Persimmon Pickin’ Time Part I

American persimmon fruits. Image copyright Jill Henderson

Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

The Ozarks are filled with wonderful edibles, like sweet and sticky wild persimmons.  And now that the scorching heat of summer and its itchy bug bites are a thing of the past finding and harvesting these little gems is as easy as pie!

There is no doubt that fall is a great time for getting outside and wandering around in the woods.  The leaves are still pretty and the busy little chickadees and nuthatches are already brightening the deep woods with their happy songs.  Now is a good time to hunt for mushrooms and to take note of the locations of wild edibles for next seasons’ harvest.  But best of all, fall is persimmon pickin’ time!

While some foodies argue that cultivated Asian persimmons are superior to the wild varieties, I beg to differ.  These city-folks have obviously never eaten a wild persimmon (Diosypros virginiana) and most likely have been lured to the dark side by the charms of the Asian persimmon’s sleek, smooth, bright orange flesh – their flavor is no match for that of the small, shriveled, and relatively homely persimmons of the Ozarks.

Persimmon trees are not generally hard to find since they grow well in many kinds of places, from rocky dry woods to moist valleys.  Large stands will grow happily in the shade of larger trees such as oaks. Young trees have smooth, grayish bark while the bark of mature trees is divided into thick, blocky squares. I always tell people to look for the tree with “alligator bark”.

The fruits of most wild persimmons come in various shades of orange and rarely exceed 2½” in diameter. The unripe fruits are hard, bitter, and excessively astringent. Taking a bite of one of these babies can be quite a memorable experience, leaving your entire mouth reeling with the driest most unpleasant feeling you’ve probably ever had.  And take it from a fool who knows – biting into a persimmon seed is about ten times.  Interestingly enough, if you accidentally bite into either of these, the only remedy for the caustic dry feeling is to eat the flesh of a completely ripe persimmon!

It is commonly believed that persimmons need a frost in order to make the fruits palatable. But that’s an old wives tale that came about because persimmons are ripe between the end of fall and the beginning of winter. And a heavy frost or freeze simply breaks the firm connection of the fruit to the tree and allows them to fall to the ground.

Wild persimmon tree.

As persimmons ripen, their color changes. At first, they are usually bright peachy-orange, changing in time to an orangey-brown or even a dull, purplish-brown. The best fruits are those that have become extremely soft and squishy. When persimmons fall from the tree, they retain a four-lobed sepal at the stem end of the fruit. If in doubt as to whether a persimmon is truly ripe, remember this; when you can pull off the hard sepal without any effort at all, it is ripe.

Once you have located a stand of trees, many ripe fruits will probably already have fallen on the ground.  You can pick these up if you like, but I generally toss all fallen fruits into the nearby woods because I don’t know how long they have been on the ground or what wild animals have been there before me.  So, it just seems prudent to disperse those fruits into the woods where the wildlife can eat them, or where their seeds can sprout into new persimmon trees.

Once the ground is clear, we harvest fresh fruit from the trees either by picking those within reach or by shaking the trunks of the trees.  Be careful when you do this, as ripe (and sometimes not-so-ripe) fruit will rain down all around you.  Leave all hard or unripe fruits behind – they generally don’t ripen off the tree.

While you are out collecting this healthful and delicious bounty of nature, please remember to only take what you know you will use.  And take seriously the code of wild foragers, which is to always leave some behind.  Humans are not the only creatures that enjoy these bountiful fruits.  There are at least 16 species of birds and mammals in the Ozarks that eat wild persimmons – and for many of them, this is one of the last great feasts of the season that can make or break their winter survival.

For most people, identifying persimmons in the wild is the easy part – it’s knowing what to do with those squishy, sticky fruits after they are gathered that stops them in their tracks.  But have no fear, there is more than one way to liberate the pulp from the bitter seeds and skins.

First of all, when you get home, give your fruits a quick – and gentle – cleaning to dislodge debris from the surface. Once clean, don’t waste any time in processing – they don’t last long, even in the refrigerator.

Don’t even think about trying to process persimmons using your hands! Try it once, and you will know why. Instead,  you want to quickly separate the pulp from the seeds and skins by pressing the fruit through a food mill, strainer,  or potato ricer – anything that has holes small enough to prevent the seeds from passing through will probably work.

The first time I processed persimmons at home all I had on hand was a vegetable blancher. These are used in home processing to blanch vegetables in boiling water before freezing them. It consists of a tall 8-quart enameled pot and a smaller enamel ‘basket’ that fits inside. I used a heavy canning jar to press the persimmons through the holes in the basket, effectively separating the pulp from the seeds and skin. It worked okay but was incredibly messy.

One of the biggest problems when processing persimmons is that the pulp dries up incredibly quickly, sticking to hands, tools, and counters like glue. Nowadays, I prefer to use a large potato or vegetable ricer on a stand with a wooden pestle. I recently discovered that these devices are officially referred to as a “chinois”, but most homesteaders know what it is.

Here’s my number one trick for processing. Don’t be afraid to add a little water to the pulp in the ricer or the bowl to thin it. This makes the pulp flow more freely and unsticks it from surfaces. And here’s the really cool part. After adding water to the pulp – if you let the mix stand for 15-minutes or so, the water will separate from the pulp and can be poured off leaving you a nice thick pulp to bake with.

Once you have processed all your persimmons, simply pack the pulp into 1 cup (8 oz) servings and freeze, which is just about right for almost any purpose. Next week I’ll share a few great tips for baking with richly sweet persimmon pulp, so you don’t want to miss it.

Until then, happy harvesting!

© Jill Henderson



The Ozarks
A Journey of Seasons

If you’ve ever wondered what life is like in the Ozarks, Henderson’s 30+-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness truly shines in this beautiful book. Filled with nature notes, wild foraging tips, botanical musings, homesteading, and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.


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8 responses to “Persimmon Pickin’ Time Part I

  1. Jill, you might be able to sleuth this question for me. I’ve got lots of persimmon seeds from my gathering this fall and am planning to scatter them in an area I’d like to turn into a persimmon grove. But I’m wondering if they germinate best when they’ve been through a raccoon’s digestive system??? I don’t have time to pot them up but I’d like to give them a decent chance at life, with an ulterior motive in mind of course!

  2. Sara – not sure about that, but I get why you’re thinking it. I do know that persimmon seeds need stratification in order to germinate, so now is the time to plant them. I’m going to guess that you’ve given the seeds a good rinsing already, so my gut feeling is to recommend that you plant them thickly around a small area, covering them with just enough dirt to keep them relatively moist. Germination rates are probably quite low, considering the number of seeds each tree produces and the fact that they are also suckering plants. Good luck!!

  3. Absolutely, a good wild persimmon (Ozark or otherwise) is much better than any Japanese persimmon, and I love those too. But you are going to a lot of trouble to freeze them. Just pop them free from the calyx (the hard part covering the stem end), place them in a hard, airtight container (no plastic bags!), and pop them unwashed and unblanched into the freezer. Because my supply has been spotty over the years, I have sometimes hoarded a few this way in a very cold freezer for up to six years with great results. When you are ready to eat them, hold them for a few seconds over a cool water drip and the peel more or less slides off. Works with Japanese types too, but with not quite as good retention of flavor and they need more time to thaw. Of course, if you are going to cook with them, removing the seeds and peel first is the way to go.

    As for planting, by planting them now, a great many of them should come up by spring. But be patient. Seedlings, especially in shaded or partially shaded areas, can take a long time to reach fruit bearing age, and then many of them will be males, which only produce pollen. Also, seedlings don’t always match the parent plant in size, quality, etc. (They might be better!) Again, be patient. The fruit the first few years may not have the full quality of an old tree.
    –DH’s husband

    • Thanks for the growing and processing tips, Donna. I have never even considered doing that, but it’s a great idea. Since I almost exclusively use persimmons in foods that are cooked, I always process my persimmons before freezing – but you’ve given me a great idea. One of my biggest problems in the early half of the harvest season is the staggered ripening of the fruits. I am constantly processing lots of little batches (where I live now, I only have a few mature trees). Now, I will use your process to temporarily store the ripe ones as they are gathered, which will allow me to process all of them at one time! You just saved me a lot of kitchen time. Thanks!

  4. Like anything, there can be too much of a good thing. Eating unripe persimmon (why would you want to?) can produce phytobezoars, hard plastic-like masses in the stomach. These can cause pain, bleeding and may occasionally require surgery to remove them.

    Previous gastric surgery, diabetes and other motility disorders can predispose you to bezoars in general. Unripe persimmons contain tannin shibuol which polymerizes, forming the equivalent of a hard rubber ball that doesn’t dissolve.

    Just remember, all things in moderation and let the persimmons turn “extremely soft and squishy”, good for you and your stomach.

    See http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/bezoars_and_foreign_bodies/bezoars.html.

    • Thanks, Bob. That is very interesting information and something I did not know. It’s hard to imagine anyone eating an entire unripe persimmon, not to mention many. And now I know the mechanics behind the disturbing and unpleasant feeling an unripe persimmon causes. On the rare occasion that I taste an almost-but-not-quite-ripe persimmon by mistake, the tannins coating the interior of the mouth make swallowing difficult. Perhaps this is a a mechanism for ensuring that only the ripest seeds get distributed?

  5. This article is great. Thank you. I like how you appreciate local wildlife, although I think the raccoons are the ones who eat the fruit in my yard. Today my persimmons are ripe. The main tree in my yard is about 50 feet tall so I’m eating off the ground. These are wild Missouri trees. I don’t recognize the Japanese names on the internet. The fruit is small and mushy and ripe today. It’s available right now and unbelievably sweet, not astringent or bitter at all. I planted an orchard of peach, plum, and apple, and the only fruit left for me by the deer and squirrels is persimmons. There hasn’t been a frost so I wasn’t expecting such perfection. I know where to find more trees and may go hunting tomorrow. I want to share with my family so I want to figure out how to make cookies or bread or something else so they feel like it’s clean. FYI, this is such a slow-growing tree I’m pained by how slowly my propagation efforts are taking effect. Seeds waited a whole year to germinate. I’m collecting persimmons tomorrow and looking forward to reading your recipes!

    • Thank you so much, Greg. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the blog!
      You’re lucky to have an early ripening persimmon in your patch (and at least you’ll get some fruit before the squirrels and coons! lol) I took me some time to realize that persimmons have many naturally occurring variants, but that’s the beauty of nature! I have at least three separate groupings of trees on my property and each has it’s own unique characteristics in terms of fruit size, appearance and flavor. One group has classic persimmon fruits (purplish brown) that ripen very early, as yours appear to be doing, and one has fairly bright orange fruits more akin to Asian persimmons, but it doesn’t ripen until well into winter! Like you, I’ve had difficulty germinating the seed as well — sometimes it takes two years! Luckily, here in Missouri, we can get persimmon seedlings (and many other native trees) at a very reasonable cost from the George O. White nursery in Licking. I don’t know where you live, but it’s worth a look!
      Here’s the link: http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/seedling-orders-and-planting-guide/about-missouris-state-forest-nursery

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