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Ripe persimmons are superb: unripe, not so much.

COUNTRYSIDE: I want to second Katie Martin's praise of the persimmon ("Persimmons: the Forgotten Fruit," September/October 2010). Where I live in southwest Missouri, persimmons are abundant and provide the main ingredient in wonderful cookies, puddings, muffins and many more things. They even produce a passable wine in addition to their value for fresh eating. Since moving here nearly 20 years ago, I've come to count this fruit as one of the pleasures of fall.

I'd like to add something gained from this 20 year's experience. If one wants to eat persimmons, it is very important to know that the fruit is ripe before biting into it. Captain John Smith famously recognized this in his History of Jamestown. He reported that while a ripe persimmon is as delicious as an apricot, an unripe one "will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment."


I can affirm his perception through some torment of my own on first eating this fruit. But because ripe persimmons are delicious, I persisted and through trial and error, I have discovered a reliable way to establish whether eating the fruit of a Diospyros virginiana will be pleasant or not.

First, to correct a misperception: frost has no effect on the ripening of a persimmon. Some persimmons ripen before the first frost and many are not ripe even after several frosts. It just so happens that frost comes and persimmons ripen at about the same time of the year.

Another misperception is that persimmons are ripe when they fall from the tree. Many fallen fruits are indeed ripe, but distressingly often, they are not. Also, that a persimmon is soft is no guarantee that it is ripe.

The only sure way, in my experience, to determine ripeness involves the calyx, composed of those four petal-like structures (sepals) between the stem and the fruit. These sepals are green in the spring and enfold the developing persimmon flower. By fall they have turned hard and brown and barely resemble flower petals at all.

When the calyx has separated from the fruit easily, the fruit is ripe. If fallen fruit is absent the calyx, it is nearly always ripe; its own slight weight has been sufficient to separate it from the calyx. However, if a fallen fruit still holds the calyx, it may not be ripe. To decide, grasp the calyx between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the persimmon between the thumb and forefinger of the other. Lightly twist fruit and calyx in opposite directions. If the calyx gives and begins almost immediately to separate, the fruit is ripe. If more pressure is required for separation, the fruit is unripe. If calyx and fruit do not separate easily, allowing the fruit to sit for several days will likely ripen it. This twist test may be applied to persimmons still on the tree as well.

This test has allowed me to avoid the memorable unpleasantness of biting into an unripe persimmon.

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Title Annotation:Country conversation & feedback
Author:Perkins, Don
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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