They plunge violently to the forest floor from heights several thousand times their size, landing with a soft "thud" that can be heard from yards away. Some are intact, some suffer injury. One was skewered by a twig. But I ate it anyway, after brushing the ants off.
I know I said I wasn't normally a forager, but times, they are a-changin'. Following is a recap of my metamorphosis. Welcome to persimmon season, baby.
Two weeks ago...
I took my fruit picker over to the persimmon tree I'd found at the edge of the woods. Apparently, it's pretty common to find them growing in the wild. Several of the fruit looked ripe enough to eat, and I was determined to find out if they were ready. After extending the pole as far as it would go, I tried picking one. Success. Then I attempted to pick another, but it was an aggravating two millimeters or so out of my reach. Squinting, I tried again. Failure. Scratching my head, I thought, "Oh, shucks." Or something like that. I watched sadly, for several days, as the little out-of-reach fruit ripened and then disappeared from the lofty branches.
Then last week...
I finally got together with my BFF, Google. When I'd found the persimmon tree, I'd known immediately it was, and that they were edible - that was a no-brainer. Persimmons ripen throughout the fall, and can vary in color from gold to deep orange. What I didn't know was that persimmons do, indeed, grow wild and that several varieties are not ripe until they are soft and fall off the tree. If you've ever eaten an unripe persimmon, this is a very helpful tidbit. An unripe persimmon makes your mouth feel as if it's been turned inside out, and the feeling doesn't go away for a long, long time. A ripe one, however, is nothing short of heavenly.
Examining my tree once more, I determined that most falling persimmons would disappear into to the impossible tangle of branches someone had left underneath. Peering closely into web of brittle limbs, I indeed saw several rotting persimmons in the murky depths. One website suggested putting netting underneath the tree to catch the falling fruit, but since I didn't have netting, I found a plastic dropcloth to place over the pile of brush under the tree.
It's worked wonderfully. The first morning I went out to collect the fruit, eighteen were waiting for me. Eighteen! And I've collected many more since then. I've been storing them in the fridge until I have a chance to wash them and take the seeds out. Persimmons can have six or more large seeds, so they're not difficult to remove, but our persimmons are pretty small so the yield of pulp per piece of fruit is also a bit small. Thankfully, it was not nearly as time-consuming as pitting wild cherries!
So what to do with all these persimmons? You can stick a whole or half in your mouth, spitting the seeds out to propagate the persimmon population. You can also bake with persimmon pulp. The Internet abounds with recipes, but I ended up using a quick bread recipe from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. I doubled the recipe and the breads were gone in 2.5 days, so click here for the recipe.
I've also been mixing the persimmon pulp in with plain yogurt, and it's probably one of my favorite yogurt-and-fruit combos of all time. I froze the extra pulp in 2-cup portions for more bread in the future. Maybe I'll try the pudding someday; it's apparently one of those American Thanksgiving traditions for some families. Seriously. There were like 15 recipes online that touted, "I found this recipe in my great-great-great grandmother's trunk and the paper was so old it dissolved into thin air like two seconds after I typed it out but whew! here it is for posterity so you should really try it since I think she made this during the first Thanksgiving, you know - the one with the Indians and stuff." Well, maybe I'm editorializing a bit, but I am on the lookout for tried-and-true recipe. So if you have one, pass it on! It will have the place of honor on the table...maybe even right next to one of these turkeys!