Persimmon Branch Road
Autumn is the harvest season, whether in our garden or in nature. For as far back as I can remember I have always enjoyed having a garden. There is a lot of satisfaction that comes from growing some of my own food. Yet for even longer I have always enjoyed taking part in nature's harvest season as well. Because there is also a lot of satisfaction to be had from being able to snack on wild edibles while out on hikes through the woods.
One of the wild edibles I like most are wild persimmons. They are one of my favorite things about autumn because they are one of my favorite fruits in general, and they are only available for a few weeks out of the year during October and November. During the growing season they will start out green and greenish blue, and then turn bright orange during the harvest season.
In the Autumn Persimmon trees usually shed their leaves pretty early, and before they shed much of the fruit. So the large bright orange berries are pretty easy to spot when seen against the sky if the tree is in an open area, but in denser growth the berries won't be so easily spotted against a back drop of maple leaves. Later in the season, after all the leaves have fallen, Sweet Gum trees will sometimes look like persimmon trees from a distance, with the sunlight lighting up the reddish brown gumballs.
The types of trees in the immediate vicinity also play a role in how difficult the fallen fruit is to spot on the grown. In the tan and brown leaves of Oak, Ash, and Sweet Gum, etc., the fruit will stand out from some distance while it is still bright orange. If the area has a lot of maple trees, the bright orange of the freshly fallen leaves will make the berries much more difficult to spot.
Bee activity is a good way to spot fallen fruit in the autumn season. Yellow Jackets often build their nests in the ground near fruit trees, and they are irresistibly drawn to the sweet sent of the ripened fruit. So their bright yellow bodies moving in the sunlight will catch your eye if you pay attention. Patience is not only a virtue, in this particular instance it is also highly advisable. For the old axiom concerning the deceptive nature of appearances comes into play in this endeavor quite often. It's easy to spot the ones with bees on them of course, what is not always so easily seen are the times when there are bees inside them, from where they have eaten their way in. But all of the intense movements of the bees will cause the berries to make slight movements.
When they are still unripened, wild persimmons are rather astringent because they have a lot of tannic acid in them. The tannins will make your tongue feel really fuzzy and make your moth pucker if you eat them before they are ripe, and even worse if you are really hungry and can manage to have the fortitude to push past that discomfort, the tannic acid is very bad for the kidneys and liver. This fruit is one of the ones that needs to go through what is called a bletting process in order to be edible. This means the fruit needs to mellow a while after full growth. During this mellowing process there is a chemical conversation where the tannic acids decrease and the sugars increase. So the fruit becomes much more mouth-friendly and quite delicious in my opinion. Because of the need for the bletting, the ripened fruit can look almost rotten on the outside in some cases, but still be fine for eating and at it's sweetest stage even. Just watch for the seeds.
I have introduced both of my daughters to wild edibles over the course of their lives. From the muscadines and wild currants, to the various tree nuts, and even the North American Passion fruit that grows wild all over the south. I will never forget what Sarah said to me the first time she ate persimmons, and the way she described it. She lightly tasted it a few times with a look of intense concentration on her face, then popped it in her mouth. Then afterward she said “curious, it tastes like an odd combination of pumpkin meets banana, like really soft pumpkin colored banana.”. I had never thought about it in those terms before, but after that I had to agree that in a way it does when it's really ripe.
The above photo may not be one of the most pleasant scenes you will ever see, but there is some information regarding persimmons to be gained from it. That is coyote scat, and coyotes are omnivores. You call tell from their scat and their dining locations what resources are within a given area. Sometimes the scat will be mostly bones and fur, which tells you there are a lot of small mammals in the general area. They also eat a lot of persimmons when they are available. So finding coyote scat with persimmon seeds, such as we have here, is one of the tell tale signs that there are persimmon trees in the immediate area. Also, should you wish to plant persimmon trees on your own land or someone elses, this is the best way to collect the seeds to start with. The seeds will almost never grow from just being planted, they have a tough protective coating on them that prohibits grown unless they have passed through a digestive track and the stomach acid has dissolved the outer coating.
To me persimmons are a wonderful part of living in the south, they can be eaten just they way they are found in the woods, and they also make wonderful pies, puddings, and there is even persimmon wine. So if you have never tried them and have an occasion to be here in the south at the right time of year, I hope you to the time, and the proper precautions to enjoy one of my most beloved southern Autumn treats.