Friday, November 23, 2012

The beautiful common persimmon...tasty and it can predict the weather too!

Common Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are such exotic-looking little fruits. They ripen late in the season, slowly turning a pale orange and then darkening to the burnt orange of harvest...

A common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) still clings to a branch. Photo from 10-13-2012 in Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
An almost-ripe common persimmon clings to the branch in the cool autumn air... 
...but don't be tempted to pluck one off the tree and just bite into it. Start with just a tiny taste to make sure it's ripe. Unripe persimmons  are horribly astringent and will suck all the moisture out of your mouth. Descriptors such as "furry," "bitter," "horrible," "god-awful," or just plain "puckery" are common. The best description of all, however, goes to Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony. In 1612 he wrote, "If it be not ripe, it will drawe a man's mouth awrie, with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock." If that isn't enough, also in 1612, William Strachey, who wrote Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania, also talked about the lovely fruit and said, "...when they are not fully ripe, they are harsh and choakie, and furre a man's mouth like allam...." This little fruit definitely makes an impression (source: an in-depth article on the history of the common persimmon in the New World, click here for the .pdf of "The common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.): The history of an underutilized fruit tree (16th-19th centuries)," by C. H. Briand.)

Common Persimmons among autumn leaves.
...beautiful autumn leaves and apricot-colored persimmons from October 13, 2012 at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
Why are persimmons so astringent when unripe?
Persimmons, whether ripe or unripe contain tannins, which are naturally occurring chemicals that "bind and precipitate proteins" (click here for a detailed description of tannins by Cornell University). When persimmons are unripe, the tannins are diffused freely in the fruit, which means they are "unbound" and will react to to the proteins on our tongues and in our saliva by causing the proteins to coagulate (sucking all the moisture out of our mouths and causing the furry feel that accompanies the horrible drying). When the fruit is ripe, however, the tannins are "bound up" and cannot react or coagulate. Unripe bananas also have a lot of tannins, as well as red wine that has not been aged, and nuts too. Now I know why every now and then I get that dry feeling in my mouth after eating a walnut out of the shell.

If you want to teach your kids about astringency in fruits and plants, click here for an experiment that teaches how to "unpucker" the persimmon. This experiment is labeled easy and is good for grades 5th - 8th. Specifically, it teaches kids how tannins can be bound up (or "defanged") using an iron solution. (Holy cow. I did not know any of this, but even worse, it seems any 5th grader off the street does...)

Persimmons grow wild in the eastern and souther parts of the U.S. This persimmon tree was found in eastern Kentucky.
When persimmons are ripe, they are wonderful and sweet, and taste a little like an apricot. Even better, though, they can be made into persimmon bread and other yummy things. 
Persimmons have a four-lobed sepal. If it separates easily from the fruit, the persimmon is probably ripe.
The four-lobed sepal of a fallen fruit is still attached to the tree next to this persimmon. If the fruit separates easily from the sepal, it is probably ripe. 
This persimmon tree was growing in the woods at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky (October 13, 2012). It was close to the lake on the trail near the lodge. What a surprise to see these beautiful apricot-orange fruits as I rounded the bend. I plucked a few off to take back to show the rest of the family, but I knew not to bite into one. Although they were a nice harvesty orange, the fruits were still too firm and not ripe enough to eat.

Persimmons are a favorite food source of raccoons, who seem to be able to find the ripe fruit easily.
...persimmons are a favorite food source of raccoons, who seem to always know when the fruit is ripe. We found lots of raccoon scat piles with numerous persimmon seeds in them on our hikes.

And now for the weather...
Folklore holds that persimmon seeds can predict the weather. Growing up in Cincinnati, we knew nothing about this amazing secret. We don't have a lot of persimmon trees here. Persimmons are mostly a southern and eastern species, and in all of my rambles, I've never come across one, so it's no wonder we were clueless to its power. It took my Aunt Pat and her family moving to Terre Haute, Indiana years ago to learn the folklore and pass it on to us, so I'm writing this post in her honor and memory. Here is the theory: when you slice open a persimmon seed, the embryo will be in the shape of a spoon, fork, or knife. Each has its own meaning:

Spoon - the winter will be rough with lots of snow. You need a spoon to shovel snow!
Fork - the winter will be light. You can't shovel much with a fork after all.
Knife - the winter will be icy, cutting and cold (yikes!). 

Did you know a persimmon seed can predict the weather? Folklore says they can let us know if it will be a snowy winter.
...a persimmon seed just bursting to let us know what to expect this winter. 
We were hoping for spoons because we love snow, so we were happy to see SPOONS...

The persimmon seed prediction guide: "spoons" predict snow, "forks" say no snow, "knives" indicate ice.
...the persimmon seeds say SNOW! The embryo on the left is definitely a spoon, which means heavy snow, get shoveling; however, the seed on the right looks suspiciously like a spork. Unfortunately, sporks haven't been accounted for in the folklore, so who knows what's up. Perhaps we will have bouts of heavy snow with days of mild weather thrown in between. We'll take that...
Take a look at the bark...
If we're doing a complete post on persimmons, we can't leave out the bark. It's famous for its look of stacked cubes. You can spot a persimmon tree in the winter  just by seeing the crazy bark (on older trees)... 

The bark of the persimmon tree is distinctive and looks like little blocks of wood.
The famous bark of a Persimmon Tree...

Bark of a common persimmon tree
...little blocks of wood stacked up in a pleasing composition. 

The Cincinnati Champion Common Persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) at Camargo Country Club in Indian Hill
The Cincinnati Champion Persimmon Tree at the Camargo Country Club in Indian Hill
My friend, Paul, knew immediately where a champion persimmon tree was in our area. You can see it from the parking lot of the golf course. We walked out on the course to get a closer look. The grounds keeper didn't mind...this tree is famous, huge and old and has lots of visitors...
Two lightning rods run up the Cincinnati champion persimmon tree at Camargo Country Club.
...the wires running up the sides are lighting rods. It's nice to know the grand old persimmon tree is well protected.

...this is has been a long post...but there is just so much to say about the beautiful little persimmon. It's fitting the champion tree in Cincinnati is located on a golf course. The tree is part of the ebony family and its wood is very dense and hard. Its wood was a standard for "woods" golf clubs starting in the 1900s (and you can still have persimmon woods made today, source: click here). 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Carole M. said...

my what a majestic old persimmon tree and wonderful to see inside the split stone; really delicate and beautiful

jyothisethu said...

information about persimmon is useful and the pictures are also delicious....!

Elizabeth Seaver said...

I can't believe the persimmon is such a huge tree. Thank you so much for this wonderful post on an amazing fruit. I wonder what the Virginia persimmons are projecting for winter (I'm a winter scrooge, so I kinda hope for a fork!) I always love to stop by your blog.

Sue said...

All VERY interesting!
And I hope the spoon applies to Northern Michigan too!!!--we moved here for the snow, and the last 2 years have been a bust.

Kerri Farley said...

What a great post! I had never heard of any of that folk lore ... if we have them here I would be hoping for a FORK :)

Roy Norris said...

Thats a very interesting lot of info Kelly.

Janice K said...

Thanks...I have often read of persimmons in novels about the southern states; however, I had never seen one or known anything about them. Very interesting.

Rick Forrestal said...

Great post.
I learned a lot.

This was a good year for persimmons
here in Missouri.
Love 'em.

TexWisGirl said...

i have only tried a persimmon once. it was too fleshy in its consistency for me - the reason i don't like raw tomatoes or peaches, either. :)

Elaine said...

Who knew you only needed a persimmon to predict the weather! The weather forecasters need to check into this. We don't have any persimmons here, but I know the winter will be cold and snowy. The bark is amazing, and all your photos are lovely!

Jo Ann said...

Unfortunately, I waited to late to check our persimmon tree and the fruit was mushy. Next year I will start checking earlier! I want to try making persimmon jam.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Nice post, very informative. The closest I got to them was reading a book about a possum called Persimmon Jim as a kid so I found this quite interesting.

All the best

Montanagirl said...

Wow, another great post, Kelly! That's pretty neat about the "Spoons"!!

Lois said...

I have the nicest memories of persimmon orchards on the backroads of San Luis Obispo county outside of San Simeon. I am so glad you brought it back to me.

Lois said...

Thank you for your wonderful post.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Your post brought back happy childhood memories! My mom loved persimmons and we often had them in the house. I liked them best when she made persimmon cookies, however! Interesting information on the tree and the seeds, too.

Kelly said...

Hi everyone, and thank you for the lovely comments! Persimmons are so much fun. I wanted to make persimmon bread, but couldn't find enough to try. Kathy...those persimmon cookies sound fab! We will have to see if the "spoons" hold true. We were supposed to get our first snowfall tonight, but it has fallen through.

E said...

Dear Kelly:

Very lovely and interesting pics.
We learn a lot from your wonderful blog.

Feliz Navidad

Hugs to all.

E said...

Dear Kelly,
Congrats for your lovely and interesting photos and stories in your blog.
We learn a lot from it.
Feliz Navidad, many hugs and