Chocolate Persimmon Muffins & Finding the Perfect Fruit

November 30, 2011

This is the fourteenth in a series of farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.

This week: Tom hunts the perfect American persimmon.

persimmon tree

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True berries and obsession


I am a flatlander.   
You see in Indiana the northern two thirds of the state is flat, while the southern third becomes the foothills to the Appalachians. It all happened when the glaciers rolled through, which was sort of like pushing a sofa on a Persian rug. The rug in front of the sofa bunches up while everything behind becomes flat. The verity of this occurrence is the hills of southern Indiana are beautifully Rubenesque. 
It’s an affair really. And not in a Victorian sense either, because it is more gaudy than that.
It is when I smell the musky fall dirt of the southern hills, corseted with orange and yellow leaves and the hickories and sycamores that once held them -- now bare-shouldered -- become the steel boning that holds the hollers to their unique hourglass shape, that  I become incorrigible. All because this voluptuous landscape is the Indiana home to the American persimmon, Eve’s apple to me, a temptress of pudding, pie, bread and fudge.

persimmon tree
Oh the persimmon has her foreign counterparts, Hachiya and Fuyu, and of course they are succulent, trim, and have that hot little accent, but the American persimmon is one of a kind, sort of the saw blade painted with a kountry landscape, kitsch, and probably more closely related to running off with the circus than a fine dining car on the Orient Express.
It's not like there aren’t persimmon trees in other parts of the state. My neighbor has a beauty, in fact I covet it. It is tall and gorgeous, maybe one of the largest I have seen,  but it isn’t the same. In southern Indiana it is the culture that goes along with the persimmon. It's the paw paws, maple syrup, grits, ham and beans, and fried biscuits with apple butter. It's possum and sweet potato dinners and wood-burning stoves. It's all the things I hated about Indiana growing up but am intensely intrigued by now, albeit in a driving by a fatal crash sort of way.
All fatality aside, a good persimmon dessert will leave you in a drool sleep on the couch dreaming the dream of possum and raccoons. Of beating them to the little tannic and orange fires of Zeus, a rare true berry, pulpy and sweet when they finally become ripe enough to eat rather then their typical docket of pucker and gag. 

The persimmon likes to flimflam you. It may look ripe and mushy, but when you bite into one it grabs you by the uvula and pulls. It doesn’t let go either, truthfully, it holds on like a spring leech after a bloodless winter.
It is an accomplishment worthy of a diploma, this gathering of the ripe fruits,  because somehow the animals know too, just like they know the night the sweet corn is ready, and if you went out to that persimmon tree on that night, the night they know, you might find it is like a barrel full of monkeys. A tree full of nocturnal varmints having a hoedown, all drunk and giddy on your persimmons.
You are thinking of fighting them for it, a barroom brawl, but instead you turn and walk back home, you walk back home because you realize she is a good mistress, the persimmon, and is not exclusive but whimsical, indeed, the very trait that keeps you coming back to her.

persimmon seed

Tom's Persimmon Tips

1. Cut a persimmon seed in half lengthwise and you can predict, so folklore says, the winter weather. A spoon shape, like what is pictured, means you will be digging out of the snow. This seed from the neighbors' tree is telling me to have my shovel and the plow at the ready this year. A fork means a mild winter and knife means an icy and cold winter.

2. I usually just collect the whole and intact fruits that are on the ground. Some people go so far as to put a tarp around the tree so it catches them and then they are easily gathered.

3. If you pick one from the tree and taste it, you will gag, cough, and maybe even throw up. They are that tannic.

4. The aroma of ripe persimmons is like nothing else, it is dates, orange, and whiskey.

5. If you decide to pulp them yourself, remember if you put dirty persimmon pulp stuff in the dishwasher you are creating a nightmare of pulpy glue. Don’t do it, wash everything by hand.

6. Do not let any seeds get into your disposal -- they will burn in up in a heartbeat.

Chocolate Persimmon Muffins

Chocolate Persimmon Muffins

Serves 12

1 pound American persimmon pulp, or Hachiya pulp
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more Tom? See last week's dispatch: Pheasant Hunting and Pot Pie


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mirandamom
  • JSCooks
  • Margaret7
  • boulangere
  • Oui, Chef
    Oui, Chef
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


Mirandamom September 30, 2015
I had no idea that paw paws are persimmons, though, now you mention it, it makes perfect sense. I haven't seen one since leaving southern Indiana 25 years ago. I still think of them with longing.
thirschfeld September 30, 2015
Not quit, the paw paw and persimmon are different. a paw paw is more like a banana in texture, is very sweet, and is heavily perfumed.
JSCooks November 12, 2013
I was searching for a recipe to use the 11 (!) huge Hachiya persimmons I've harvested (with permission) from the tree of a neighbor who doesn't care for them. (I gave away another dozen to friends.) A search here reminded me of these lovely muffins, which I enjoyed very much last year, and on which I had written, "worth repeating!" The synergy of buckwheat, chocolate, and persimmon is unexpected and magical. I will throw into the ring a couple of modifications I made that worked well for me: I used 1/4 cup vegetable oil in place of the butter, reduced the sugar by half (plenty sweet for me), and used 3/4 cup each whole wheat and a/p flour. I also added 1/4 teaspoon of salt. At 325F convection they were done in 24 minutes, and the recipe made 18 muffins. Highly recommended and can't wait to make them again!
Margaret7 December 3, 2011
What a great post! It brings back such memories for me. My father (originally from Minnesota, transplanted to NJ) persuaded me to try to "do something" with persimmons found out in the woods. We rediscovered, the hard way, that one has to wait until after a hard frost to manage a taste without an incredible tannic, puckery mouth experience. I tried a cookie recipe, and you've never seen such orange glop all over everything in the kitchen and vicinity. Persimmons (post-frost) taste great, the cookies were so-so. I'm now going to head down to where there are some trees near the river and see if I can find some to try your muffin recipe. Thank you for the inspiration.
boulangere December 2, 2011
Okay, I'm sort of catching my breath here. There's a volume of information in this poetic post. I had no idea the persimmon was so multi-talented: it can predict the weather, induce vomiting, yuk up my dishwasher and destroy a(nother) garbage disposal, all on its way to becoming something wonderful to eat. Thank you, Tom. I'd be expecting a call from the Indiana Department of Tourism any day now, asking if they might declare you a state treasure.
Oui, C. December 1, 2011
Another great post, Tom. I can't say that I've ever even seen a domestic persimmon, let alone eaten one. I have tried the Japanese variety and didn't quite get all the hoo-ha, perhaps I'll be lucky enough to latch on to a southern Indiana fruit one day and become smitten like you.
Droplet November 30, 2011
I remember reading about the American persimmon in the intro to one of your other recipes, and it got my attention as I honestly didn't know about their existence. I love their charming size. I made a note to myself then to do some research when I get a chance about their route between the North American continent and Japan and find out which is a descendent of which. They are an aquired taste for me, but one of the prettiest fruits in my artist eyes. Do you have idea about what the longevity of the bearing tree is?
Francoiseeats November 30, 2011
Love the persimmon tips! I was in Italy recently and they have a ton of them on trees but I never saw them served in any restaurants. They seem to just fall off the tree - this looks like a great use to them.
thirschfeld November 30, 2011
Thanks mrslarkin. A couple years back Viv and I went to the neighbors and she was wanting to try one, it was the coldest day with freezing rain, and she loved them at first bite and then the tannins started their stranglehold and she started gagging, giggling and gagging until I got some water I just happened to have in the car.
mrslarkin November 30, 2011
That was really beautiful, thirschfeld. except for the throwing up part. thanks for the warning, though. ;)