Fall has to be the best of seasons. The leaves turn amazing colors before falling from the trees to crunch delightfully underfoot. The unrelenting heat of summer gives way to the promise of cooler weather. Farmers' fields are barren, with corn and even pumpkins harvested. Deer are on the move, greedily munching on leftover corn kernels, preparing for the approaching rut. The days wind down, reminding us that the little sleep of winter is creeping in upon earth's children.
While Old Man Winter has some tricks in store for us this winter, Mother Nature still has a few treats for Mid-Atlantic foragers. Recently I found a tree with Persimmons still clinging to the branches. Initially, the trees look a little like the sweet gum maples. But the common persimmon tree, or Diospyros virginiana, is easily identified by the orange, smooth fruit.
The fruit is about 1.5-2" in diameter. While super sweet and date-like in consistency when ripe, the little orange orbs of goodness are remarkably astringent when not at their peak of ripeness. Eat an unripe persimmon just once and you will never do it again! I learned the hard way :-)
Harvesting persimmon fruit is easy: simply pick up the fallen fruit from under the tree. Similar to Pawpaw, the best fruit falls to the ground when fully ripe. The skin may retain a little astringency. I taste a small bit of skin. If I get anything like a chalky taste, but the rest of the fruit tastes good, I peel the skin off. For a trail nibble, pop the whole fruit in your mouth and spit out the seeds.
In addition to a trail snack, persimmons can be preserved. The ripest fruit can be mashed through a potato ricer. The pulp can be added to ice cream, cakes, and my newest favorite way of enjoying the fruit - wine!
The last two years the persimmon harvest has been bountiful. Last year I harvested fruit for over a month, collecting a half gallon in about 5 minutes. This year, unfortunately, the harvest has been quite lousy. By the time the fruit was ripe enough to eat, the trees were almost bare. Bummer. Thus, the title of the post.
I was hoping for another batch or two of persimmon wine this fall, but I will have to wait another year. I think the birds, squirrels, and other denizens of the woods know something about what is coming this winter. Seems like a lot of berries and fruits have been stripped from the trees as soon as they appear.
Have you seen this tree in the wild on a trail or in your neck of the woods?
Don't forget the rules of foraging, especially 100% identification!