Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

My First Persimmon

Diospyros virginiana L. (common, or American persimmon)


Picture of branch with persimmons
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When I was little...around the age of seven or so, my grandfather (Emerson Walker) and I went into the woods.  At one point he asked if I had ever eaten persimmons and I confessed I had not.  With a smile, he handed me a nice orange persimmon and told me how sweet they were.  I greedily popped it into my mouth and started chewing.  Then, I proceeded to grimmace and spit as much as I could out while grandpa chuckled with delight.   Even once it was almost all out of my mouth, it got worse!  Seemingly, nothing helped.  You see, our native persimmons have tannins that make them astringent.  They may appear ripe when they reach that pretty orange color but don't be fooled!  All over this tree's range, kids and adults alike love to use the ploy above to trick someone into eating lovely orange, but unripe persimmons.  Much laughter always follows as the unsuspecting victim dances while howling and spitting.

Now for many people, it takes just the one time of eating an unripe persimmon to cause a lifetime of avoidance.  However, grandpa knew what he was doing.  He followed up his practical joke with information on how to determine ripeness and after I had my first ripe persimmon, I was forever hooked.  Fully ripe persimmons do not produce the reaction in the mouth as will unripe persimmons.  Nothing tastes quite like common persimmons.  Even Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) don't have the same complexity of flavors, nor range of flavors, that our natives have.  My mother always soured her face whenever I mentioned persimmons.  You see, it was her father that taught me my valuable lesson.  Mom eats my persimmon pudding (and other persimmon goodies) these days, but looks cautiously at the raw fruit.  It's hard to blame her.  We were both given our first persimmon by the same person!

Grandpa died in 2006.  Whenever I eat persimmons or walk the woods and find a persimmon tree, I think of him.  I had no way of knowing then, that a simple practical joke and subsequent lesson would create a lifelong fascination with the "food of the gods".