Farewell, old friend

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As woodworkers, we tend to think about trees most often in the context of wood. But a living tree is habitat, safe perch, shady spot, daily carbon dioxide sink, and more.

Trees also bear fruit. Until I moved to Indiana, persimmons were novelties: fat juicy globes with exotic names such as Fuyu and Hachiya. Then, one October, a boyfriend proposed a weekend paddle on Lake Monroe (yes, he’d made his own canoe) to a spot rich with persimmons. We filled a couple of shopping bags with squishy fruit and paddled back to the truck. He showed me how to make pulp and shared his grandmother’s recipe for pudding.

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Milling persimmons for pulp is a time-consuming process but well worthwhile.

When we pulled the glass dish out of the oven, the kitchen filled with sweet, spicy steam. We let the pudding sit a while to firm up while we whipped some cream. Slice, serve, dollop. Heaven.

Persimmon pudding

Somewhere on the texture spectrum between jello and brownies lies the traditional Midwestern treat persimmon pudding.

Much smaller than their Oriental cousins, our native persimmons are packed with nutrients: 127 kcal per 100 grams of raw fruit (compared to 70 kcal for the same amount of Japanese persimmon, Diospyros Kaki), 33.5 grams of carbohydrate (compared to 18.59), 0.8 grams of protein (versus 0.58), as well as higher than the Japanese persimmon in fat, calcium, and iron. I offer this comparison not as an exercise in nationalism, but to help explain why the peoples native to this land considered putchamin an important food.

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The fruit of Diospyros Virginiana, the persimmon native to eastern and Midwestern states, is generally considered unfit to eat until it has fallen on the ground. Bite into an unripe fruit and you’ll experience a serious tannin pucker.

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A couple of years after my first taste of persimmon pudding I was looking for an affordable property where I could have a workshop. The first place I visited fit the bill and came with a bonus: an old persimmon tree on the front lawn and a couple more on the fence line.

Fast-forward fourteen years. After feeding many a deer (and two of my dogs) and giving us fruit for countless puddings, the old tree in our front yard finally gave up the ghost last winter. We had plenty of advance notice: fewer leaves each spring, more limbs dropped per thunderstorm. Of course it’s not really gone: Persimmons spread through their roots to form groves. Several daughter trees are growing to maturity in the garden.

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Two of the daughters took root next to each other, on opposite sides of the garden path. I’ll continue pruning them so that they’ll eventually form an arch.

A large dead tree in the front yard is hardly attractive. “Can we please cut it down?” I asked my husband last spring. I wasn’t asking for permission; he’s the one who uses a chainsaw. I’ll use industrial shop equipment any day, but chainsaws terrify me. “No,” he said; “it offers wild birds refuge from Louis [the shop cat].” Spring turned to summer, and concern for the birds’ safety turned into “Taking that tree down is going to be a huge project. Do you have any idea how much work it’s going to be, cleaning up those limbs?” Clearly not a job for the itchy, sweaty months. Now that fall is here (if tentatively), we’ll take it down and give some of the wood to our friend Max Monts to turn into bowls, because as many readers will already be aware, persimmon is related to ebony.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

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Here’s that recipe.

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About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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34 Responses to Farewell, old friend

  1. meghanlostartpress says:

    I have so many memories of eating persimmon pudding with my Grandma. After she passed away my dad gave (not so subtle) hints that “someone” needed to keep making it. It took a few tries but I think I have it down. Now if I could only get the two year old to make the pulp…

    • nrhiller says:

      Oh, yes! It was lovely that Jonas actually wanted to do the pulping, when Mark and I got together. He was quite a champ at it and came up with some improvements on my technique.

  2. What a great story. I’d like to try the pudding but we don’t have persimmons in Oregon.

  3. fred10ve says:

    That was a lovely read. Thank you.

  4. Great story.
    My parents have a walnut tree in their garden. We gathered the walnuts every autumn and I have a lot of memories of it. There’s a massive, low limb that they look at and consider taking down every year but then commute it’s sentence. One day it will collapse under the weight of its own harvest and then it will get turned into bowls and chairs.
    I hope that’s a long time off.

  5. Archer Yates says:

    persimmon wood is sought out for it being hard dense and tough. You should be able to find some usable wood for plane bodies, handles and mallets

  6. jenohdit says:

    A few years ago I came up with a method of removing the seeds from paw paws that might be good for persimmons too. It’s a lot easier than squeezing through a sieve.

    We peel paw paws and put them in the food processor with a plastic blade that I think is designed to mix dough. It takes just a few quick pulses to make pulp with seeds swimming freely. The dull plastic blade leaves the seeds whole and undamaged.

    I haven’t been able to find any persimmons for several years now so haven’t tried that method on them yet, but I bet it would work well. I’m hunting around for some to try this year. They make a great bread with black walnuts.

  7. Archer Yates says:

    Possum up the persimmon tree, raccoon on the ground, raccoon say to possum throw some simmons down,( an old children’s rhyme)

  8. rogerthegeek says:

    I grew up in western NC in the foothills near Catawba and Alexander Counties. At huge family gatherings, there would be persimmon puddings from most of the families. Everyone had a special recipe. I can’t find them in the big city, but I ordered a tree to plant in my yard. I can’t wait for the fruit.

  9. Persimmon also makes some very nice tools. Let it get a little bit of color from the initial spalt and it’s really amazing.

    >

  10. Greg Bétit says:

    No persimmons up here in the North East, but I can appreciate your perspectives on persimmons…
    We had several magnificent butternut trees in the yard, but some blight took them all. We were getting fairly adept at cracking the nuts, even tried pickling the ones that drop in late spring/early summer ( butternuts aren’t often sold commercially for good reason.)
    The butternut tree called out on the survey as a corner marker I took to a local saw mill when it passed and most of it now serves as window and door trim in our kitchen. The “rope swing tree” was a famous neighborhood kid magnet. It was home of generations of tree forts, and as such was riddled with way too much iron to be a saw log candidate. I have split slabs from this tree, and have used them for Windsor chair seats, and benches. (I have a staked bench problem, they turn up around here like kittens.)
    I regret that much of this tree was pushed into the gully to rot. Firewood butternut is not. Although it splits easier than pine, it has about as much heating value.
    The squirrels have planted plenty replacement butternuts on the property, but I’m afraid they’ll follow in the American elm’s footsteps. The elms continue to propagate, but they grow to 8″ in diameter, and the blight takes them, too. Besides, the butternut saplings are hard to distinguish from the black walnuts that also grow well in these parts.

  11. Rick Exner says:

    I would surely like to know how to make pulp without causing the persimmon to turn corky and as astringent as it was in June! What is the secret??

    • nrhiller says:

      You just have to wait until the fruit is ripe. In our neck of the woods, that usually means October. The fruit will sometimes be bruised in its fall, and it’s not uncommon to find bugs already feasting on the flesh. No matter. Those that remain get pulped. (I hate to think of myself engaging in such violence, but there is no way to remove every bug.)

  12. Steve Martin says:

    Having eaten my share of persimmon pudding and having lived in North Carolina since 1955, I have discovered that the infamous persimmon “pucker” is eliminated when the fruit is touched by frost. If your fruit is falling before cold weather arrives, pick up the fallen fruit and freeze it before eating or cooking. You should find the pucker is puckered out (yuck-yuck). There is a Persimmon Festival in Colfax, NC, Saturday, November 4, 2017. You’re invited and welcome.

    • nrhiller says:

      Yes, people here, also, say you should wait until after the first frost. In my experience the first frost is less about temperature than a marker of about the time when the fruit should be ripe. (Any food scientists out there, please feel free to chime in and enlighten me, seriously.) I say this based on having picked fruit from the ground before frost and had it be ripe. Sometimes the fruit falls before it’s ripe; you can tell a lot by the texture. If it’s too firm, it’s probably not ready for eating (though that hasn’t stopped our dogs, strangely enough).

    • Rick Exner says:

      Thanks to Mr.s Mahler and Martin and others for tips on persimmon pucker. I am way up at the northern edge of the American persimmon’s range — a place called Iowa. I am encouraged that we seem to be growing the same species — and that your fruit aren’t a whole lot larger than ours here. I’m an urban gardener, and because they’re aren’t many other trees in town, I have had to graft male wood to my trees that happen to be all female. That makes for sweeter fruit too.

      But this astringency thing… We get fall frosts, you can be sure. I’ve had to knock the snow off fruit to harvest it. I will pick late and set fruit on a screen to become “raisins,” Later is sweeter. What I don’t understand is fruit going BACKWARDS from sweet to puckery when cooked. And the texture changes from creamy to corky.

      • nrhiller says:

        Now that’s a new one on me. I’m sorry that I can’t offer insight on the texture or change in flavor. All I can say is that I’ve made this recipe with persimmons from our trees over many years, and it has always been a winner. By the way, it’s impressive that you’ve performed grafts on your trees. Cool.

        • Rick Exner says:

          Thank you, NR. Maybe I missed it, but how exactly do you process the fruit?

          • nrhiller says:

            I didn’t explain that part. First, remove the stem and the leaf-like parts around it. (I can’t remember what this part is called. Is it the pistil? Someone will no doubt correct me.) This stuff will usually come off in one piece. Then throw a bunch of persimmons in a food mill. There are at least two kinds I’ve seen used for persimmons; one is conical, the other flat-bottomed. I find the conical kind more efficient, because the conical tamper thing (again, no doubt someone will correct me on the terminology) can be used to mash the fruit in a vertical motion and alternately to smash it against the sides in a rotary motion. You just go and go and go. The pulp will ooze out through the holes, as you can see in the picture in my post. I put the mill inside a large bowl to catch the pulp and set the whole thing on a table (with a towel underneath, to prevent scratching) as that’s a better height for such work than a typical counter. When the pulp stops coming through the holes, empty out the seeds and other debris from the mill, give it a rinse, and fill it up with a new bunch of fruit. The recipe I posted calls for two cups of pulp, and the pulp is ready to use in the batter as soon as it comes out of the mill.

  13. Richard Mahler says:

    There is general ignorance about the Persimmon tree and fruit in today’s populations, so the trees rarely survive in urban and suburban landscapes here in Virginia. The same goes for the PawPaw which is perhaps more understandable since it is definitely an acquired taste. Both were prized by Native Americans, European frontier settlers and African Americans of generations past because sweet fruit was a flavorful dietary treat before the prevalance of cheap processed sugars from cane, beet and corn. So was the use of sorghum cane which was boiled down for its strong-flavored syrup which I remember drizzling on pancakes and hot buttered biscuits in my childhood. I am amused at Fall crafts fairs now where booklets and pamphlets are sold next to cans of Sorghum Syrup at demonstrations of the milling (crushing) of the canes and cooking down of the syrup: What Is Sorghum And How Do You Use It.

  14. Archer Yates says:

    In the naming of golf clubs the driver and fairway clubs are called woods, back in the 1950’s the best woods used persimmon . The local knowledge is that persimmon was related to ebony. The heart of persimmon is indeed black which probably contributed to this story.

  15. Mike Wallace says:

    Another nice post indeed. Warm and fuzzy tickles this ole Navy Vet and retired RN. I’ve been staring at this 50 foot Cherry tree in my yard for some time. Still alive’but looking tired. Covered in various vines and hangers on. I’m thinking of taking it down for spoon wood this Winter. It should supply me well for months. Having just planted 10 fruit trees,I’m hoping Mother Nature will take the exchange with a smile.Your posts surely calm the savage beast. Thanks,Mike Wallace RN

    • nrhiller says:

      Warm and fuzzy? I’m glad you think so! That definitely beats some of the other ways my posts have been perceived, heh. Sounds like your tree will make a lot of spoons.

      Forgive my ignorance. What is “RN”? Royal Navy, registered nurse, or other?

    • Richard Mahler says:

      I was forced to take down a sizable healthy wild cherry in my yard because it had grown up next the the foundation of my shop and was cracking the foundation and walls. Have had it seasoning for a year now and have some 10” diameter sections intended for turning bowls

  16. Deniseg says:

    If I ever happen upon a persimmon tree, this is a must. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a persimmon.

  17. Todd says:

    Seeing the recipe at the end brought a tear to my eye. Needing a sweet, sentimental touch today. Thanks

  18. I have not lived in Indiana for years, and I can’t say I miss it, but I do miss the persimmons and Bloomington.

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