Hall on campus. Since that tree is well known, ripe persimmons are picked-up as soon as they fall to the ground. Another tree is on the sidewalk on 5th Street adjacent to the small park just West of Pinkney School.Good hunting, but don't wait too long; they storm tonight will knock off many, so morning would be a good time at Strong

labmonkey 9 years, 5 months ago

Persimmons taste persimmonnomony!!! The best description I can think of is kind of like a bland plumb.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 5 months ago

I actually tried making a dessert with the Strong Hall persimmons one year. For some reason, the things have a tendency to congeal and take on a waaay funky texture when they're heated. I also had made a persimmon picker that was attached to the end of a 20 foot extendable pole. My (ex)girlfriend and I made off with about 4 pounds of them. Her dad makes wine from anything and everything, and I always thought he should try persimmon wine.Also, blindrabbit, I respectfully disagree with your pawpaw suggestion. The flavor of pawpaws can differ significantly from tree to tree and from patch to patch. When they are good, it is my observation that they are, indeed, very tasty, but much different than the classic persimmon flavor. I have had good pawpaws and I have had excellent pawpaws. Kentucky State University actually has a pawpaw research program wherein, among other things, they are attempting to make it more of a commercial fruit.

blindrabbit 9 years, 5 months ago

Many years ago, I picked up some seeds from the "Strong Hall" persimmon tree and planted them on my rural property near Lawrence, After about 8 years the young female trees are producing a bumper crop of persimmons. I say "female" as the male trees do not produce fruit; so you have a 50/50 chance of having a productive tree from seedings. Therefore if you want to try this, I would suggest picking seeds from several different fruits,The seeds are very hard and must be stratified (stored) in a cool place (refrigerator) for several months before planting in the soil, Also, since the seed coat is so hard it is advisable to nick the seed with a file (emory board) prior to planting, thus allowing water into the seed embryo.The K.U. tree produces very large persimmons compared to other wild ones found in the area. If you don't want persimmons. don't plant a tree as they leave a mess unless you pick up the fruits and use them.Lawrence had another "prize" persimmon tree but "the City" saw fit to cut it down when they renovated the U.P. Train Station for the Visitor's Center. The tree sat in the middle of the circular sculpture garder. Was too bad, but my pleas to try to save that tree "fell on deaf ears",

gr 9 years, 5 months ago

blindrabbit: "but if you find pawpaws to your liking you would be pleased with persimmons."RedwoodCoast: "Also, blindrabbit, I respectfully disagree with your pawpaw suggestion. "I believe what blindrabbit was saying is not that the two fruits taste the same, or even similar, but the same type of people who enjoy one, also enjoy the other. Some people do not like pawpaws. Some people love them. Obviously, some here do not like persimmons. Others do. They don't taste the same, but the people who enjoy one, enjoy the other. That is, I believe, what blindrabbit was saying.

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