by Cynthia Briscoe
Yesterday I visited the persimmon tree in our back yard to perform what has become a winter welcoming ritual. I greet her with an upturned face, “Hello. Indeed you are breathtakingly beautiful today!”
She wears an exquisite sky-blue kimono patterned with crisscrossed bare twigs, like the leaded veins of a stained glass window. The twig and sky pattern compliment an overlay of deep orange fruit suspended like glowing ember-lit lanterns.
She welcomes my adoration with generosity, offering a jewel-ripe fruit. This is her custom to all who come to admire her, birds and beasts alike. I snip the fruit free. Her apparel now has one less persimmon adorning it.
The first bite of sweetness is always a little shocking, like jumping into a cold mountain stream. Her laughter reminds me of a wind chime, and we exchange pleasantries in a language consisting primarily of vowels and consonants that express throaty satisfaction and enjoyment like, “Aaah,” “ooh” and “mm.”
One should note, however, that as well as being so elegantly sweet, she also has a bit of the prankster in her. Without proper introduction, she tempts the initiate persimmon sampler to bite one of her unripe offerings. The astringency has the unique ability to temporarily pucker one’s mouth like gray flannel and cause the tongue to scrape the roof of the mouth like scraping muddy shoes onto a bootjack. This time, “persimmon-ese” vocabulary is limited to vowels and consonants that shape the mouth into a pucker and close off the throat: “Wow!… Aaugh…Oh no!”
The funny facial contortions elicit her laughter as well. She usually plays this joke only once. The initiation is well worth it though, as one quickly learns to read fully ripe signs and be rewarded with the delicious sweetness of her affection.
Birds have no problem reading the signs. They know to peck at only the very softest fruit. All sorts of birds flock to her branches to feast on ripe persimmons, adding and subtracting elements from her ever-changing kimono.
My favorite, though, are the hummingbirds’ darting beaks needling the ripe fruit like a delectable pincushion. After so many punctures and feedings, the fruit loosens from its mooring and splats on the ground below. None is wasted as the insects take over.
How to Choose a Persimmon
The two most common varieties of persimmon are the Hachiya and Fuju. The tree we have is a Hachiya. To enjoy those fruits fresh, one must be patient for the full ripening. The Hachiya should feel squishy like an under-filled water balloon. They are deee-licious eaten fresh or incorporated into cakes, cookies or pudding. They will become sweet when picked firm, peeled and dried. The Fuju have a sweet, crunchy texture and may be eaten raw when still firm. The Fuju variety is more commonly available commercially
Because the persimmon color is such a rich, warm orange, one might think the fruit itself would be warming to eat. If you pick a soft, ripe persimmon from the tree, it is delicious indeed. However, you might curiously note that the fruit seems colder than the surrounding temperature. That’s because persimmon has a “cold” energy signature.
Cornellia told me once that the emperor’s courtesans were forbidden to eat persimmon, especially when pregnant. She said the reason was because the cold energy of persimmon cools ‘the womb’ and if eaten in excess, could cause miscarriage.
Does this mean that one should never eat persimmon? No, not necessarily. Just don’t overdo it. Eating more than two or three fresh persimmons could give you diarrhea! However, the cooling energy of this wintery fruit can be beneficial to ‘hot’ conditions like hemorrhoids, a hot, dry, barking cough, for dissolving internal blood clots, or treating hiccoughs and hangovers.
The cold energy of persimmons can also be balanced through cooking and combining with warming combinations of ingredients. For example, cakes or cookies made with persimmon may be seasoned with warming spices such as cinnamon, clove, ginger or nutmeg. This is a delicious combination.
In the fall, Cornellia would dry persimmons to use throughout the year. Some were used for cooking, some for pickling and some for medicine. Cornellia often kept me in supply of dried persimmon when our children were young, as she recommended dried persimmon tea for fevers in children. For New Year’s celebration, Cornellia frequently made a pressed salad with thin matchstick daikon and dried persimmon.