The first hard frost of autumn is dreaded by most of my
neighbors, because its arrival marks the end of the bright
flowers and hints at the approach of winter. But I, and
everyone who shares my secret, anxiously await that cold
snap, for to us it means the ripening of the
persimmon and free rein to whip up our favorite persimmons recipes.
Persimmon trees have grown wild in America for centuries.
Their range stretches from New Jersey to Nebraska and
southward to the Gulf. Early settlers learned that the
flame-colored fruit could be made into a variety of tasty
dishes. But first, by trial and error, those same
settlers had to learn the secret of its harvest.
When the fruit hangs plump and luscious-looking from the
tree, it's a sorry person who tastes it. One bite of the
firm persimmon and your mouth puckers up as though you'd
gulped a glass of vinegar. Once the bright morsel has been
touched by frost, though—when it hangs from the tree
wrinkle-skinned and soft—a persimmon is sweet and has
a spicy, plum-like flavor.
In the southernmost states—where frost is unlikely
and the persimmon ripens by aging—it's usually
wrinkled and ready to pick by early December. The process
can be hastened by placing the firm fruit in the
refrigerator for two or three days and then bringing it out
into room temperature for several days more.
The whole persimmon is delicious as a between-meal treat,
just as an apple or orange is. Or it may be peeled and
sliced for a tempting addition to a fruit salad.
For the majority of recipes, however, you need
only pulp. So, once you've gathered the fruit, wash it
and press your harvest through a colander. Since most
dishes require only a cup of the resulting mash, you'll
probably find it most convenient to pack and freeze
containers holding just that amount.
At my house the favorite persimmon specialty is pudding,
but close runners-up include bread, cookies and cake. By
experimenting with your own recipes and substituting the
wild fruit for pumpkin, applesauce and similar ingredients,
you can easily develop new dishes every year.