Mr. ‘Possom is a farmer
And his crop? Persimmon trees!
Many a woodland stocks his product
And he grows his crop with ease.
How he loves those ripe persimmons
Sweet as syrup, smooth as silk –
Like a gourmet loves his entrees
Like a baby loves his milk.
By Reverend John F. Dorsey (1916- )
This slow growing fruiting tree is native to Eastern North America. It can often be found in dry woods, old fields, and clearings. This deciduous tree is becoming less frequently found in the wild and is listed as of Special Concern in Connecticut and Threatened in New York.
The earliest reference to them that I have found was by Hernando De Sotto who first found them in Florida in 1539. The settlers quickly learned not to eat them until after the first frost, which took away the astringent aspects and rendered the fruit sweet. Later, during the Civil War, when times were tough, the seeds would be used as a coffee substitute by boiling them. And for those of you who like beer and other fermented foods, try a southern Appalachian idea of fermenting the ripe fruit to make beer!
The Cherokee are credited with some of the earliest baked breads using the persimmon fruit, which they served to the Europeans. The Asian persimmon is rarely cooked as they get astringent with heat, but the native American persimmon is often baked into puddings, pies, & breads. Jams and Jellies are also common from the fruit.
This tree also contributed to the ancient medicine wisdom of the south. The unripe, very astringent fruit would be boiled into a decoction and taken internally to stop bloody stools. The Cherokee used a decoction of the inner bark to treat thrush, sore throats and as a wash for warts or cancers. A few twigs boiled and cooled is a good wash for poison ivy and its kin, taking away the itch and finally drying out the blisters.
There is an old use of the persimmon that I have always found fascinating. Take fresh persimmon seeds and split them open. In the center you will find the little whitish sprout…the shape of this sprout was believed to predict the weather for the coming winter. If the sprout looked like a knife it would be an icy, cold winter. If it looked like a fork it would be a mild winter. And if the little sprout resembled a spoon, get the shovels ready ‘cause snow was sure to blow!