Although the fruit of the persimmon tree is considered by some to be opossum and raccoon food, Southerners have used persimmons for making puddings and pies since the 1600s. Many different cultivars exist, but only two types of persimmons are grown in North Carolina --- the American and Oriental persimmon.
The American persimmon, or common persimmon (Diospyros Virginia), is a native tree, commonly found from Connecticut to Texas and as far west as Kansas. Hardy and adaptable, the American persimmon grows in many different soils and conditions, but it produces the best fruit in sunny, well-irrigated locations, according to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Popular cultivars of the American persimmon include the Early Golden, Florence, Meader and Ruby. The seedy, yellowish-orange fruits are approximately 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter. American persimmon fruit contains tannins or tannic acid, giving it a mouth-puckering astringency until it fully ripens to a soft, sweet, jelly-like consistency. Because the soft, ripe fruit is difficult to ship, the marketability of the American persimmon is very limited.
Native to China, the Oriental persimmon, or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki), has been cultivated in Asia for centuries. The Oriental persimmon was brought to the United States in the mid-1800s. This tree grows in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 to Zone 10 and prefers climates with moderately cold winters and mild summers. According to the North Carolina State University Cooperative extension, the Oriental persimmon grows well in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains regions of North Carolina. The Oriental persimmon is a compact, spreading tree, growing to approximately 25 feet in height.
Oriental persimmon fruit can be astringent or nonastringent, depending on the cultivar. The nonastringent varieties are more important commercially because the fruit is sweet and firm when ripe. The N.C. State Extension recommends the nonastringent Fuyu, Jiro and Hanagosho varieties for North Carolina. The fruit shape can be round, flattened or oblong, depending on the cultivar. The fruit of the Oriental persimmon tends to be larger than the American variety, and color ranges from pale yellow-orange to deep reddish-orange.
Harvest and Storage
The fruits of both the American and Oriental persimmon ripen in the fall, usually between September and October. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers organization, you should harvest astringent persimmons when they are fully colored but still hard. Nonastringent persimmons are harvested as soon as the color changes. Astringent persimmons can be ripened at room temperature and stored in the refrigerator for about a month or kept frozen for up to eight months. Use nonastringent varieties immediately, as they become overly soft if refrigerated with other fruits.
Although persimmons are a little-known delicacy today, persimmon fruits have been used to make puddings, pies, cakes and breads since colonial times. Persimmons are also used to make wine and beer, as well as nonalcoholic beverages. According to Persimmonpudding, a group dedicated to promoting the use of native persimmons, the astringent American persimmons have a richer, more complex flavor than the Oriental varieties. If you use Oriental persimmons, they recommend using the astringent type.
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Non-Timber Forest Products Program: Persimmon
- North Carolina State University, Cooperative Extension: Growing Oriental Persimmons in North Carolina
- California Rare Fruit Growers: Persimmon - Diospyros Kaki Linn
- Persimmonpudding: Qualities of Common and Asian Persimmons
- Photo Credit Akira Kaede/Photodisc/Getty Images persimmon i image by Eric E from Fotolia.com