Used by American Indians, African Americans and early European settlers, wild persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are a distinctively American fruit. American Indians mixed persimmon pulp, corn meal, and ground acorns to make breads and thick soups. African Americans used persimmons to make sweet pudding, candy, and cakes. Early settlers and pioneers valued the wild persimmon because its fruits are easily available and literally fall into your hands if you shake a ripe tree. They used the seeds of the fruits to roast and make a beverage similar to coffee. Similarly, in Appalachia the dried seeds are brewed to make beer. The Anglicized word “persimmon” derives from Algonquin dialects used by Delaware and Cree nations, putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, which all mean dried fruit – since the nutritious dried persimmon was a valuable winter food source.
Although currently the greatest abundance of trees are found along the Mississippi River Valley, the native Persimmon’s range extends from Connecticut to Florida, and as far west as Kansas and Texas. The fruits are a burnt orange color and often develop a bluish haze after the first frost. Dried persimmons have a sweet, chewy consistency similar to dates, and overripe fruit can be made into fruit leather. Wild Persimmons have a unique, succulent flesh that can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. The most persimmon recipe is pudding, which exists in hundreds of variations and is sometimes served on seasonal menus in the Midwest. Persimmons make sumptuous desserts, including breads, cookies, pies, cakes, ice cream, candies, and sauces.
Individual persimmon trees are often found in urban areas on college campuses, library grounds, and in public parks. Persimmon groves are in danger since their wood is highly prized for textile shuttles, pool cues, and golf clubs. Fortunately, nurseries that focus on heirloom gardening and the new edible landscaping movement for urban sustainability increasingly stock native persimmon trees, which are also desirable as a landscape shelter and food source for backyard birds.