One January, I gave a talk to the Village Garden Club of Dennis. In the midst of a snowstorm, we talked about landscaping with edible plants. I asked if anyone knew of any unusual food plants growing on the Cape, and at the end of the talk a woman named Susan sought me out. “There is a persimmon tree near my house,” she said.
Persimmons, if you’ve never run into them, are weird fruits. There are different varieties, and one is native to the southeastern United States, but I’ve never seen a tree this far north. I first saw a persimmon trees on my honeymoon in Italy. It was November, the leaves had fallen from the trees, and the fruits poked out from the ends of the bare branches like tiny orange jack o lanterns.
I learned that persimmons are a deep ruddy orange, and about the size of a large apple. The skin has the feel of a tomato, and the flesh inside an unripe one is terrible—astringent and bitter. But a ripe one is a different story altogether: soft and sweet and incredibly juicy.
I told Susan I’d like to visit the tree with her. She took me to it.
Susan told me she recognized the persimmon from memory when I asked about unusual fruits. She said it reminded her of something in her childhood in New Jersey.
“I went back to my mom and my aunt,” she said. “And they said yes, indeed, my great aunt, great great aunt Neily, Cornelia Lambertson had persimmon trees. They would talk about them being very bitter if you picked them before the first frost, and that’s when they needed to be picked. And they would just stop on their way home from school, and go into the orchard there and pick the persimmons and eat them. They liked them.”
Not everybody does. When I mentioned to my editor Viki that I was tracking down a persimmon tree, she screwed up her face. But the people who love persimmons are devoted to them. One cookbook author goes so far as to say that if you’ve never sunk a spoon into a soft, oozing persimmon, you are truly missing one of life’s greatest pleasures.
I tried to track down the original homeowners who had planted the Brewster persimmon tree.
Susan said the woman was from India, and she and her husband sold the house a few years ago and moved to Florida. I found a listing for them in Gainsville. But when I called the number, another woman answered, and said the couple had moved away. She didn’t have a forwarding address, and I haven’t been able to locate them.
I keep wondering wondering why this couple would have planted a persimmon tree so far north. Maybe it reminded her of home, or maybe it was planted for its medicinal uses. The leaves are good for everything from teas to poultices, and the fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals. Or maybe it was simply planted for a love of the flavor, for the experience of sinking into a sumptuous, delicate fruit on a chilly fall day.
I may never know. But for now I’m content with the knowledge that there’s a chance for persimmons here—who knows. Maybe I’ll plant my own tree.
This episode of The Local Food Report originally aired on November 5th, 2015.