Persimmons: A Winter Treat

On these grey & chilly days, I long for sunny days & starry nights in the backcountry. And the dampness deters much dehydration since my equipment is set up in the detached laundry room, sans benefit of central heat.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little … oh, let’s just say unmotivated regarding trail food. My last outdoor adventure was a 10-mile run on Angel Island, thanks to the Pacific Coast Trail Runs folks , but I sure didn’t need to pack any food for that.

If I had packed some food, however, it would have been some sweet, bright orange chunks of dried persimmons! Whoo-hoo! Now there’s a treat to brighten up a soggy winter day. If I were as handy with a camera as I am with a dehydrator and knife, I’d be able to show you pictures of these little gems. Instead, you get a story.

First, for weeks, maybe months, I lusted after the persimmons hanging coyly from my neighbors’ trees. Yes — 2 trees on my street, neither of them in my backyard. And everytime I stopped by to knock on the door to beg some extra fruit, no one would answer the door.

Certainly I could have stooped to buying persimmons, but somehow that seemed wrong. I have not yet bought a single persimmon in my decade in California. Somehow, they appear in my kitchen without monetary exchange, although this year I was starting to have doubts.

Back in 1999, the first winter I spend in California, already wondering about the intellegence of living in a place that had non-stop winter rains, Mr. Jack took me over to visit an old friend of his, a charming retired Scoutmaster. As we stood in the kitchen, making small talk, he turned to me & announced, out of the blue, that he had a bumper crop of persimmons this year. Would I like some?

“Oh yes!” I gushed. “I love persimmons!”

He grabbed a bag and stepped out the door to fill it for me.

I turned to Mr. Jack with just 1 question: “What are persimmons?”

To this day, I find it hard to believe that I spent the first 3 decades of my life without these lucious fruits. And here I was, this winter of 2009, about to miss out again.

Until I noticed the heavy-hanging fruit on a tree almost in my backyard. One of the neighbors on the adjourning street had not yet harvested the persimmon tree. I scooted around the corner and scooped out the house. Hmmm. An as-yet unmet neighbor. I’m an introvert. This could be difficult. I scooted back around the corner & knocked on the known-neighbor’s door. Nope.

I stuffed a plastic shopping bag with handles into my jacket pocket. I jammed the garden clippers into a back trouser pocket. I took a walk around the corner, took off my wool cap and knocked on the unknown -neighbor’s door, rehersing my pitch … and came home with pounds of slightly overripe Fuyu persimmons; much longer and they would be as juicy and soft as an edible Hachiya.

Traditionally, persimmons are dried whole or in “cartwheels,” as shown in the picture to the right.

Since I wanted a finished product that would work well in a backpacking fruit mix, however, I used 2 different methods: whole fruits chopped into big chunks and some pureed and dried into fruit leather wafers. Of course, I overate both kinds trying to decide which was more delicious. I did save a few cups for next year’s backpack fruit mix.

And of course, I ate several pounds of fruit without benefit of dehydrator. And why not? Persimmons are not only sweet, sticky, delicious and beautiful, but also remarkably good for us, despite the high sugar load of 18.6% (bananas have 20.4%, blueberries only 11). Each fruit is loaded with Vitamins A, Bs & C, as well as important minerals & anti-oxidants. And did I mention that the dehydrated chunks are chewy like gumdrops?

My next door neighbor’s tree is still unpicked. As soon as this rain stops, I might be knocking on her door for just one more batch.