Thursday, December 23, 2010

Persimmony Pursuit

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When the fall colors paint the woodlands we know that soon the trees will be naked. Perhaps the only redeeming thing about this transition from blazing scarlets, oranges, and yellows to bare leafless branches is that it reveals a delicious fruit treat known well to woodland sprites and observant humans: the persimmon.

Phoebe, Liam, and Chet on our persimmon quest.

Off we go to the site of last year's best persimmon tree, out at the end of the meadow. Once there, we turn our eyes skyward, hoping to see this:

Persimmon fruits stand out against the sky in the leafless persimmon tree.

After locating the source tree, we scour the ground below it for "drops." These are persimmons that have already fallen. Conventional woods wisdom holds that persimmons rarely fall before the first hard frost. And if they DO fall before that event, they will be bitter and not fit to eat. This autumn the persimmons we found—well before the first hard frost—were perfectly juicy and delicious.

Phoebe and Julie looking up and down for our quarry.

We shake the tree, gently encouraging it to share. As the small fruits (about the size of a large grape or a small Brussels sprout) drop we try to catch them. If they make it to the ground, they seem to disappear—their warm orange hue blending in with the leaf-covered ground.

Tenacious persimmon.

We gather them up in handfuls, sneaking one or two into our mouths "just to check them for eatability." Here's how to eat a persimmon: You squeeze the insides out of the persimmon's skin, and then begin the exquisite process of divining pulp from seeds. The seeds, which are the size of pumpkin seeds, but thicker, are most of what's inside the fruit. One by one these are ejected onto the ground. Animals that eat the persimmon fruits eject the seeds another way. Scoured by the mammals' stomach muscles and digestive juices, these seeds are the start of a new generation of persimmon trees.

The late-season haul from the line of wild persimmons in our east woods.

In our east woods there is a line of persimmon trees, all about the same age and size. These were probably "planted" by mammals that visited some older, now departed persimmon tree day after day in the fall and early winter. As they chewed up the fruits and took in their pulpy goodness, yesterday's seeds came out the other end, thus ensuring that this symbiotic relationship would continue in our patch of woods into the future.

Knowing all of this makes me thankful that I'm part of this giant web of life.
Happy holidays to one and all! May your new year be full of wild and delicious fruits.


On December 23, 2010 at 7:08 PM Carol said...

It's good to hear someone is taking advantage of the natural food available. I am enjoying Tangelos right now..but I don't have to travel as far or work as hard to find them.

On December 24, 2010 at 7:28 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

You know, there are still some persimmons hanging in the east woods grovelet, still delicious even though they're a bit wizened. I can't think of another fruit that stays good for that long. Maybe they hold the secret to eternal life.