Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The Odd and Wild "Texas Persimmons" Are Ripening Now
The Wild Texas Persimmons are ripe! These turn black when ripe, and unlike orange persimmons, they don't need a frost. The trees are small and look almost like an under-story live oak, except their bark and trunks remind me of crepe myrtles. They would be a good landscape tree - but they are male and female so you need several trees for them to be fruitful. Here is an excellent page to help identify and learn more about them: BackyardNature.net's Texas Persimmons Page
Our friend Herb gave me a bunch and I turned some of them into Persimmon Jam. The final product is very tasty, reminiscent of molasses - dark and thick and rich and full flavored. They are don't have much acid in them, so the rest of the pulp I canned in my pressure canner. Our friends tell us it makes fantastic persimmon bread. They made a wonderful pie, using a recipe that is similar to a pumpkin pie, nicely spiced with evaporated milk. I'll post the recipe here when I get it.
These fruit are quite challenging to process, because they are so soft, and each contains multiple large seeds. Putting them through a collander or a jelly strainer leaves far too much waste. I tried several different methods of separating the pulp and finally settled on using a strong mesh bag with very small holes. The ones with diamond shaped netting are too large and allow seeds to escape into the pot, but the bags that grapefruit, oranges, lemons and other citrus come in, with small square shaped holes, seem to be perfect for it. I just scoop the whole fruit into the bag and squeeze it with my hands until all the juice and pulp is out. This method also cleans the seeds well - they are surrounded by a tough membrane that is as edible as the rest of the pulp but otherwise difficult to remove.
The color is very off-putting for me. It looks and feels like working in crude oil or blackstrap molasses and gets everywhere. On the plus side, while the unripe ones make an indelible stain, the ripe ones seem to stain at about the same level as plum peelings. One woman, Deb McClintock, has been using the green ones as yarn dye (and wow does she have some gorgeous colors), and also the green ones were used to make ink. But they seem to reach a point on the tree that they will go ahead and ripen even if picked - which is not the case with the wild orange ones in my experience.
Overall, the reliable test of ripening speaks strongly for these fruits. The American Persimmon that I grew up with in Oklahoma is difficult to rely on because of the need to be certain every single fruit is ripe before using them. These black ones can be confidently used when they are fully black and soft - no astringency at all at that stage.
I was also excited to get these because I want to save the seeds. I have a little display of native wild flower seeds that I sell at our Farmers Market and other events, and I wanted to add this great Texas Native to them. Also, reenactors may know that persimmon seeds were used as buttons during the difficult times during and after the civil war when real pearl or metal buttons were unavailable. They are very hard and naturally smooth, as well as uniform in size, which makes for good buttons.
There are not many trees that offer such a wide range of potential products in such a small package!