2015-10-01 / World

Native persimmon has gotten a bum rap

By LEE RE ICH
Associated Press


Fruits of American persimmon bend down branches with their weight, all with little or no need for pruning or pest control. 
Lee Reich via AP Fruits of American persimmon bend down branches with their weight, all with little or no need for pruning or pest control. Lee Reich via AP “The (American) persimmon tree has received more criticism, both adverse and favorable, than almost any known species,” stated a U. S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin of 1915.

The bad press goes as far back as the early 17th century, when Capt. John Smith, of Jamestown fame, wrote that if a persimmon “is not ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.”

In modern terms, I compare eating an unripe persimmon to having the business end of a vacuum cleaner in your mouth — and the sensation lingers even after spitting out the fruit.

Ah, but eating a ripe persimmon is as pleasurable a gustatory experience as eating an unripe one is horrible. Capt. Smith went on to call a ripe persimmon “as delicious as an apricot.” When ready to eat, an American persimmon is very soft, too soft for a market fruit but fine for backyards, where fruits need travel no further than arm’s length.

When ripe, the flesh is something like a dried apricot that has been soaked in water, dipped in honey and given a dash of spice. Persimmon is in the genus Diospyros, which translates to “food of the gods.”

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CHO SE AN

APPRO PRIATE VAR IETY

American persimmon is a native tree that grows wild throughout the eastern U.S. from Connecticut to Florida, and east to Kansas. The trees can grow large, but are only medium-size — 25 feet or so — toward the northern limits of their range or if pruned for that purpose.

Many wild American persimmons never develop good flavor, so the first key to enjoying American persimmons is to plant a named variety known to bear tasty fruits. The second key is to plant a variety that will ripen within your growing season. Although the first variety, Early Golden, was named in 1880, relatively few varieties are available. Near persimmon’s northern limit, choose varieties such as Szukis, Mohler, Dooley and Yates, all of which have delicious flavor and ripen relatively early.

One more wrinkle in selecting a persimmon variety: pollination. Persimmon trees generally bear either male or female flowers, and most wild and cultivated female trees need pollen from a separate male tree to bear fruit. However, some female varieties accommodate gardeners by bearing occasional male branches — a characteristic prevalent in Early Golden and its offspring. And some other females do not need pollination at all to set fruit, which is then seedless. Varieties that can bear fruit in isolation include Meader, Szukis, Early Golden, Florence and Garretson.

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ALL THIS, AND BEA UTY,

WITH NO WOR K

For all their flavor, persimmons are low-maintenance trees, requiring essentially no pruning or spraying. They are also not particularly finicky as to site. They tolerate a wide range of soils as long as the leaves can bask in abundant sunshine.

Through much of the year, persimmon is an asset to the landscape. The leaves look as fresh in August as they did in spring, and have a naturally drooping habit that gives the trees a relaxed look. In autumn, the slightly bluish leaves turn a golden yellow, with the branches further livened by the persimmon orange fruits.

Even after leaves have dropped to the ground, fruits of some varieties — Szukis, for example — cling to the branches, festooning the leafless trees like Christmas ornaments. I eat some persimmons as they ripen; others I let hang on the branches to be plucked throughout autumn.

——— http://www.leereich.com/blog http://leereich.com/

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