Fall means that the persimmons are getting ripe and it’s time to gather the sweet, pulpy fruit. But you’d better try to get to them before the woodland critters beat you to it. Raccoons, foxes, squirrels, wild turkeys, bob white quail, possums, coyotes, and even deer feast on it. Numerous birds also relish persimmons.
The common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a Native American tree in the southeastern United States. Diospyros is from the Greek, and means “fruit of the gods,” and many country people would agree with the meaning. The Algonquin Indians called the fruit “pessamin,” or “pasiminian” and are credited with its common name, and the Cherokee Indians are the ones who first introduced persimmon sweet bread to the Europeans.
Persimmon pulp can be used in many different baked goods including pudding, sweet bread, and cookies, and it makes a delicious ice cream topping or candy treat. Wine or beer made from persimmon is the poor relation of champagne–with the advantage that nobody is ever the worse for drinking it. And persimmon seeds can be roasted, ground, and used as a hot beverage, reminiscent of coffee.
It’s best to get the ones that have already fallen to the ground, or ones that fall off the tree easily, when shaking the tree. If the fruit falls to the ground easily, it is ripe. Wait until the first frost has kissed the persimmons, as the frost takes away their puckering quality, making them as sweet as honey.
According to weather folklore, persimmon seeds can be used to predict the severity of winter weather. When cut into two pieces, the persimmon seed will display one of three symbols. A knife shape indicates a cold icy winter (where wind will cut through you like a knife). A fork shape means a mild winter. A spoon shape stands for a shovel to dig out of the snow.
The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore lists a number of cures and folk beliefs involving the persimmon:
Tie a knot in a piece of string for every chill that you have; then tie the string to a persimmon tree.
Briar root bark, persimmon tree bark, grapevine root bark, and green sage boiled into a tea with alum and honey is cure for yellow thrash.
Wild cherry, oak, and persimmon bark tea with enough whiskey in it to keep it from souring makes a good tonic.
Ground persimmon sprouts are good for poulticing.
To cure Bright’s disease, put into a half -gallon of apple brandy a handful of cherry bark, persimmon bark, red holly bark, and dogwood root, and drink the solution.
To cure chills and fever, make a band, or large thread, of black wool, from a black sheep, or black spotted sheep, fasten it around the waist, next to the body of the sick one, then let the person walk around a persimmon tree as many times as he has had chills. This is supposed to be a sure cure.
Cut a persimmon twig, cut as many notches in it as you have warts, bury the twig, and when it rots the warts will disappear.
If the husband or wife should stray, burn seven sprouts of persimmon in the fire and the unfaithful one will have seven severe pains and return home.
A girl eating nine persimmons in a row will turn into a boy in less than two weeks.
sources: The Frank C. Brown Collection of NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE online at www.archive.org/stream/frankcbrowncolle06fran/frankcbrowncolle06fran_djvu.txt