I have my foraging “spots” for different edible species, at different times of the year over a several county area in the central bluegrass. My pawpaw trees are in Shelby County and most of my persimmons are in Henry County, on the way to Kentucky State University’s Environmental Education Center (the EEC). As I drive my students over a bumpy, gravel road, I stop to check out the trees. Persimmon fruits are fairly easy to find in the late fall; the leaves have mostly fallen off and the fruit hangs obviously from the tips of the branches, high and out of reach. These trees can still be found along the roadways in rural counties, but are also at home along ridge tops in the Daniel Boone National Forest, particularly in Lee County and in Bernheim Forest along the Millennium Trail.
One of the trees on the way to the EEC is covered with a vine and I do not see any fruit, for the first time in years, but the other tree appears to have about 30 “berries,” the ripened ovary of the female tree. I know that I should leave the fruit alone; it is still mid-October and persimmon require a frost to develop their flavor. Before the frost, the fruit has an amazing astringent quality; it literally sucks all of the liquid from the mouth, a lesson I have learned from first-hand experience! In a month from now, I will drive my car under that tree and climb on the hood to pick and shake the fruit from the tree as I am only 5 feet tall. One time, I was able to collect half of a paper lunch sack of persimmons from both trees. The taste of persimmon is savory and sweet, the fewer the seeds the better (females that are not pollinated will produce seedless fruit); I can hardly make it back home with the fruit. I have looked up old pioneer/mountain recipes for persimmon pie, which seems to be a custard-like, pumpkin-like pie? The directions typically call for several cups of persimmon pulp: no seeds or skin, more than I typically can gather. A pie that was made just a few generations ago from the surplus of the wilderness and knowledge of the people is elusive to even the most ardent of foraging biologists with a vehicle.
This persimmon, this fruit of the gods, Diospyros virginiana, is a part of heritage and our diverse forests and has sustained populations of animals for longer than we can image. Persimmon is now of special concern in Connecticut and threatened in the state of New York according to the USDA. In my state, I would have to drive a vehicle to visit the persimmons that I know in their harvesting periods as their abundance decreases statewide.