Persimmons: Fruit Of The Gods

by Cindy Gilberg

In some areas of rural Midwest, where open meadows and pastures are bordered by deciduous woodlands, groves of persimmon trees grow. In late fall, they bear a multitude of delicious fruit that, when ripe, has a flavor reminiscent of apricots. It is highly valued by wildlife making it an important plant to add for habitat improvement as well as a great addition to an edible landscape for humans.

The botanical name of our native persimmon, Diospyros, translates from ancient Greek to “fruit of the gods” or “divine fruit”. Most members of this genus are tropical — only a few are temperate, such as our native persimmon. This tree is in the ebony family and its extremely strong wood has been used to make golf club heads, billiard cues etc.

Persimmons grow to a height of 30-60 feet tall depending on the soil, are problem free and drought tolerant (once established). Typically the trees have either male or female flowers—however, some trees have flowers with both male and female parts and thus are self-fertile. Either way, it is recommended to plant more than one tree in a grove to ensure sufficient pollination for fruit set. Persimmon foliage turns a lovely orange in autumn as well as ripening apricot-orange fruits. The fruit is quite astringent until ripe so it is best to wait until the fruit is truly ripe, typically after a frost and when the skin begins to wrinkle.

An old medicinal use was a tea made from the bark used as a folk remedy for stomachaches. A tea rich in Vitamin C can be made from the dried leaves. But it is the fruit that everyone covets and harvests. There are many recipes for using the fruit, but this requires separating the pulp from the seeds, a task that takes patience while smashing the pulp through a sieve/colander. A much easier method is to purchase a Foley mill which speeds up the process yielding a good quantity of pulp in less time. The pulp can be frozen for later use or cooked into pudding, jam, butter (such as apple butter) or breads. The pudding is my favorite, resembling a very moist cake rich with persimmon flavor.

A quick Internet search yielded many recipes for persimmon and here is just one from the website www.persimmonpudding.com:

Persimmon Pudding

  • 1 quart persimmon pulp
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sweet milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix ingredients and bake in a cake pan at 350 °F for 1 hour.

Cindy Gilberg is a Missouri native and horticulturist whose work includes design and consulting, teaching and writing. Much of her work focuses on native plants, habitat gardens and rain gardens. Cindy’s projects include work at Shaw Nature Reserve and its Native Plant School, the Shaw Professional Landscape Series and the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance. You can contact Cindy at 314-630-1004 or cindy.gilberg@gmail.com.