The uncommonly beautiful and delicious persimmon

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PERSIMMON

Persimmon Jam. (James T. Farmer III / December 26, 2013)

By James T. Farmer III for Oneforthetable.com

Flourishing throughout the Deep South and up the Atlantic coast to Connecticut and as far west as Texas and Kansas, the common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is favored for its growth habit, bark, leaf shape and fruit color -- a fabulous color somewhere between terra cotta, salmon, apricot and orange.

How the fruit tastes -- or, more appropriately, when to taste it -- is a matter of strong opinion.

"Don't you ever bite into a green persimmon," my great-great grandmother would exclaim. "It will turn your mouth inside out!"

Tart and sour when unripe, persimmons do eventually become flavorful and quite delicious. "They've got to be DEAD ripe," is how my grandmother explained it.

Because of its extreme astringency, the persimmon will most often make you pucker, but once the sour cells within the fruit are "bletted," or partially rotted, the fruit becomes much more palatable. Killed by cold, the astringent cells actually rot somewhat and cause the fruit to take on a sweeter flavor. Thus, the old adage that persimmons are not ripe until the first frost. There is a whole chemistry lesson here, but just know persimmons most often become ripe after the first frost.

The persimmon I see most commonly throughout the South is that common persimmon, with ovular to globular fruits clustered on the branches clad in pretty green leaves. Well, maybe more clustered or scattered on the ground around the base of the tree, where persimmons become a buffet for wildlife. Throughout the fall, you'll find hogs, deer, squirrels, bears and birds taking part in this feast. Possums will scatter up the tree and gorge themselves on the delicious fruit, which is why the persimmon tree is sometimes referred to as a possumwood tree.

For those of us who do not scavenge the forest floor for our daily sustenance, farmers markets carry local persimmons in the fall, but many varieties, including the American persimmon's cousin, the Japanese persimmon, are available in supermarkets through February.

With a taste akin to an apricot, persimmons are perfectly paired with pork and chicken dishes. Marmalades, jams and jellies can be made from the fruit; and dried persimmons are delicious in baked goods and granola. The jam in the recipe below is perfect on an oven-fresh biscuit. The marmalade is an easy recipe. It's quite elegant, as well, served with ham, pork, biscuits or bread.

Persimmon Jam

Makes 6 jars of jam.

3 cups prepared fruit (pitted and stem removed), about 5-6 average-size Japanese persimmons or about 2 dozen of the much smaller common persimmons

1 cup water

1 package pectin

1/2 cup lemon juice

6 cups sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of grated orange zest

Prepare fruit by cutting into small pieces. Measure fruit and water and pour into large kettle or pot. Stir in pectin and lemon juice.

Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 30 seconds. Add sugar and bring the mixture again to a rolling boil for exactly 4 minutes, by the clock, and be stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and pour into sterilized containers.

Persimmon Marmalade

Blend enough persimmons to make a quart of persimmon puree, about 4 cups.

Add a cup of sugar and a cup of pure orange juice and a teaspoon of orange zest.

Add a can of crushed pineapple and bring to a boil, stirring often and until the mixture is thick.

Pour into jars, seal, but do not put into a hot water bath.

(James T. Farmer III is a landscape designer in Georgia. He shares his love of food, flowers and photography on his blog All Things Farmer, His most recent book is "A Time to Cook: Dishes from My Southern Sideboard."One for the Table is Amy Ephron's online magazine that specializes in food, politics, and love. http://www.oneforthetable.com/.)

(c) 2013, ONE FOR THE TABLE. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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