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Blackwelder column: Persimmons can be perfect

The weather is cooler and leaves are changing color ó a sure signal for fall. It’s also the time when locals contemplate gathering persimmons for their holiday baking. Persimmon pudding is a holiday staple for many Rowan residents.
The native persimmon tree genius means “Fruit of the Gods,” referring to the golden orange fruits that are just now beginning to ripen on the trees. The one-inch diameter orange globes usually hang onto the tree long after the leaves fall as a food source for wildlife such as wild turkey, deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and mockingbirds.
The fruit must be fully ripe or it will make your mouth pucker from the bitter taste of tannic acid. Experienced bakers say the fruit isn’t ripe until the tree gets its first frost. The skin of the persimmon should be soft and wrinkled. The fruit has dense pulp which is very sweet and full of seeds making it a challenge for bakers.
In addition to their fruit, persimmons are very compact and an aesthetically pleasing mid-sized yard tree. The leaves are rather large, providing a soft look with a small to mid-sized tree. The deep-checked, corky bark is also interesting.
In the spring its flowers are creamy-yellow and very fragrant, providing a nectar source for honeybees. Persimmon wood is very hard and tightly grained, which is why it was used for shuttles in the textile industry and as golf club heads for drivers.
The native tree can be male, female or self-fertile and is generally found on well-drained, fertile soils sometimes on fence rows or mixed forests, but it does best in full sun.
It takes 12 years or more for the trees to bear fruit, but there are cultivated Oriental varieties available for sale at local garden centers. Cultivated persimmons bear fruit earlier because these are usually grafted, producing a crop only three years after being planted.
Oriental persimmons are much larger than native persimmons, about the size of an apricot. The flavor and texture is also somewhat different. Oriental persimmons generally do not need a frost to be sweet; however they will be slightly astringent if picked too early.
Here is a recipe for persimmon pudding provided by Toi Degree, from All Recipes.com.
Persimmon Pudding
Ingredients
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups persimmon pulp
2 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of milk
4 Tbsp. melted butter
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine persimmon pulp, baking soda, sugar and eggs. Mix well.
3. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, milk and melted butter. Stir to combine.
4. Pour into baking pan and bake for 55 minutes. The pudding will rise but will fall when removed from oven.
Serve warm with whipped cream or caramel sauce.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Toi Degree is Family and Consumer Science Agent. Call 704-216-8970.
http://www.rowanmastergardener.com
http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu
http://rowanhorticulture.blogspot.com/

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