Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Harvest
Diospyros virginiana L.
(common, or American persimmon)

 
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Picture of branch with persimmons
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"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it's culture." 
--Thomas Jefferson (1800: Memorandum of Services, Writings)

Fall means longer nights, shorter days, and temperatures starting to drop.  When this happens, people start to think about harvesting persimmons.  Usually for wildcrafters and foragers, if trees haven't been scouted earlier in the year, serious scouting trips are made.  Fruit production differs from year-to-year, from microhabitat-to-microhabitat, and even seemingly identical trees.  For growers with persimmons in their orchards, the timing of ripeness, the heavy-producing trees, even the different flavors of the various cultivars are well known and watched closely.  These orchardists and those interested in wildcrafting know that soon there may be some competition for the delicate purple-orange fruits.

They will have to beat many species of animals to the fruit.  Most folks who forage or wildcraft persimmons leave plenty for wildlife.  In fact, it is a certainty that wildlife gets its share each day whether or not someone forages fruit.  The fruit does not all ripen and drop at once.  In fact, some fruit may even be persistent long into winter.  I have eaten sweet, ripe persimmons from the tree as late as April.  Sometimes during peak ripening, a harsh wind-storm may cause a massive fruit drop.  However, dropped fruit rarely lasts long.  Among the animals known to relish persimmons are:

raccoons (Procyon lotor),
Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana),
white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus),
American black bear (Ursus americanus),
red fox (Vulpes vulpes),
gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus),
coyote (Canis latrans),
wild boar (Sus scrofa),
eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius),
striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis),
various rodents,
red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and other birds,
and a good many species of insects. 


Signs of animal visitation of persimmon trees are very noticeable in areas like parks and lands where wildlife becomes especially concentrated.  Interestingly, one may find closely associated ant colonies under trees which produce heavily.  Regardless of how much fruit may be consumed by animals, there is always residue, and fragments of persimmons.  I have watched while ants strip the remainder of flesh away from seeds, leaving very polished, cleaned seeds.  Many butterfly species are known to visit persimmons which have burst upon impacting the ground.  Additionally, many butterfly and moth species use persimmon trees as their foodplant during larval development.  

Even with all the competition, there is usually plenty for orchardists and foragers to harvest.  One quickly learns that properly ripe persimmons have very thin skins, possibly a purplish blush hue, and have bletted to the point where they are mushy enough to crack upon impact with the ground.  They almost feel as though the pulp might be wrapped in a thin, wet tissue paper and that the pulp may actually slip through the skin.  They require a bit more care in order to harvest properly. 

Typically, one should use shallow, wide trays or containers as the weight of the fruit on top will further crush fruit on the bottom.  Persimmons contain so much sugar that breakage and time delays create perfect conditions for a very quick start to fermentation...a process not lost on native peoples and later, settlers.  Persimmon wines, persimmon beers, and even persimmon vinegars were staples historically. 

Never pluck new persimmons off the tree.  You want to get fruit which is so ripe it drops from the tree.  So you're basically looking for drops.  I have kicked a large tree trunk or two in the past, but never so much as to cause unripe persimmons to drop.  The key it to cause vibration just enough so that ripe persimmons will drop.  Some persimmon trees will even have persistent fruit.  You'll find those which persist well into winter to have a bit less moisture ...sometimes a lot less, and a concentration of sugars.  In a pinch, you can also harvest slightly unripe persimmons and ripen the fruit at home.

Some orchardists have used systems of stakes and sheeting held off the ground in order to make the collection of ripe persimmons in their orchards easier.  It also makes it much easier to clean larger amounts of persimmons.  Some people spread a few inches of straw under trees from which they will harvest persimmons.  It helps to keep the persimmons from rupturing.

Eating fresh persimmons is like tasting heaven.  Eventually, you'll have your fill of fresh persimmons and might want to preserve some of this ambrosia for later use.  
So...how do you get all of those persimmons you harvested transformed into something usable?  You can freeze whole persimmons, but if you're like most, you won't have the freezer space for that.  In that case, you're better off processing your fruit into persimmon pulp or persimmon purée.  Now you'll need to know how to make persimmon pulp.