Maybe you’ve seen them in the grocery store or at a friend’s house – those lovely orange fruits mildly reminiscent of a tomato. Did you wonder what they were? Ask to try a bite? If you did, I bet you got hooked!

Diospyros kaki

Persimmons are a wonderfully sweet fruit that ripen in fall after most of the leaves have fallen off the tree.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Large persimmon fruit

The fruit will grow to be about the size of a child’s fist, then start to turn ripe for harvesting.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Ripe Persimmon

Ripe Diospyros kaki (Japanese persimmon) fruit has a beautiful orange color.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Diospyros kaki fruit

For a fruity treat, enjoy freshly picked non-astringent Diospyros kaki – it’s got a firm texture like an apple but has a sweeter taste.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Persimmon pudding

Astringent persimmon varieties make a great pudding in late fall or early winter, when the fruit is in full season.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

The persimmon is a wonderfully sweet fruit that grows well in many warmer climates. Its tree has beautiful glossy leaves, and the fruit turns bright orange when ripe. Unlike many other fruits, persimmons generally ripen after the tree has dropped its leaves and the first light winter frosts hit. So while many fruits have finished their season, persimmons are just getting started!

Fruiting persimmons are available in two primary types: American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) and Japanese or Oriental persimmons (Diospyros kaki). As a little girl growing up in Japan, I can remember standing under the “kaki tree,” waiting for a sweet, ripe persimmon to be picked so I could bite right into it. Soft and delicious, it tasted like an apple infused with honey.

My mother grew up eating American persimmons in North Carolina. American persimmons are astringent until ripe, then become sweet. They’re primarily used to make puddings or jams. She used to tell me how much she missed making delicious persimmon pudding, and I could finally understand when we came home to the US and I tasted the thick, sweet pudding she grew up with. (I’ll share the delicious recipe with you in a minute.)

Persimmon trees are dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. The female has a single white flower, while the male has three pink-tinged flowers in a cluster. Many varieties don’t need pollination to produce fruit, and in some varieties the pollinated fruit will be bigger and have a different taste.

The American persimmon is native to the Southeast, parts of the Midwest and up to Connecticut. It has very few pests or diseases and spreads freely through root suckers. A mature American persimmon tree typically grows around 40 feet tall, but it can get taller, so be sure to give it plenty of room. This tree isn’t as ornamental as the Japanese or Oriental persimmon, but it’s more cold-tolerant (hardy up to USDA hardiness Zone 4 versus some Japanese persimmons only hardy to Zone 8).
For the American persimmon to set fruit, you need both male and female trees. In addition to the species, there are several cultivated varieties available, including ‘Early Golden’, ‘Garrettson’, ‘Geneva Red’ and ‘Meader’ (which is self-fertile). Contact your local Cooperative Extension to determine which nearby nurseries carry persimmons and what varieties will grow well in your specific area.

Japanese persimmons are available in both astringent and non-astringent types, and they don’t need a pollinator to set fruit. Non-astringent types are hard when ripe and are sweet, but they soften and become sweeter as the fruit continues to ripen after picking. You can pick and eat these lovely round, orange fruits right off the tree – or for a great dessert, peel and slice! Some of the better known varieties are ‘Fuyu,’ ‘Izu’ and ‘Jiro’.

Astringent fruit is tart if eaten before it gets soft. If you allow it to ripen after it’s picked and let it soften, it’ll take on that sweet flavor. Like its non-astringent cousin, it has a lovely orange color, but this fruit is often conical in shape. Some astringent varieties include ‘Hachiya’, ‘Hongsi’ and ‘Tamopan’.

Persimmons do best in full sun with plenty of air circulation, although they will tolerate some shade. To plant, dig a hole for the tree at least twice the diameter of its root ball, and place the tree so that the top of the root ball and graft are above ground level. (Trees sometimes sink into the ground as the soil settles, and it’s not good for the tree to be planted below the soil level – it can result in water rotting the roots.) Add a mix of native soil and amendments such as compost or a tree-starter fertilizer. Press firmly, but gently, and water thoroughly. When your persimmons are ripe (come fall’s frosts), pick and enjoy – or try them in my favorite recipe:

Persimmon Pudding (Based on a recipe from my mother’s copy of Buy It and Try It by the Women’s Society, Tokyo Union Church, 2nd Edition, 1959, contributed by Edith Bruner.)

Persimmon pudding is a thick, sweet pudding reminiscent of British puddings. This recipe is best when made with either the American variety or one of the astringent Oriental fruits.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup persimmon pulp (if persimmons are out of season, you can also use sour cherries)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2 percent or whole milk
  • 1 cup white sugar (or 2/3 cup white sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar for a richer-tasting pudding)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup melted butter (You can substitute margarine, but I wouldn’t recommend it.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoon rum (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir until well-blended.
  4. Lightly spread butter on the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan or a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan (so the pudding can be easily removed), then fill pan with pudding mixture.
  5. Put the casserole in a larger pan of 1-2 inches of hot water, and place in the oven on the middle rack or higher to prevent the bottom from burning.
  6. Bake 55-60 minutes.

Pudding should be moist, not dry. Serve warm and top with whipped cream or ice cream. So for a good fruit-producing landscape option, plant a persimmon tree. The sweet fruit will decorate your garden and please your palate – and the pudding will delight the dessert lovers in your family all winter long!