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Chat Leftovers: Plant a persimmon -- but which one?

Amelia's Persimmon Date Nut Bread. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)

I know you've read the paper today, because let's face it: It's just too nasty-hot (projected high, 97!!) to do anything else. So that means you're already caught up on Jane Black's experiences at Camp Bacon, Stephanie Sedgwick's curious cooking quirk and John Martin Taylor's look at New Orleans as it faces the BP oil spill.

Your next move should be to sign on to today's Free Range chat at 1 p.m. and pick up a little culinary knowhow, even though you might not want to turn on the stove for a while. As usual, we'll have an assortment of chatters and some prizes to give away.

While you wait, here's an answer to a question we couldn't get to in last week's chat.

I’m thinking of planting a persimmon tree (I’m thinking American rather than an Asian variety; comments?) to fill the space vacated by a big red oak that I had to take down. While this question is years in advance, do you have any thoughts as to recipes that can be made with an overabundance of persimmons?

Wow, you are thinking ahead. Before we talk recipes, let's deal with your choice of what to plant.

Me, I vote for a native American persimmon tree. First, because it's indigenous, Diospyros virginiana, and I just like that idea. (It's getting rarer in the wild, so why not help nature along?) Second, because I've always wanted to plant one myself but lacked the space. Third, because it seems to be hardier than the Asian varieties and more likely to make it through the occasional rugged winter we have here. And finally, I love the taste of its fruit.

However, my gardening columnist colleague Adrian Higgins, who knows a zillion times more about this stuff than I do, recommends Asian. He rightly points out that the native fruit is quite astringent, much smaller and more inconvenient to harvest. (The native tree can get much taller, so a lot of the crop will be out of reach.) There are non-astringent Asian varieties, the Asian fruit is much larger and the trees are smaller and "easier to place," as he puts it.

Adrian has a Yuzu persimmon tree and brings boxes of orange fruit to the office to give away in the fall, and I can vouch for the tastiness.

So there are two opinions. Of course, there are other factors to consider, and there different varieties of both American and Asian trees. Some kinds need another persimmon tree in the vicinity in order to bear fruit. Some are more ornamental. Some have sweeter fruit.

If you want to take a closer look at native persimmons, I think it would be a hoot to go to the annual Persimmon Festival in Mitchell, Ind., a 64-year tradition. Closer to home, but not as venerable, is the Colfax, N.C., Persimmon Festival, which will be three years old this November.

Even closer is a place called Edible Landscaping in Afton, Va., that sells several varieties of both American and Asian persimmons and that, in the past, has held a persimmon event where you could taste several different kinds of the fruit and pick up lots of persimmon-related info. It would be worthwhile to check and see if it will be held again this year.

As to what to do with your bumper crop -- and we could be talking six years from now -- the big Midwestern rage is persimmon pudding; there are a mess o' recipes for it. Persimmon preserves and persimmon chutney would eat up a large part of your supply. You can even make persimmon beer, I'm told, although I've never seen it. There are, of course, persimmon cookbooks, and I bet you could find one at one of those at the festivals.

Our database has four recipes callng for persimmons, though not in large quantities, and they all stipulate Asian kinds. Take a look at Amelia's Persimmon Date Nut Bread, Fennel, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad, Persimmon Tarte Tatin and Persimmon, Pomegranate and Pecan Salad.

Whatever you decide, do drop into a Free Range chat and let us know the verdict. We'll be waiting to hear from you. And hoping to see you show up with a basket of persimmons for us in fall 2016.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  June 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Here on our property in central VA we have several native persimmon trees and I can attest that they are impossible to eat. Although succulent looking, they have a chalky dryness that sucks the moisture out of one's mouth. Even when so ripe as to drop to the ground they are that way. I can't imagine how much sugar or other ingredients would be necessary to cut the taste. Asian must be the way to go.

Posted by: Bartolo1 | June 23, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I am going to put a vote in for American persimmons. For one thing, they are pretty much impossible to find in stores, so if you want some you have to grow/forage them yourself. Also, they are not astringent if allowed to ripen fully. When ripe they will fall off the tree with a gentle shake and be so mushy they look rotten, but taste like candy. My father has some trees near work that he gathers from and persimmon bread has been a family Thanksgiving tradition for years. There was a tree on my college campus and I would always pick up a freshly fallen one as a snack on my way to class!

Posted by: rosehartman | June 24, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

We planted 2 Asian persimmon trees at my parent's place in Fairfax 10yrs ago and they produce huge fruits every year. It's a big fight between us and the squirrels to see who gets to them first. The fruits are often so large, then bend the branches.

Posted by: SpecTP | June 24, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

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