If your persimmons didn’t get harvested before the first freeze of autumn, it’s not too late. They may be even sweeter after the freeze.
Persimmons are a little known and obscure fruit. But those acquainted with them anticipate the yearly harvest late in the growing season. Persimmons are among the latest maturing tree fruits, and fruit maturity coincides with the striking autumn foliage coloration.
The persimmon fruit is botanically a berry. Berries contain seeds and have an edible fleshy, soft and juicy outer layer, both developed from the fertilized ovary of a single flower. Common examples of botanic berries are blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, avocado, tomato, pepper, eggplant and watermelon.
The color, size and shape of the persimmon fruit resemble that of a medium-sized red-orange tomato. The epidermis (skin) is thin like the tomato but has a glossy sheen. The entire persimmon fruit is edible with the exception of seeds, stem, skin (of some varieties, see following paragraphs) and calyx. The calyx is the leathery, shriveled, dried, semi-woody remnant that adheres to the stem end of the fruit following harvest.
There are two main classes of persimmons — astringent and non-astringent; within each class are numerous varieties. All persimmons are in the genus Diospyros, from the Greek dios (divine) and pyros (wheat) referring to the edible fruits, extended to mean the “fruit of the gods.”
Astringent varieties are dark orange and heart shaped. Their flesh is mucilaginous, sweet and spicy. Astringent fruit accumulate tannins, which give the tart characteristic that triggers “mouth-puckers.” A common astringent variety is the Japanese ‘Hachiya’, which becomes more palatable after a freeze. Eat these when the flesh has the texture of Jello.
The most popular non-astringent variety is “Fuyu,” also of Japanese origin. It has the shape of a squatty tomato with the same leathery calyx on the stem end, orange skin, but flesh is crisp. Fuyu fruit are ultrasweet because they are high in fructose.
The American persimmon, , is the only species native to the United States. Varieties are few and are considered minor when compared to the many Oriental varieties. Fruit when mature is astringent, red-orange, very sweet and flat in shape.
Persimmon trees make nice medium-sized landscape specimens, which can be trained as multi-trunks or single stems. The glossy, leathery foliage turns from dark green in the summer to brilliant oranges and reds in autumn. Depending upon variety, persimmon trees are hardy to USDA zones 5 to 11; for Lubbock select varieties hardy to zone 6.
For those considering placing a persimmon tree in the landscape and you have yet to taste one of these gems, persimmon fruit are now available at local grocers.
The American Chemical Society exhorts that a persimmon a day does more to reduce the risk of heart disease than an apple. They report significantly higher concentrations of dietary fiber, minerals and antioxidants that are instrumental in reducing atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes (Gorinstein, J Ag and Food Chem).
ELLEN PEFFLEY taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.