Foraging for Wild Persimmons
Wild persimmons are very high on my favorite wild food list. Perhaps its because they’re related to one of my all-time favorite fruits: black sapote, also known as the black persimmon or chocolate pudding fruit.
Wild persimmons are as sweet and luscious as dates, with warm cinnamon notes. They’re similar in flavor to cultivated, imported varieties such as Hachiya and Fuyu, but wild persimmons are smaller, only one to two inches in diameter.
Like many wild edible plants, wild persimmons are higher in nutrients than their cultivated counterparts. They’re especially high in vitamin C and calcium.
You can find wild persimmon trees, also called American Persimmon trees, in rocky or dry open woods, prairies, abandoned fields, and at the borders of woods. The American Persimmon is distributed across much of the eastern and central U.S. south of the Great Lakes region (click here for a range map).
Wild persimmons trees vary considerably in the quality of the fruit produced. Some groves, locations, and even individual trees produce better fruit than others. So when you find a good tree, make sure to make a mental note of its location or way-point it on your GPS.
New foragers (and even newcomers to cultivated persimmons) always make the mistake of eating persimmons before they’re ripe, because it’s hard to believe just how soft and mushy they have to be to be good. Under-ripe persimmons are so astringent that they make your mouth shrivel and pucker.
The time of persimmon ripening is variable. Sometimes the fruits ripen early in the fall, while other times they retain their bitter quality until after the first frost. Lucky for me there are several trees at the farm with ripe fruit right now!
The best way to determine whether persimmons are ripe is to wait for them to begin to drop off the tree. Taste a persimmon that’s fallen off the tree – if it’s somewhat gelatinous and deliciously sweet, you can shake the tree and then gather up the fruit.
If the tree is too large and sturdy to shake, there’s nothing wrong with collecting the fruit that have fallen to ground. The ants find them so fast that you’ll easily be able to tell which fruit have recently dropped and which have been sitting for a few hours. You might also have competition from persimmon-loving wildlife such as wild turkey, deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, and even coyotes.
Persimmons are wonderful eaten raw out of hand, but you must remove the seeds if you want to cook with persimmons. To make persimmon “pulp,” simply push the ripe persimmons through a colander with the palm of your hand and discard the seeds and skins that do not pass through. The pulp can be used in cakes, breads, cookies, pies, fruit leather, jelly, jam, and any other recipe that calls for pulp or puree from wild or cultivated persimmons. Persimmon pulp can also be frozen for later use.