Autumn in the mountains of North Carolina is all about apples, but here in the piedmont, autumn means persimmons. I sometimes forage for the little native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) that grow wild in the local woods, but collecting them requires perfect timing. Pick them too soon–before they are completely ripe and soft–and they are unbelievably astringent. Wait just a little too long, and they all vanish. Piles of scat filled with hard, flat seeds indicate where they all go. Raccoons and opossums like persimmons just as much as I do.
Because they are harvested when mushy, American persimmons are better used for cooking than for eating out of hand. We use them in soft persimmon cookies and rich persimmon pudding. If I’m going to eat a fresh persimmon, I much prefer Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’, a non-astringent variety of the Asian persimmon. The fruit of our little ‘Fuyu’ tree can be eaten when hard and crisp like an apple. It can also be left to soften for cooking, although it never develops the complexity of flavor of the little wild persimmons.
D. kaki ‘Fuyu’ has been a carefree garden plant thus far. No insect pests have bothered the leaves or fruit. Squirrels, raccoons, and opossums don’t seem to be attracted to the fruit, either, unlike our blackberries and figs, which often disappear a couple of days before I think they’re ready to harvest. Fruit is produced without pollination, and although the non-pollinated persimmons have a tendency to abort, those that do ripen are generally seedless. Occasional seedy persimmons might indicate cross-pollination by a male D. virginiana tree growing at the edge of my garden.
Even in years when very few fruits make it to maturity, the tree ends the growing season with a spectacular show of flaming orange foliage.