Wild Persimmons are a distinctively American fruit, native to the region between Connecticut and Florida, and as far west as Kansas and Texas. Today, they are found mostly along the Mississippi River Valley. A valuable winter food source for Native Americans, the word “Persimmon”s comes from the Algonquin language used by the Delaware and Cree nations. Early European settlers used the seeds to make a beverage similar to coffee, and are still used in some areas to make beer. They are also used in African American puddings, candy and cakes.
The fruits have a burnt orange color and often develop a bluish haze after the first frost. Dried persimmons have a consistency similar to dates, and overripe fruit can be made into fruit leather. Fresh fruits can be used for both savory and sweet dishes, but are most commonly used in puddings. There are hundreds of variations of puddings made from these fruits.
In addition to being grown for their fruit, these trees add a great deal to the backyard landscape. Although individual trees are often found in urban areas, because their wood is highly prized, persimmon groves are not as common as they used to be. Fortunately, nurseries that focus on heirloom gardening and the new edible landscaping movement for urban sustainability increasingly stock native persimmon trees.